|Pardon My Chardonnay|
|Written by Bill Citara -- BT Contributor|
Red, white, and you: Agreeable wine for $12 or less
Say “California” and you probably think of Los Angeles and Hollywood, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Pacific beaches and the Sierra Nevada, the wine country and the gold country, actors turned politicians, air pollution, traffic jams, hovels that cost more than mansions, and mansions that cost more than the GDP of most Latin American nations.
Oh, and Chardonnay.
This is not a column about California Chardonnay.
Frankly, there have been too damn many columns about California Chardonnay. It’s as overexposed as your Aunt Millie’s vacation photos, been analyzed more often than Sigmund Freud’s patients. If I have to read one more column about California Chardonnay, I’m going to poke my eyes out with a red-hot knitting needle. Or start drinking beer.
But this is a column about Chardonnay. Just not Chardonnay from…you know. All it takes is one trip up and down the aisles of your local wine shop to see why Chardonnay is considered to be the world’s most popular white wine. Just about every region that can stomp a grape makes the stuff. As a wine grape, it’s easy to grow, can thrive in a variety of climates, is a good producer, and given the proclivities of the winemaker, can assume more different personalities than your neighborhood psycho.
In a nutshell, those personalities range from Burgundy (and Chablis) to Australia, from lean, taut wines that taste of nuts and crisp fruit and calcium-rich soils to wines with more flab than John Goodman that taste of puréed mango spiked with drawn butter and oak chips. For this Vino, we’ll be navigating between the Scylla of the former and the Charybdis of the latter, starting leaner and lighter and ending with the richer and fuller bodied.
Which means, fittingly enough, beginning with a Chardonnay from France, the 2011 D’Autrefois. It’s not nearly as austere or complex as those White Burgundies and Chablis (and about one-tenth the price), but it does deliver bracing aromas of citrus, green apple, and minerals, which pretty much tells you what it’s going to taste like. It’s a nice wine, though a little tart, with a short finish. Great with fish and shellfish.
Then there’s the 2012 Excelsior from South Africa. I have a thing about inexpensive South African wines: I can’t stand ’em. (It’s a weird earthy/funky/diesel thing, if you must know.) But I’ll make an exception for this one. It’s got a hint of that earthy-funky business going on, but otherwise it’s all soft lemon-lime and green-apple fruit, like a fleshier, fuller-bodied Sauvignon Blanc. So I may have to revisit my South African prejudice. (No pun intended.)
Right smack in the middle of the road (where Jim Hightower says you usually find only double-yellow lines and dead armadillos) is an Australian product, the Nugan Estate 2011 Chardonnay. Its creamy, almost viscous texture belies its burst of Meyer lemon acidity at first sip, but then it opens up to reveal flavors of ripe peaches and melons and a little tropical fruit. It does tend to keep you guessing, but I like it.
Carrying its weight proudly, despite being from France, is Thierry and Guy’s 2011 Fat Bastard. Not quite so portly as its name might suggest, it does show off a noseful of vanilla, caramel, and toasty oak, with lots of tropical fruit, peach, and pear on the palate.
If you haven’t figured out by now that South American wines are some of the best values on the market, well…just go back to sleep. I’ll try not to wake you.
Both the 2010 Porta Reserve from Chile and the 2010 Bodega Elena from Argentina are terrific deals at $8.99 each, offering all the lush and luscious tropical and stone fruit Chardonnay hounds demand, with just enough citrus acidity to keep things honest.
Not surprisingly, I guess, the fruitiest, most zaftig wine of the tasting is from the U.S. -- no, not from California, but Washington’s Columbia Valley. It’s the Thorny Rose 2010 Chardonnay, a wine that doesn’t beat around the vineyard with seductive aromas of mango, pear, and apricot, vanilla and toast, and a pinch of lemon-lime. In the mouth, what you sniff is what you get, which is not at all a bad thing. And I won’t have to poke my eyes out with a red-hot knitting needle.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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