There are countless Chardonnays out there, with every style, every flavor, every finish making claims to greatness. I'm not a huge fan of California's offerings, though some can be very good. A few visits to the Burgundy area of France left wondrous memories of crisp, dry, citrus-y wines, but too many American wine-shop shelves and restaurant wine lists are laden with big, oaky, buttery, overdone California wines.
Since I'm willing to admit that the problem may be mine, and not the wine's, I keep tasting.
And every now and then I find a Chardonnay (actually two) that I consider pleasant and enjoyable.
There's a lot of distance between California and Australia, and just as much difference between 2009 Chardonnays from Sequoia Grove, in the heart of Napa County, and from Plantagenet Wines, whose Omrah Chardonnay comes from the Great Southern region of Western Australia.
Sequoia Grove's version (about $18) is extremely rich, but with great balance, and the basic Chardonnay flavors are clear and crisp. The wine, from Carneros grapes, was barrel-fermented with light oak, but did not go through malolactic fermentation, which I applaud. It's a delicious wine, either as an aperitif or with oysters on the shell. The Plantagenet version (about $15) never saw any oak, was fermented in stainless steel, then left on the lees for a goodly period of time before bottling. The result is an extra-crisp, flinty wine, with considerable citrus flavor and a stony undertone. It's very much in the Burgundian style.
And despite their difference, I liked both of them very much.
Plantagenet also makes Hazard Hill, a Sauvignon Blanc (68 percent), Semillon (32) blend, with a hint of Riesling. I'm very fond of Sauvignon Blanc, but I have difficulty with Semillon, especially when blended as it is here. My palate reacts badly to the combination, feeling that the Semillon makes the Sauvignon Blanc flabby and weak. Not for me, even at $13.
On the other hand, rose wines are for me, and as we come into summer, they're especially good at lunch, or an aperitif before dinner. Innocent Bystander, from Victoria, Australia, is a delight. Oddly, it comes with a crown cap, like bottled soda used to. The winemaker reports the cap keeps its slight fizz in fine shape. Made from Black Muscat and Muscat Gordo, it's light (5.5 percent alcohol)m, its bright and lovely, though the price ($35) is rather high.
Lots of other recent tastings, too. . . .
KITCHEN SINK: Owned by Adler Fels, this Santa Rosa operation offers a non-vintage red and white, both composed of many grapes, and a bargain price of $10. Some would say this is blending at its finest; others would claim that the winemaker merely put together a large amount of inexpensive grapes. The red, with Zinfandel (38 percent), Merlot (34), Cabernet Sauvignon (21), Petite Sirah (5) and mixed red varieties (2), tastes of Zin, and is dry and fruity, probably fine for a picnic. The white, made from Chardonnay (36), Chenin Blanc (32), Gewurztraminer (21) and mixed white varieties (11), is less satisfactory. There's a pleasant aroma, but not much flavor.
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FOUR-MILE CREEK: The Novy Family displays a 2008 red wine from the north coast. There's a pleasant Rhone-style richness, and the flavor indicates a good portion of Syrah, whose presence makes this a fine companion to pasta or pizza, especially in its 10-dollar price range.
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ALENTE VINHO BRANCO: The Alentejo region of southern Portugal produces some lovely, crisp white wines in the $10 range. An '09 white, blended from antao vaz and arinto grapes, has a charming crispness and an overlay of sweetness to make this an excellent dessert wine or as an aperitif. Lots of very good fruit.
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VERAMONTE SAUVIGNON BLANC: A splendid wine from an Argentine standby, the '09 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc is a delight. Good mineral undertones and a crisp, long finish add extra layers to a rich, full-bodied wine that makes a fine companion to grilled chicken. The $12 price tag is just one more note of value.