I drink very little domestic Chardonnay but have always appreciated Saintsbury's restraint and balance compared to many of their neighbors. A chilled bottle in the fridge and the easy screwcap access helped make this the right choice for a gathering. There would be grilled salmon with an olive aioli that should at least be able to shake hands and communicate with the Saintsbury even if they were unlikely to be best friends.
Saintsbury Chardonnay, Carneros 2008 - The chardonnay comes from Carneros and usually displays a crispness and restrained use of oak. Malolactic fermentation occurs and there is some new oak (25-33%) but the French oak and cooler climate keep things from getting out of control. The wine is unfiltered and this 2008 (2009 current release) displayed a creamy, lemon nose with clear accents of oak - too much for me, but I'm picky. The palate was more of the same with some buttery texture. I found the wine disjointed and generally out of balance. I also thought it might have been acidified, the acidity seemed out of place, and it was way too sweet for me. It did not fare well as it warmed, admittedly my error for allowing it to reach that temperature. I need to try the 2009 to see if this was an aberration or if it is a sign of style to come. Fans of California chardonnay will be perfectly happy, but I was disappointed. $18-$20.
Vesevo Beneventano Aglianico, Campania 2006 - From Campania, where Naples is located, comes one of my favorite Italian grapes, aglianico. It reminds me of zinfandel, with its bright fruit and drinkability, it retains a sensibility that is distinctly Italian which makes it friendlier with food. I served this with dry-rub ribs but it worked with the salmon mentioned above fairly well. The wine was smoky, with juicy red fruit and some flashy smoky note on the palate. The texture showed extraction, but not to much and the red berry from the nose expanded to show more purple fruit. I have never quite been able to describe the purple fruit thing, but if Kool-Aid grape (purple) could have been reverse engineered and turned into a fruit without out so much sugar that might explain it. Very fine tannin offered balance but most of the dryness came from acidity and minerality. The winery is named after Mount Vesuvius and the wines in the area derive lots of complexity from minerality created through decomposition of lava from the legendary eruption in 79 AD. This wine exhibits a balanced zinfandel-style and will work wonders with grilled meats. Keep this one handy this summer. Imported by VinDivino, $15-$18.