French and American Chardonnay: Learn To Love The Differences
To provide some context, this blog is a personal set of comments about what makes French and American Chardonnay wine taste so different. These notes are meant to stimulate your thinking, research, and comments. So, follow me down the rabbit hole of wine geekiness to learn more.
Farming Grapes (yes, grapes are a crop)
· Growing in Valleys
o Valleys are usually too warm or hot to grow cool climate loving Chardonnay grapes.
o Chardonnay grapes may be grown in cooler locations like higher altitude, near a lake or river, and bay or ocean.
o Valleys are great (warmer/hot) to grow red wine grapes.
· Sourcing Grapes
o A winery may not grow its own grapes and instead source them from other farmers’ vineyards.
o A winery may supplement their own grapes with grapes from other vineyards to make the same or different wines.
o Grapes may be sourced from areas outside of the area or state the winery is in.
· French Wine Making
o French wine making is governed by French and European laws and regulations.
o Each year’s wine reflects the place it comes from (terroir), the environment it was grown in (weather), and standard ways of making each wine (common practices), to ensure a common distinct taste profile specific to that wine type and area.
o Chablis chardonnay has a very distinct taste and aroma that is easily recognized worldwide due to these laws, regulations, and location of the grapes (Chablis terroir).
o French wine manifests somewhat differently from each year’s harvest (vintage) due to the environment, thus vintage charts with different wine ratings and costs.
o French vintages (years) produce different levels of wine taste profiles every year and that makes exceptional years sought after and expensive.
· American Wine Making
o America and other countries do not have as stringent laws and regulations as France.
o The wine maker is free to use whatever approach, grapes, locations, methods, or chemical additions to their wine as they wish. There is not necessarily a pure terroir and environment expression per year (vintage) as in French wines, depending on how the wine is made and who the winemaker is.
o American wine in general does not manifests each year’s harvest in different taste profiles reflecting the specific area and environment it was grown in, like French wine vintages do.
o American wineries are market and sales driven to produce a consistent (same) taste profile year after year regardless of terroir and environment each year. This requires manipulating the wine making to achieve this.
o American wineries use vineyard specific labeling to distinguish their wines versus the French vintage system that produces different levels of wine profiles every year.
· Published Wine Experts Ratings
o These ratings are based on what that person or team expects and likes in a wine that they are judging and rating. If your wine taste profile is the same as the experts, then you probably buy just the wines they score well.
o This drives up the prices and profits of wines with higher ratings. Winemakers and wineries may change how they make their wine to match the taste profiles of the experts because many people buy wine just by their rating in the store rather than what they like.
o Your expectations and likes in a wine will often differ from the experts, and that’s what it’s all about: drinking the wines you like rather than what someone else necessarily likes. Over time the types of wines and taste profiles you like will change, and this is a natural evolution of experience and trying new wines.
o Do you taste around to find wines you like regardless of the score? After all, isn’t wine tasting a version of speed dating for wine to see what you like and want to spend some more time with?