A glimpse of Chardonnays past
California’s Cupcake Vineyards, which launched its wines in Canada this spring, is a big-selling brand with plenty of momentum. Chardonnay, one of two wines included in a sampler recently distributed to media, is a case in point. On the surface, the wine is easy-drinking – sweet butterscotch looms large with hints of vanilla-spiced fruit. The label doesn’t apologize for this; indeed, the name of the brand alone makes the character of what’s in the bottle no surprise. However, the wine also has a rustic elegance suited to patio parties like one I attended in Davis, California last spring. The gathering was my first encounter with Cupcake wines. Sipping the current release from the 2009 vintage recalled the evening perfectly, a patch of California in a glass.
Yet the butterscotch, the vanilla, the sheer sweet heft of the wine, recalls why Chardonnay fell out of favour as lighter styles attracted attention (my first encounter with an unwooded Chardonnay still sticks with me). Still, my palate was being shaped in the mid to late 1990s by cheaper wines influenced by malolactic fermentation and robust oak programs (a page of my tasting notes from 1997, however, qualifies the memory by noting that the Chardonnays I was tasting actually seemed quite light to my palate). Still, these were the entry-level wines for those of us who couldn’t yet afford the good stuff. Cupcake’s Chardonnay reminds me both why I persisted in exploring wine, but also why I began exploring wines made from other grape varieties. Chardonnay, I thought, had shown me what it could do. It was time to move on.
It’s not an unpleasant experience returning to a wine that reminds me of those days. Cupcake offers a Chardonnay that’s a decent wine for the patio or a rich meal of seafood (meaty scallops come to mind). It’s also a great chance to discover what the variety, and California generally, has to offer.