Why I love Chardonnay

By on April 30, 2010

In the last three years I’ve drunk more Chardonnay than I could have ever imagined. For years I avoided Chardonnay if I could. I explored every other varietal with zest and fervor. Chenin Blanc, Gewurz, Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner, Pinot Gris, and a lot, lot, lot of Riesling – German, Alsatian and Antipodean. It was a case of ABC – Anything But Chardonnay. But then a voice inside my head began to remind me of the joys of Chardonnay, and the range of styles and wines it offers. I returned to the fold and began to drink from the generous waters of the Chardonnay pool again. And I was richly rewarded. I will talk in a future article about the greatest myth in wine – that all Rieslings are sweet. But the second most widespread misunderstanding is the belief that all Chardonnays are oaky and buttery. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a reason that Chardonnay, along with Riesling, is considered the greatest white grape. It is because it expresses itself, and its site, in a way that few other grapes can – and in the right hands it can produce wines of ethereal beauty that take ones breath away. Simply put, despite its bad rap in many circles, I love Chardonnay!

Mark’s Chardonnay case:

Chardonnays come in all manners and styles, from light and breezy, to heavier and more serious. I’ve avoided French examples as they are hard to find, and frankly, in our market, there are few good examples. But try out these domestic, Chilean, and down-under Chards, and see why I returned to the fold.

Concha Y Toro, Central Valley, 2009 Xplorador Chardonnay, $7
I picked this up for a party not expecting much, but as ever with CYT, you get amazing bang for the buck. Tropical nose of pineapple, lemon curd, baked apple, with a spicy, medium-bodied palate, and a taste of exotic tropical fruits that belies the price point. This wine gets better every time I taste it.

Fetzer, California, 2008 Valley Oaks Chardonnay, $9
You have to love and respect Fetzer, the pioneers of organic wine-making in this country. They produce solid, inexpensive wines you can always rely on. This one is solid, solid, solid. Nose of citrus and tropical fruits, with hints of buttery oak. The palate is medium-bodied with soft oak, lemon and other citrus, peach and some tropical fruits. For under $10 it is a good quaffing Chard.

Jacob’s Creek, S/E Australia, 2008 Chardonnay, $10
This is a great intro Chard, and the price point is easy on the eye. Lightly oaked this wine has lots of citrus and zest to counter the tropical flavors, along with textbook pear and apple.

Viña Cono Sur, Central Valley, 2008 Chardonnay (unoaked), $11
This is a tropical delight. Pineapple and citrus assaults the nose, and the palate is filled with zingy acidity over the ripe, tropical fruits. A refreshing wine.

Edna Valley Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County, 2008 “Paragon” Chardonnay, $11
An easy drinking Chard with tropical and tree fruit notes. A nice party wine.

Corvidae, Oregon/Washington, 2008 “Mirth” Chardonnay, $13
A tropical nose, underpinned by stone and mineral. The palate is medium-bodied, with lush tropical notes, and a bitterness that is bracing and most welcome. Lemon-stone fruit, pineapple, and green apple flavors, with biting and bitter lemon on the finish. Very impressive for the money.

** Gruet, New Mexico, 2007 Chardonnay, $15 (unoaked)
This is my house Chardonnay, and I can’t say enough about this wine. If you purchase one wine off this list, pick this. An amazingly refreshing vein of acidity runs though this entire wine, lifting the beautiful citrus fruits, so the entire wine seems to dance on the palate. Fun to drink on its own, this is superb with shrimp and lobster dishes. An insane value.

Clos du Val, Carneros, 2007 Chardonnay, $19
I am not a fan of hugely oaky wines, but when done right, like this one, I love them. The key is using the oak sensibly, to convey richness to the wine, without overpowering it. This beautiful wine does that – yes, you can taste the oak, but it is judicious, and weaves among the soft Carneros fruit, to give the impression of a rich wine without bashing you over the head with a 2 by 4!

Kim Crawford, New Zealand, 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay, $22
Just because it is unoaked don’t for a moment assume it isn’t rich, creamy and generous. It has a lush mouth-feel of rich, tropical fruits from the malolactic fermentation, and, not surprisingly, good acidity. If you like the more generous styles of Chardonnay, without the oak, this is for you.

Trevor Jones, Barossa Valley, 2006 Virgin Chardonnay, $22
Trevor Jones pioneered the unoaked style and has long been a champion of this style. I loved this wine for years. Tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, mango), red apple and cream, with a medium-bodied, tropical laden mouth-feel, with rich acidity and mouth-coating fruit. Total class in a glass!

Mer Soleil, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2006 Silver Unoaked Chardonnay, $28
Lovely pale gold color, with a round and citrus nose and apple and pear. The palate shows glorious tree fruit, good richness, wonderful acidity, and the wine finishes with Meyer lemon.

Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley, 2005 Chardonnay, $40
If you want a great special occasion bottle look no further. Other premium wines claim to deliver the goods, but this one does – year after year. This is simply an outstanding bottle of wine. Beautiful crispy citrus fruits when cold that as the wine warms reveals pure and beautiful luxurious fruit.

About Mark Stenner – The Tulsa Wine Club:

Mark Stenner is the founder and organizer of the Tulsa Wine Club, a local tasting group that meets once a month to sample wines. The tastings take place in private homes in the Tulsa metro area, and are casual and fun events. Participants of all age ranges enjoy 10-12 wines per event, served alongside the food each member contributes to the evening. They welcome anyone with an interest in wine, whether novice or expert. Mark believes in learning through osmosis, drinking wine and forming your own evaluation of your experience.

For information about the club, please email Mark at tulsawineclub@yahoo.com

About Mark Stenner

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