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Buttery Chardonnay Chemistry

Buttery Chardonnay: The Bullet Point Breakdown 

Background: “Buttery Chardonnay” has resurfaced in popularity and is a topic of interest in contemporary winemaking discussions. Leading brands such as E&J Gallo have reintroduced buttery chardonnays, like their 2021 Barefoot Buttery, attesting to the renewed consumer interest.

We compared the top-selling 10 buttery chardonnays (BC) and 10 regular chardonnays (RegC) at similar price points.

Basic Chemistry:

At Tastry we compared the top-selling buttery chardonnays (BC) and regular chardonnays (RegC) to reveal some key chemical differences.

  • Statistical analysis revealed that RegCs generally have higher Titratable Acidity
  • A280 (Total Polyphenols Index) was higher in BCs, indicating more oak-derived ellagitannin.
  • Malic acid looks lower in BCs 
  • Lactic acid has a higher range in RegC’s
  • Ethanol levels were similar, but BCs had a higher range than RegCs
  • The BCs have higher residual sugar levels than over half the RegCs
  • Some BCs aimed for a richer mouthfeel and sweetness, possibly achieved through ethanol and residual sugar.
  • Producer A, a top performer in 2022, offers insights into how a single company differentiates its BC and RegC products

Figure 1.  Basic wine chemistry of regular and buttery chardonnay, including Acids (g/L Tartaric Equiv.): Titratable Acidity, Malic Acid, Lactic Acid. Also included are: A280 (TPI), Ethanol (%), and Residual Sugar (g/L). Comparisons are made between Producer A’s regular chardonnay (-) and buttery chardonnay (-) for each compound. A red star next to a name indicates statistically different means between the regular and buttery chardonnay groups (★). 

Aromatic Oak Compounds:

  • Statistically significant differences emerged in volatile oak compounds between BC and RegC groups
  • Trans-oak lactone, guaiacol, 4-methyl guaiacol, and isoeugenol had significantly higher concentrations in BCs compared to RegCs.
  • Cis-oak lactone and eugenol, though not statistically different, showed noteworthy differences. Most BCs surpassed cis-oak lactone’s perception threshold
  • Producer A’s BC consistently contained higher quantities of aromatic oak compounds than their RegC, indicating a distinct oakiness.
  • The higher concentrations of these compounds alone don’t predict consistent sensory experiences; flavor nuances depend on compound balance and interaction.

Figure 2.  Boxplot ranges for regular vs. buttery chardonnay volatile oak compounds. Trans-oak lactone, guaiacol, isoeugenol, 4-methylguaiacol, cis-oak Lactone. Producer A’s regular (-) vs. buttery chardonnay (-) are compared for each compound. A red star next to a name indicates statistically different meanings between the regular and buttery chardonnay groups (★).

Secondary Fermentation aromatic compounds:

  • Chemicals like diacetyl, diethyl succinate, and ethyl lactate, responsible for buttery or butterscotch flavors, were considered. 
  • While no global significant differences were observed, individual producers like Producer A showed variations. These findings hint at the use of specialized malolactic bacteria in secondary fermentation to achieve buttery flavors.

Figure 3. Boxplots showing concentration ranges of diacetyl, diethyl succinate and ethyl lactate for 10 top-selling regular chardonnays and 10 top-selling “buttery” chardonnays. Producer A’s regular (-) vs. buttery chardonnay (-) are compared for each compound. 

  • There are significant chemical differences between buttery chardonnays (BC) and regular non-buttery chardonnays (RegC), providing a clear understanding of the buttery style and enabling informed winemaking decisions.
  • Utilizing the multivariable tool PLS-DA, the report illustrates the differences between BC and RegC, showing that 60 selected chemical markers explain 12.3% of their variance.
  • PLS-DA model displays variable correlations and their impact strength on distinguishing the two types of wines, highlighting the complexity of their chemical makeup.

Figure 4. PLS-DA showing 60 characteristics which contribute to the differences between buttery and regular chardonnay.

  • Without PLS-DA, basic statistics and winemaking knowledge pinpointed the most crucial variables differentiating BCs from RegCs, But PLS-DA Points out many additional variables also play significant roles in figure 5.
  • Winemakers can optimize only a limited number of chemical characteristics before complexity overwhelms
    •  Tastry AI excels in interpreting these complex, multidimensional relationships, providing additional insights and recommendations beyond what human analysis can achieve
  • Predictive Consumer Sentiment: Using chemistry data and consumer preferences databases, Tastry AI aids in understanding how these chemical differences might translate to varying consumer perceptions and preferences.

Figure 5: Relative impact of different compounds towards distinguishing buttery vs regular chardonnay 

Consumer Appeal:

Using: 

  • The full chemistry data of Producer A’s wines (98+ chemistries) 
  • Tastry’s palate preference database of the U.S. drinking population 
  • Tastry produced Figure 5, Showing the percentage of the U.S. drinking population who are predicted to find producer A’s BC and RegC wine appealing, and their overlap 
  • Producer A’s BC appealed to a larger segment (13.59%) than their RegC (7.36%), with only a 2.92% overlap, indicating these wines cater to distinct consumer bases.  

Figure 6. Venn Diagram showing the percentage of the US drinking population that would find Producer A’s regular and buttery chardonnays appealing.

Bottom Line:

Tasty Insights Dashboard and Compublend® can provide valuable insight into all varieties and price points when it comes to:

  • Comprehensive wine chemistry analysis 
  • Wine style & product differentiation 
  • Consumer sentiment
  • And more!

Did you enjoy this summary? Download the full report here.

Curious to learn why 7 out of the top 10 wineries work with Tastry? Send a quick note to hello@tastry.com.

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