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FRIDAY GETAWAY DAY
05/04/2012
Friday Fishwrap
Read On For Chardonnays That Please The Palate and The Wallet

By Stephen Eliot

Hey, it is oaky to like Chardonnay. (Bad pun intended).

California Chardonnay has suffered more than its fair share of attacks from the parroting “Anything but Chardonnay” crowd, and there are those who dismiss it with derisive snorts and sententiously call it “silly”. Funny thing though, it continues to command consumer attention at all price points in the market and remains the best selling white wine of them all. Ah, but what does the consumer know?

Sure, Chardonnay has become a commodity wine, and I would in no way extol the virtues of the cheap, mass-market bottlings that sell for a few dollars, but I am baffled at the persistence of the mind-numbing mantra of “too ripe, too oaky and too alcoholic.” Sometimes I wonder if Chardonnay’s too-many detractors actually taste much of the stuff.

We taste a lot, some thousand or so annually I’d guess, and, while not every example is a charmer, there is a wealth of remarkably good offerings made in a good many styles to be had. Yes, it is okay to like Chardonnay, and we do.

The last several vintages, 2009, 2010 and 2011, have been cool and quirky years hereabouts, and there is a seeming trend of late for local Chardonnays to be made in lighter and livelier versions. Whether due to stylistic intent or more simply the result of capable winemakers paying attention to what nature provides, the cause and dimensions of said trend are very much open to debate. It will be interesting to see if the sun returns in full force this coming Summer and Fall.

The simple truth, regardless of vintage, is that richness and balance are not antithetical, and our quintet of recent favorites from 2010 is proof enough of the fact.

J WINE COMPANY Russian River Valley 2010 $28.00 If the so-called "new paradigm" dictates acid instead of fruit and minerality instead of oak, this wine somehow manages to have feet in both camps and comes out very nicely made because it delivers at every level. Its early aromatic reserve leads to a second look that finds precise fruit sitting confidently in solid support of stony, spicy, chalky notes, and, on the palate, as the wine sits in your mouth, its full array of complex, deep and still nascent pieces becomes undeniably compelling. Despite its ability to charm now, it will grow for another year or two in bottle and will bring all of its parts into fuller view. Do lay a few bottles away.

SCOTT FAMILY Dijon Clone Arroyo Seco 2010 $25.00 This exceptionally well-made wine exhibits keen Chardonnay focus with excellent balance and depth rarely seen at the price. It is at once both substantial and vital with tremendous staying power on the palate, and its layered flavors build and build as they go. Its generous measure of sweet oak never threatens to overtake its incisive, long-lasting fruit, and it ranks among the very best Chardonnay values in today's marketplace.

McINTYRE Estate Santa Lucia Highlands 2010 $28.00 Complexing elements of roasted grains and buttered toast are attention-getting adjuncts to lots of concentrated, youthfully pert, apple-like fruit in the nose, and the wine follows suit on the palate with very vital young flavors that, while tasty, are still slightly tight and filled with potential. Ripeness is met by fine, firming acids, and the wine is as bright as it is rich, and it has all the right parts in place to impress even more as it unfolds over the next several years.

DAVIS BYNUM Russian River Valley 2010 $25.00 Without question the best Chardonnay to ever appear under this label, this one gets it right in terms of its keen fruity focus, its fine sense of balance and its oak and mineral extras, and all of its pieces are seamlessly fit. It is, withal, a complete package that manages to be both lively and fairly generous at the same time, and, while it should keep comfortably for several years, it is delicious right now. Its combination of quality and price are exemplary and earn it an added measure of attention.

VALLEY OF THE MOON Sonoma Coast 2010 $16.00 Straightforward fruit is the main theme of this nicely balanced middleweight, and, if never a Chardonnay of extravagance or head-turning depth, it is solidly on the varietal track. It exhibits elements of fresh apples, citrus and stones with a light overlay of sweet oak, and its finish is punctuated with a touch of lime. It will keep well for several years, but it is ready to go now.


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