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Inexpensive Chardonnay

2008 Fess Parker: intense fruit, conc in mouth, honey-butter overtones, AND under $20. Fried chicken w/ yams.

Wine Market Background

     In class I often extol the virtues of Sauvignon Blanc by pointing out there are several world-class examples priced between $15 and $19. I then exclaim, “There’s no such thing as world-class Chardonnay under $20!” And I do believe that statement to be true. At least it used to be. Which is not to say there haven’t always been a handful of eminently pleasing Chardonnays priced under $20. It is just that competition amongst Chardonnays has always been so much more intense than it is in other white wine varieties. In America, Chardonnay outsells both Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Sauvignon Blanc individually by a factor of four or five. Good Chardonnay can easily command $20 to $40 a bottle, and great Chardonnay commands $50 to $100. The only reason for a winery to price a very fine Chardonnay under $20 would have been when they needed to sell 50,000 cases of it, or if they had very limited confidence in their sales and marketing capacity. Of course, this Recession economy is creating many unusual, and enjoyable surprises for buyers.

Wine Education

     There are several justifications for the expense of a good bottle of Chardonnay. First, the grape itself is not particularly distinctive. It doesn’t have the unique aromatic signature of (say) Gewürztraminer. Nor does it have the strong flavor of (say) Sauvignon Blanc. That means concentration is doubly important and, in Chardonnay, that translates to lower yield. Lower yield means higher price per ton. Whether one gets three tons per acre in Sauvignon Blanc, or five tons per acre, the distinctive flavor is still going to be fairly obvious. Not so with Chardonnay. Taking a Chardonnay vineyard from three tons/acre to five tons/acre would have an effect Continue Reading →

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