Friday, November 21, 2008

Reliable Whites Part 1

In the continuing quest to save you from damaging your palate while in unfamiliar environs, I now present white wines that are fairly ubiquitous but are actually tasty and reasonably priced.

Today, we'll deal with Chardonnay and I must disclose that I rarely, if ever, drink this variety at this price point. I find the great majority of them to be totally interchangeable, undistinguished, over-oaked and lacking acidity. So, these wines lean toward what I would describe as a cleaner style, which both makes my mouth happier and pairs better with food. If you want a big oaky Chardonnay, you can nearly close your eyes and grab one from California or Australia. If you're disappointed with the results, let me know; I might enjoy the wine.

Louis Latour - Chardonnay Ardeche and Grand Ardeche - The Latour family has grown grapes since the 17th century. That long history has lead to a well deserved reputation of excellence. Although I am not a big fan of their reds generally, the whites are outstanding. These two offerings come from the Ardeche region, well south of Burgundy. Grapes from within Burgundy proper, the Cote d'Or, are relatively expensive and they could never use that source to produce wines at these prices. The regular Ardeche, in a fat, green bottle, is aged in stainless steel only and this creates a wine that can be a bit light for Chardonnay fans, but works beautifully with lighter fish dishes and goat cheese. The Grand Ardeche is aged in oak, I believe all French, and has a nutty, buttery aroma and palate but retains enough acid to provide balance. It is much more the full throttle style of Chard, but with the expected French restraint. Various importers. Ardeche $7-$10, Grand Ardeche $10-$14.

Okay, I admit it, I am more than a bit of a Franco-phile, especially when discussing Chardonnay.

Here's another option...

Louis Jadot Macon Lugny - Another Burgundy producer, this wine comes from just north of the Beaujolais appellation well south of the Cote d'Or proper. The region, called the Maconnais, produces wonderful Chardonnay with plenty of vibrant and complex minerality from the limestone soils. The better known Pouilly-fuisse hails from this area, but carries a heftier price tag. Jadot's Macon-Lugny is vinified in stainless steel to preserve the bright fruitiness, although my recollection is that it does spend time in oak for a short period of time. The wines of the Maconnais are not big, broad shouldered Chardonnays, but they offer wonderful depth, complexity and intrigue for the price. Imported by Kobrand, $11-$14.

Oxford Landing Chardonnay - Mark the date...I am recommending an Australian Chardonnay that costs less than $10. It may never happen again. Too many inexpensive Aussie whites are over-oaked, lack acid and focus, while offering little more than the simplest of exotic fruit notes. Not so with Oxford Landing. I feel the need to share some technical information here both to shed light on why this wine works so well and to show the care the winery shows in making a wine that is incredibly inexpensive. Twenty percent of the wine was fermented with wild yeasts, which generally leads to more complexity on the nose and palate than using a specific cultured yeast. That portion then spends time on the lees after fermentation, adding richness and depth for the mid-palate especially. About ten percent undergoes malolactic fermentation which converts malic acid, like that in green apples, to lactic acid, like that in milk. Lower percentage of malolactic fermentation retains more fresh acidity, something I find lacking in too many Aussie whites. Additionally, some portion of a reserve wine from the previous vintage is added to the wine which adds more excitement to this nearly miraculous bargain. Melon, hints of peach, some creamy, buttery notes and an undeniable gulpability make this a great choice for dedicated Chardonnay lovers but I also found at recent tastings that even non-Chardonnay people found pleasure here. Imported by Negociants USA, $7-9.

The next post will wrap up the whites and move us into some bubbles.

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