I dont like the music of Kenny G. I dont like the acting of Doris Day. I dont like the style of white-on-white shirts. Guess how I feel about chardonnay. For some reason, this best seller has never been one of my favorite wines. If I must drink a white, give me a sauvignon blanc, a riesling, or even a humble chenin blanc. They are, for me, far more interesting and serve as better accompaniments for food. But because chardonnay is such a popular wine, I thought I should dedicate at least one page to it.
Because of my prejudice, I asked a local wine merchant to select the wines for this feature. He selected seven wines from California, one from Washington state, and threw in a Macon Vire from France for good measure. The Mâcon Viré, like all whites from Burgundy, is made from the chardonnay grape, and here I must admit that I do enjoy the great white Burgundies from makers like Ramonet. But these rare gems of wine making that seductively reflect their terroir and beguile with their complexity are for the golden moments in life and should, in my opinion, be savored on their own rather than with food.
We tasted the wines for this feature first on their own and then with a lemon and herb roasted chicken. We had them either at cellar temperature or lightly chilled. I often find that chardonnays, like most whites, are served overly chilled, which can mask any little charm they might hold (OOPSthere I go again.)
One of the best performers in this lineup was also the least expensive. The 1996 R.H. Phillips, Dunnigan Hills, Barrel Cuvee, Chardonnay ($6.99) was extraordinarily good. It stood up to wines twice its price. Light straw in color, it has a full nose with hints of citrus and pineapple. There is a nice acidity on the entry followed by butter and rich minerals on the tongue. The wine has a good mid-palate, is quite dry, and has a good finish. It was superb with the chicken. If you need an affordable wine for a large gathering, I highly recommend this one.
The 1996 Alderbrook Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($9.99) is pale straw in color with a minerally nose. It bursts on the palate with dry, citrusy flavors. The wine has a good mid-palate and a nice finish.
The 1995 Estancia “Pinnacles” Chardonnay, Monterey County ($8.99) is light gold in color with a good nose of caramel and butter. It hints of butterscotch on the tongue and, although a little on the thin side, it has an adequate finish. This wine actually complemented the roast chicken quite well. It’s also a good value.
The 1995 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($9.99) is light straw in color. It has a light citrusy nose. The wine is buttery smooth and dry on the palate with hints of minerals followed by a lemony finish. This wine was a little overpowering for our chicken, but I think it might go well with fish.
The 1995 Armida Chardonnay, Russian River Valley ($11.99) came next. This attractively bottled, classically styled wine is straw colored and has a nicely oaked nose. I found it a little thin bodied with dry, citrus and oak flavors and an adequate finish. Although I was not terribly impressed with this wine when I tasted it on its own, it was especially good with the chicken.
The 1996 Clos Julien Chardonnay, Talley Vineyards, San Luis Obispo County, Table Wine ($11.99) is light straw in color with a rich nose of honeysuckle. A good acidity is followed by vanilla and orange zest on the palate. Not much body though and just an adequate finish. This wine did not stand up at all to the food. One guests verdict: “not impressed.”
The 1996 Domaine Andre Bonhomme, Mâcon Viré ($16.99) was the French entry. This is a classic Mâcon. (However, I found its price a little high for a Mâcon.) It is pale straw in color with a delicate honeysuckle nose. A light acidity is followed by dry mineral and citrus flavors. Although the wine had a small finish, its flavors somehow lingered with the chicken. Try this wine.
A star of the evening was the 1996 Pine Ridge “Dijon Clones” Napa Valley, Carneros ($18.99). Pale straw in color, the wine has a delicate nose of orange blossoms. A nice acidity complements delicate buttery, dry, vanilla flavors. This wine teases the palate, but I did expect more on the finish. This wine was excellent with the chicken.
The 1994 St. Clement Chardonnay, Abbots Vineyard, Napa Valley, Carneros ($17.99) is a big wine. Light straw in color, it has a big bouquet filled with butter, apricots, and figs. Smooth on entry, the wine is luscious and full bodied with buttery, dry pineapple flavors. An adequate finish. This wine was almost too big for the food but should make a superb apéritif for a formal dinner.
Serve chardonnays moderately chilled. If they are too cold, you will miss their subtleties.
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