If you've read any of my missives on the Foodista blog, you know I like weird, esoteric wines. Bring me your Picpoul, your Gros Manseng; I'll take a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc, thank you. Chardonnay? Please. Well, as long as it's unoaked. Then can I still keep my indie cred, right? Well, I am here to tell you that oaked Chardonnay is not the devil. I came to this shocking conclusion while enjoying a sample bottle of 2008 MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Much like the Sideways-fueled Merlot bashing, Chardonnay is getting the cold shoulder from wine drinkers. Everybody wants to be in the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) camp. How did this come to be? I know I cut my teeth in the world of white wine on Chardonnay, probably like 99% of all wine drinkers. How did we get here? I (naturally) have some thoughts:
- Waaay too much oak in Chardonnay. If a little is good, more is better. Right? Nope. Chardonnay got to the point where it felt like you were drinking it out of a wooden cup.
- No acidity. You know how a squeeze of lemon brightens up food? This is what Chardonnays were lacking. Winemakers were enamored with a process called malolactic fermentation. (Oh, you didn't see me getting all Mr. Wizard on you, did you?) Basically, you take the zesty, citrusy acidity and turn it into something more creamy. Think lactic as in dairy.
- High alcohol, high sugar. Grapes were left to hang longer on the vine to achieve greater ripeness. Which means more sugar. Which means more potential for alcohol during fermentation. The FrankenChardonnay was born, and received wide critical praise. Like oak, more of everything was better. Chardonnay became more Anna Nicole Smith at the expense of Audrey Hepburn. (Personally, I like my Chardonnays lithe and charming, a la Holly Golightly.)
In contrast to this pumped-up style of Chardonnay, the MacMurray Ranch has subtle oak, decent acidity, and some real character. It's balanced enough to drink on its own or would pair nicely with chicken, pork, or richer seafood dishes. And, as you can see in the above photos, MacMurray Ranch and the surrounding vineyards are gorgeous. (I got a chance to go there last year on a trip put together for my fellow grocery store wine brethren.) Fred MacMurray (yes, that Fred MacMurray) certainly knew a good thing when he saw it. And I think he'd continue to be proud of the unassuming, well-made wines (especially the Pinot Noirs) that carry his name.