Everyone has a wine they try to avoid at all costs. Something they just don’t enjoy. For me that wine was Chardonnay. Chardonnay is probably the most popular white wine in the U.S. It’s what most often turns up at banquets, art shows, receptions, etc., often in a plastic cup and just a bit too warm to be palatable. Even in a decent glass, the smell always reminded me of vomit. Specifically, grade school vomit which was covered with sawdust as part of the clean-up process. So really the aroma in question is vomit mixed with sawdust. Probably not what any winemaker had in mind. Plenty of people obviously don’t share my experience because, like I said, Chard is popular. I disliked Chardonnay so much that in my early wine drinking days I actually thought I didn’t like any white wine. It was pretty much the only one I’d tried, and I didn’t know enough to understand how unique wines from different grapes and even different regions could be. Eventually, I discovered Sauvignon Blanc and realized (duh!) not all white wines are the same.
From there I discovered there are, in fact, many really great white wines. Clearly, only Chardonnay was disgusting. I believed that to be true for quite a quite some time. Then my wine guy suggested an unoaked Chardonnay. He insisted that it was unlike any other Chardonnay I’d had. I was gobsmacked. It didn’t smell of vomit, and it was crisp rather than buttery. It was delicious! Clearly oak was the problem. Unoaked Chard was delicious, but oak was disgusting. I tried Chablis (a region in the north of Burgundy) which is crisp, minerally (apparently a divine match for oysters, but I don’t eat oysters, so I can’t verify this) and mostly made using little or no oak. Yes. It had to be the oak thing.
I thought I had it figured out until I tried a white Burgundy that had definitely been aged in oak. It was very different from the unoaked Chardonnay and very different from the typical California Chardonnay. It was even very different from its neighbor from Chablis. It didn’t smell like vomit at all. It wasn’t buttery, but there was a pleasant roundness. I liked it! Hmm. Clearly, I was still getting it wrong. Time to hit the books. I discovered there are a lot of nuances to using oak. There’s the question of new oak vs. neutral oak, American vs. French, and the size of the vessel also matters. Furthermore, cheap wines aren’t aged in expensive oak barrels, rather oak chips are added during aging. I’m pretty sure a lot of the vomit wine I’d had fell into this category.
So, what does this all mean? It means I don’t hate Chardonnay. I don’t hate all oaked Chardonnay. I don’t even hate all California Chardonnay. While I’m not a fan of the big, buttery style, it turns out not all California Chardonnays are butter bombs. And many don’t smell of vomit. I still don’t seek out California Chard, but every so often I try something at a tasting I quite enjoy. I absolutely do seek out Chablis. If I could afford to, I’d seek out white Burgundy. And I love Champagne many of which are made from, you guessed it, Chardonnay. Maybe I love Chardonnay.
So what wine do you hate? Chances are you will like wines made using the same grape from different regions or in a differing style. Also, don’t discount the price. One of the reasons I didn’t like Chardonnay was because most of what I tried was cheap plonk. Remember the plight of Merlot. Its popularity led to a lot of really bad, cheap Merlot being produced. Then came the movie Sideways and Merlot was suddenly despised. To be fair, cheap Merlot really isn’t good, but Merlot can be incredible. Many of the most sought-after wines in the world are Merlot. Think Chateau Petrus. Quality matters. Your wine merchant can help you find a high-quality example or something made in a different style than the wine you usually hate.
We all have our own likes and dislikes, and there is no right or wrong. You may actually hate every wine made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. And that’s okay, but we potentially miss out on a lot of deliciousness when we dismiss an entire variety. So why not give that grape you hate another shot?
Wine Club Tip: For a bit of fun pick up an unoaked Chardonnay, a high-end Merlot, a bone-dry Riesling, or good version of any wine you know your friends don’t like. Serve them blind & listen to everyone sing the praises of a wine they thought they hated!