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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have been searching for years for a very “buttery” Chardonnay. Chardonnays in the late ’80s and early ’90s were so much more buttery than the varieties today, and I miss the buttery flavor so much.
—Lisa C., Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Let me first explain that the buttery flavor typically comes from diacetyl, a byproduct of malolactic conversion, or ML. During ML, a benign bacterium converts malic acid (as you’d find in tart green apples) into softer lactic acid (as in cream or butter). Some strains of ML produce more diacetyl and others less so. Winemakers can pick and choose according to the style they’re going for. It’s also thought that buttery notes can be the result of aging wine in new oak barrels.
You’re right that these days, many winemakers have moved away from overtly buttery tones in their wines. Back in the day, there were plenty of what I called “movie theater popcorn buttery” Chardonnay examples to choose from. Perhaps one day it will be fashionable to make and drink them again.
Here’s a tip on how to find buttery Chardonnays now. WineSpectator.com members can go to our Wine Ratings Search advanced options, type the word “butter” in the text box and then, right below it, select “wines, wineries, regions and tasting notes” for the “search by” option, and you’ll find all the tasting notes that have the word “butter” in them. You might want to look for “buttery” and “buttered” too.
Here’s another tip: look around for other descriptors that are close to butter in flavor, like caramel and butterscotch. Sometimes I’ll describe, say, a peach cobbler or pie flavor in a Chardonnay, which is a buttery note to me, since the best cobblers and pie crusts have plenty of butter in them. Also, the word “creamy” can sometimes refer to a specific flavor, not just a wine’s texture. You could also look for notes of crème fraîche or brioche.
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