By the Glass: Investigate the charm of chardonnay
The chardonnay grape variety produces some of the most highly acclaimed, prestigious white wines and has subsequently developed a huge following. So how do you find the good ones?
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The chardonnay grape variety produces some of the most highly acclaimed, prestigious white wines and has subsequently developed a huge following. It is one of the most widely planted white wine grape varieties in the world.
The big question is, given its popularity, how do you find the good ones? Furthermore, how do you find the more interesting renditions?
Here are four that will show you what chardonnay can be, so that you can start your own quest for better bottlings, especially for the dollar spent:
>> 2016 Olelo Chardonnay “Central Coast” (roughly $15 a bottle): Olelo is the side project of world-renowned master sommelier Michael Jordan (no, NOT the basketball player). The Kalani High School graduate is respected in the wine arena because of his work in “taking wine to the people,” that is, making wine accessible to as wide of a spectrum of consumers as he can. With no pretense whatsoever, he delivers a message is about the enjoyment of wine. It makes sense, then, that one of his own labeled wines would also be about value. The 2016, mostly from the southeast Paso Robles, Calif., appellation, is aged with a touch of French oak to help frame the wine’s mojo and give it more complexity. Stylistically, the wine is quite refined, seamless and suave from beginning to end.
>> 2015 Maison L’Envoye Bourgogne “Vieilles Vignes” (roughly $20 a bottle): For this wine, we take a trip to Burgundy, France, hence the name Bourgogne. Bourgogne is famous for its limestone-based soils. Somehow the minerality of these marine-based soils finds its way through the vines to the grapes and into the finished wine. This wine, therefore, has a mineral- driven character, rather than the apple, pineapple and pear nuances prevalent in New World renditions, such as those from California, Washington, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand or Chile. I find this wine intriguing and ethereal. With every whiff and taste, very different nuances open up. I also love how light it seems on the palate, and its lively, crisp, completely refreshing finish after each swallow. This is an amazing, sweet deal, one you should seek out.
>> 2015 Melville Chardonnay “Estate” (roughly $29 a bottle): Seeing the Melville estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills appellation of California recently reminded me that it comprises a couple of sand dunes (or something akin to that), with a ferocious ocean wind constantly pounding the vines. Those sandy soils create a brininess in the wine, reminiscent of sea shells and the ocean. I just tasted this 2015 and loved its purity and transparency. It is a lovely drink — elegant, refined, masterfully harmonious, well-textured and delicious.
>> 2016 The Hilt Chardonnay “Santa Barbara” (roughly $42 a bottle): I am not a winemaker nor a vineyard person and I have nothing to gain from hyping this wine project, but I must say The Hilt is one of the most exciting California chardonnays that I have run across in the past few years. The winery draws grapes from a most notable bevy of revered, high-pedigree vineyard sites, which set a core of soil-driven mojo, structure and pedigree in the finished wine. I also love how wonderfully masculine and savory the 2016 is, while taking nothing away from the purity, seamlessness and resounding character innate to the wine. Treat yourself to a bottle, before prices inevitably increase. (The Hilt produces two more chardonnays — “Vanguard” and “Old Guard.”)
Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the DK Restaurants group. Follow his blog at chuckfuruya.com.