Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Chardonnays

I love chardonnay. While my palate tends to favor the leaner, more acidic and mineral-driven chards of Burgundy, I can't really afford to sip Chassagne-Montrachets all the time. So I'm constantly on the lookout for chardonnays that offer complexity and balance for a reasonable price. I also try not to limit my chardonnay drinking to one or two specific regions, because the grape can be grown in so many different places and made into so many different styles of wine. Here are two recent examples of solid chardonnays that reflect their time and place. And, hey, not too bad on the wallet either.

2010 Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet (France, Burgundy, Chablis 1er Cru)
I’ve enjoyed this wine over the course of several vintages, dating back to the 2005, which was some of the first white Burgundy I started buying. Clear straw color. Aromas of freshly-cut grapefruit, limestone, quinine and a just a hint of hazelnut. Just like a 2010 Chablis should, this wine shows snappy acid and fresh fruit. The flavors of green apple, pear and a hint of honeydew are bright and youthful. There’s a lovely creaminess to this wine, but it’s so balanced. Very elegant and fresh, with opulent honeysuckle and peach blossom, and the tangy citrus aspect, along with a sugarcane flavor, reminds me of Smarties candy. Acid and limestone crackle on the finish. I’d love to taste this again in five years, as it’s clearly a young wine. What a steal for $12 per half bottle! 89+ points.

2009 Melville Chardonnay Estate (California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills)
Melville was one of the first California wineries I visited back in 2008. I was impressed by their chardonnays and pinots, which I find rich but also elegant. I picked up this chardonnay for $22, and it delivers for the price. It’s the neon yellow color of Tweety Bird in the glass. On the nose, explosive aromas of toasted nuts, lemon zest, baked apple and something that reminds me of orange Pez candy. The palate is expectedly rich, with creamy apple, pear and lemon fruit. What’s surprising is the acid, which is of medium intensity and provides solid structure. It tastes juicy, not goopy. Be warned: there’s some significant oak here, dosing the fruit with flavors of toasted marshmallow and buttered biscuits. The tanginess and sweet tart flavor make this wine unique in a sea of vapid chardonnays. If you criticize California chardonnay for being too buttery and oaky, this might be one to try, because it is far more restrained than most Cali chards. 87 points.

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