Wine comes in a multitude of styles, and even if you focus on just one grape variety, the variations are almost endless.
Indeed, styles of wine have evolved radically over the years, first one way and then another, in an ever-shifting samba that can leave the average consumer flummoxed.
Every grape variety can be viewed in this way, each grape, all deserving of a long essay on what's what and why.
And since there are roughly three dozen grape varieties around the world that make wine of a commercial nature (some more commercial than others), you can imagine how large a book would have to be to dissect this complicated subject.
Just look at the ins and outs of chardonnay production over the last 50 years and you can see how labyrinthine this can be.
First, we start with the fact that how a grape grows is dictated by where it is planted, and not only the region it's in, but in which types of soil. That means that the choice of rootstock must also be taken into consideration. Roots react differently in different soils.
Moreover, the specific clones of chardonnay will dictate which nuances of aroma and taste will be delivered, and the wine grower must decide if the clones chosen are right for his or her plot of land.
It goes on. And includes such things as the type of leaf canopy to use for the vines, the right time to harvest the grapes, the type of yeast strain used to start the fermentation, the temperature at which the fermentation is conducted, whether to add some acidity before the fermentation starts, and the kind of oak barrels to use in the post-ferment aging process. Or whether to use any barrels at all.
The late Prof. Maynard Amerine at the University of California at Davis once estimated that a winemaker must make roughly 200 decisions from the time the plant begins to produce blossoms until the wine is finally bottled. I ran that by some winemakers years ago, and most said Amerine missed another 100 or so decisions.
And one winemaker said that an informed decision to do nothing occasionally was the best course of action — adding, "Doing nothing has to be a conscious choice, so in and of itself, that is a decision."
The result of all this will be a wine that reflects some or all of the decisions made.
Chardonnay once was widely made rather crisp and lean, displaying subtle characteristics. Some time in the late 1980s, styles began to emerge in which softness and oak were dominant aspects of the wine. Some were even rather sweet.
In recent years, we have seen some backtracking in that area, with many wineries choosing different tactics to make wines with a bit more acidity and less oak. Only part of this is the high cost of French oak barrels, the choice of most high-caliber chardonnay makers.
These choices reflect, to a degree, the desires of today's younger consumers, so-called Millennials who want a slightly more sophisticated drink with their food. In many cases, chardonnays that are not aged in barrels at all are becoming lead items with some wineries.
These so-called unoaked or unwooded wines can be absolutely appealing, and without using expensive wood barrels for aging, wineries actually make them for a lot less money.