Remember those buttery, over-oaked California chardonnays that were so woody you felt at risk of getting splinters with each sip?
It started the ABC — anything but chardonnay — movement, which drove American chardonnay makers to using stainless steel barrels instead of oak. The resulting wines may have been crisp, with no hint of oak or malolactic fermentation, but what were they really? Too many weren’t rich like chardonnays of old, they weren’t as clean on the palate as sauvignon blanc, and they weren’t very attractive in their indecisiveness. They also weren’t Chablis, either, but that’s another matter.
For every reaction, there’s a counter-reaction, right? Remember all those bad pinot noirs that appeared in the wake of “Sideways” and the forced improvement in some merlots?
Well, the folks at Harken Wines in Parlier, California, certainly remember why people loved barrel-fermented chardonnay, and they’re leading the drive for its resurgence. Their 2015 Harken Chardonnay is purely old school, rich with flavors of buttered toast and ripe pear leading to even more butter on the finish. And it’s priced at an attractive $11 to $13 a bottle.
Harken succeeds because it manages to do what the mass producers of chardonnay forgot. There’s enough balance in the wine, so the oak and malolactic flavors work well with an enjoyable acidity, making for a wine that you can drink by itself or pair with food. It’s a great partner for something as fancy as crab cakes with avocado or as casual as hot buttered popcorn.
So, if you missed an old-fashioned California chardonnay, given Harken a try and welcome a taste of the past brought into the present.