July 30, 2008

America's favorite white wine – Chardonnay

Yesterday I introduced you to a dessert wine (Port). I like Port wine, but am not a big fan of dessert wines. And I prefer reds to whites, so obviously I am beginning the wine introductions with my least favorites and moving toward my more favorites. But that is not to say that I don't enjoy dessert wines (Eis Wein is one of my all-time favorites) or white wines.

The wine shown here is America's number one selling wine: Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a more full-flavored white wine with typically less acidity than other whites such as Pinot Grigio or Gewürztraminer.

White wines grew steadily in popularity between 1970, when they accounted for only 24% of all American wine sales, and 1990 when white wine popularity peaked at 70% of all American wine sales. The "French Paradox" (explained in the callout box) is the main contributor to the returning popularity of red wines.

From the "Windows On the World: Complete Wine Course," an outstanding book on wine history and wine enjoyment:

Looking back at the American obsession with health and fitness in the 1970s and 1980s, many people switched from meat and potatoes to fish and vegetables—a lighter diet that called more for white wine than red. "Chardonnay" became the new buzzword that replaced the call for "a glass of white wine." Bars that never used to stock wine—nothing decent, anyway—began to carry an assortment of fine wines by the glass, with Chardonnay, by far, the best-selling wine. Today, steak is back and the new buzzwords are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah....

The French Paradox
In the early 1990s, the TV series 60 Minutes twice aired a report on a phenomenon known as the French Paradox—the fact that the French have a lower rate of heart disease than Americans, despite a diet that's higher in fat. Since the one thing the American diet lacks, in comparison to the French diet, is red wine, some researchers were looking for a link between the consumption of red wine and a decreased rate of heart disease. Not surprisingly, in the year following this report, Americans increased their purchases of red wines by 39 percent.

...Perhaps the most important reason that red wine consumption has increased in the United States is that California is producing a much better quality red wine than ever before. One of the reasons for improved quality is the replanting of vines over the last twenty years due to the phylloxera problem. Some analysts thought the replanting would be financially devastating to the California wine industry, but in reality it may have been a blessing in disguise, especially with regard to quality.

The opportunity to replant allowed vineyard owners to increase their red grape production. It enabled California grape growers to utilize the knowledge they have gained over the years with regard to soil, climate, microclimate, trellising, and other viticultural practices.

Bottom line: California reds are already some of the greatest in the world, with more and better to come.

Windows On the World: Complete Wine Course, Kevin Zraly, p. 125, Sterling Publishing, New York/London

It's interesting to me that the reason for the uptick in red wine sales has to do with the perceived health benefits of red wine. I remember a book highly favored among the fundamentalist people I grew up with. The name of the book was All of These Diseases and it dealt with famous diseases that decimated large numbers of people down through history and the fact that had folks paid attention to what the bible says and followed biblical mandates "none of these diseases" would have had the impact they had and may possibly have never existed at all. The diseases the book studied included the Black Death that practically wiped out Europe, scurvy, homosexual-related STDs, rampant infection, and various diseases caused by failure to dispose of waste properly.

Wine recommendation
As much as I love Virginia wines, Chardonnay grapes do not grow particularly well in the Virginia climate. I think the very best Chardonnays come from Chile and Argentina. Top recommendation: Catena Zapata Chardonnay

But I don't recall the book dealing with the many stomach diseases prevalent in our culture. Nor did it deal with heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. But scripture directly addresses something that the health experts have said can significantly reduce the incidents of these diseases.

Paul, in one of his letters to Pastor Timothy, said: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23).

White Star Line (Titanic) Wine Glass

By the way—you may have noticed that the wine glass in the above picture was from the White Star Line. A few years ago, our family had the privilege of visiting the Titanic Exhibit at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It was an amazing and moving exhibit—giving an incredible sense of what was lost (especially in human lives) that made a huge impact on me and my family.

After viewing the entire exhibit, we visited the gift shop and found loads of delightful and unusual items. We met the editor of a compilation of the hundreds of reports taken by the New York police from the survivors of the Titanic disaster when they finally disembarked from the Carpathia in New York City. The editor signed this book for us. We purchased a necklace for my wife that holds a small piece of coal—actually dredged from the Titanic wreckage. This coal is the only part of the wreckage that the authorities will allow to be sold to the general public.

Typical style: dry white
Aromas: tropical fruit, pineapple, apple, lemon; oak from barrel fermentation
Mouthfeel: smooth, creamy, full-bodied
Acidity: medium
Regions: France (Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, southern France), California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
Accompanies: seafood, salmon, fish, poultry

And we purchased a set of these wine glasses, which are reproductions of the actual wine glasses on the Titanic. My wife also purchased a recipe book a few years ago that has all the actual recipes that were served on the Titanic and tells what foods were served together. We recently observed the anniversary of the Titanic disaster by eating a meal each night that was served on the Titanic.

My wife blogged about this each day and you may read her reports here. Be sure to read from the first post to the last as she followed the story of the Titanic's voyage as we progressed through the week.


  1. what fun! what a creative couple you are!!

  2. Thanks, Cynde. We have fun. I'm glad you got the chance to read the posts about wine. I come from a strongly conservative fundamentalist Baptist background and they viewed wine as one of the great evils of the world. So I'm a relative newcomer to the world of wine but have learned to really enjoy good wine. Since you are a Chardonnay fan, I hope I wasn't too far off in left field with the things I said.


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