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Chardonnay deserves a better evaluation
Anti-chardonnay snobs need to reconsider

Date published: 8/30/2006

THERE IS a category of cus- tomer in the wine industry known as "ABC" -- Anything But Chardonnay. I would love to have these people reconsider. There is so much variety, I'm sure anybody can find a chardonnay he likes.

Love it or hate it, there is no denying the versatility of chardonnay. Few other grapes lend themselves to such myriad different styles. Whether you like them buttery, crispy, oaky or flinty, there is a style to suit just about everybody.

Let's take Burgundy as an example. The different styles in this one region, traditional home of this white wonder, are enough to boggle the mind. The fine wines of Corton-Charlemagne reflect the unmistakable flavor of marzipan. Chassagne-Montrachet is known for a nutty flavor, while further north in Mersault, butter is characteristic.

Chablis, way to the north of the region, is a totally different kettle of fish (or barrel of grapes). Generally the wines of Chablis are much lighter-bodied and more acidic than their other Burgundian counterparts. This is in part due to the infrequent use of oak casks, partly due to producers rarely using malolactic fermentation (a subject for another column). The best wines of Chablis are often truly age-worthy.

While Burgundy may be the traditional home of chardonnay, California has really made its mark on this front. Sonoma, particularly the Russian River Valley, makes some exceptional chardonnay, with wonderful crisp pear and apple flavors that make the wine incredibly gluggable.

Farther to the south, Carneros typically involves some flinty, mineral characteristics, while Monterey is generally associated with citrus flavors. Way down south in San Luis Obispo we get into peach and apricot.

Australians make a very tangy chardonnay, inevitably very approachable, and always affordable. It is a great crowd-pleaser for the uninitiated and a relaxing, unpretentious beverage of choice for the seasoned imbiber.

Chile offers great value for money on all wine fronts, but chardonnay is always a great buy, often made in the style of its California counterparts. There are few countries or regions that don't grow chardonnay in one form or another. They even grow it in Austria, even if they do call it morillon.


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