You know how I always encourage you to try new things and be open-minded toward varietals, whether they’re new or you haven’t tried them in awhile? I have a confession to make.
I don’t like Chardonnay. I have a severe mental block when it comes to the grape and I avoid drinking it. I actually cringe when I have to taste it and will procrastinate as long as possible to avoid it.
This just isn’t fair- to you, to me, or to Chardonnay. It’s one of the most widely planted and consumed wines in the world. It’s actually a total workhorse grape that grows well in almost any wine region and can be made in a range of styles. No wonder everyone likes it so much!
I’m telling you this not only because I really needed to get it off my chest so I could stop feeling like a hypocrite, but also because I imagine you have some varietals that you automatically avoid. Now, if you’re good with not drinking those varietals, great. Keep on doing your thing. But if you are like me and feel like you might be missing out on something great, read on for some tips to get past that mental block.
Why I don’t like Chardonnay- and why you might dislike something, too
Chardonnay’s omnipresence is actually a big part of my problem. When I first started drinking wine, I had no idea what I liked. The first Chardonnay I ever drank was probably oaked to within an inch of its life and pumped full of every additive known to man. I was in college on a college student’s budget and with zero knowledge of wine. What did I expect? That bad experience, and a few more along the way, has colored my perception of Chardonnay ever since.
The thing is, with so many Chardonnays out there at all different price points and quality levels, it can get a little overwhelming for someone to pick a good bottle. And there are A LOT of bad ones. A whole, whole lot. It takes time and experience to sort through the bad apples and learn what works for you.
How to recover from a bad experience
It takes some time to distance yourself from a bad experience so that you can have an open mind when you try again. I’m sure you’ve had this happen, whether it was a bad wine or you got sick after eating something. Your brain is strong, and it is going to try to stop you from consuming something you didn’t like in the past. Fortunately, it is possible to get past that block with a little effort.
Try different regions/styles
One way to work out your issues with a varietal is to try it from different regions or in different styles. Chardonnay is grown all over the world and exhibits different flavors depending on where it’s from. Cool climate Chardonnays, like Chablis, which I actually enjoy, tend to have higher acidity and more tree fruit flavors than warm climate ones, which show more tropical fruit notes.
The winemaker’s choices also matter. While some wines are almost always made in a particular style, others are pretty versatile. Oak aging and malolactic fermentation have a huge impact on how a wine tastes and its mouthfeel, so if you don’t like the butter and spice these processes impart one one wine, you may not like it in others, either. What I learned over time is that I like bright, refreshing, acidic, unoaked white wines.
Riesling is another great example of a versatile wine. It can be made in any style from dry to super sweet. If you don’t like sweet wines, you don’t have to avoid Riesling forever; just try a dry example.
Try it with food
If you want to try a varietal that you haven’t loved in the past, research food pairings a little and try it with something that sounds good. Food can dramatically affect a wine’s flavors, making it either amazing or awful. One of my favorite pairings with Chardonnay is cookie butter. The cinnamon and other spices in cookie butter draw out the green apple flavors in Chardonnay. The creaminess of the cookie butter also softens any harsh notes from oak and smooths the acidity. More traditional pairings with Chardonnay include any dish with a buttery sauce, or buttered popcorn.
Similarly, there’s a reason so many people enjoy dry, high tannin, high acid wines with steak. The fat in the steak attaches to the tannin in the wine, which basically washes it away. You don’t get the major drying effects from the tannin like you do when you drink it alone, which means you get to really enjoy the flavors of the wine and the meat. Even non-wine drinkers often enjoy this combination.
Keep track of what you like- and what you don’t
It breaks my heart when people start a conversation with “I had this really great wine but don’t remember what it was…” Sometimes we can figure it out based on their memories of the taste or the label, but often we just can’t narrow it down enough. This is why we really recommend tracking the wines you drink and what you thought of them. When you try a new wine, reflect a little about what you liked and about what you didn’t. Sometimes knowing what you don’t like is even more important than knowing what you do. When writing down your thoughts on wine, you can be as technical and detailed as you prefer. You can either do the more formal route, discussing the structural components and flavors, or you can do a simpler mechanism with a format that you understand. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you write or how you do it, as long as it will help you remember what you thought of the wine.
If you’re in a restaurant, you don’t have to stop the meal and whip out your notebook to write about the wine. Just take a quick pic of the label or make a note on your phone and jot down your mental notes when you get home.
It’s okay if you never like something
If you have never liked a sweet wine, chances are you’re not going to enjoy one no matter what varietal it is or where it’s from- and that’s okay. You don’t have to like everything. I am still all for trying new things because it’s fun and you never really know what you think until you try it.
My reconciliation with Chardonnay is an ongoing process, but over time I’m learning that I actually do like some Chardonnays. Let me know if there’s a varietal you really want to enjoy but haven’t found a good one yet; I probably have a few up my sleeve you haven’t tried before!