A few weeks ago I had a fellow come to the wine store I work at and asked me to suggest a few good Chardonnays. He had an interesting idea, and had decided to host a little blind tasting for his friends. He mentioned that he’d done the same sort of thing before, and had found some interesting results.
Wine is an incredibly broad field; the variety of different styles and variations are astonishingly great. When you are just beginning to learn about wine it’s far too easy to get pigeon-holed into thinking that you don’t like a certain varietal or the wines of a particular region.
Chardonnay is a pretty fine example of where that sort of generalizing can go wrong. It’s one of the most popular grapes in the world, and yet the prevalence of certain heavily oaked styles led to the rise of a very widespread boredom. The term ‘ABC’ (Anything But Chardonnay) was coined, and many people began to avoid the wine at all costs.
This fellow (let’s call him Jim) came to me and asked for four Chardonnays. One classic heavily oaked Californian, a light Chablis, one Chardonnay that could be described as “lightly oaked, good, but nothing special” (his exact words), and one very expensive Premiere Cru Meursault-Perrieres.
Jim had friends who adamantly maintained that they did not like Chardonnay, and he had taken it upon himself to break their assumption that all Chardonnays tasted the same. Jim had found in the past, that when some people were presented with such an array of different styles of wine made from one single varietal, that some people did not even recognize that they were made from the same grape. They were also shocked to discover what they had actually been tasting.
The French Chardonnays were a sneaky choice. If you’ve ever looked at a proper French label, you’ll notice that many of them don’t mention the varietal at all. The region and the vineyard the wine is from are a much more important indicator of what you as a consumer are buying. Thus, in France, there isn’t so much one single wine called ‘Chardonnay’ but many different wines, called things like ‘Chablis’, or ‘Meursault’ or ‘Puligny-Montrachet’. The differences between each wine are huge.
The parable here is that deciding you don’t like one particular varietal or style is a fairly solid way to miss out on an enormous amount of good wine (I’m still conquering my fear of New Zealand). This doesn’t just apply to Chardonnay either. Wine is about discovery, just as much as it is about enjoyment. Sometimes it’s amazing to find by chance a wine from some region you haven’t been very impressed with yet, and have it blow your mind.
I was never able to ask him how his blind tasting went, but I’m curious to know. It was definitely an idea worth thinking about.