Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chardonnay on the Cheap

A lot of the wines I review tend to fall outside of the budget for the average Wednesday night at home. But even if you can’t spend much, you can still drink some decent Chardonnay.

Let me start off with a disclaimer: the category of <$15 Chardonnays is a total minefield. So many of the wines taste like butter-product poured over movie theater popcorn and topped with baked apples. Now, many people like this, and that’s why they buy it in large quantities. This is all well and good. But these wines are not, by and large, “serious” in the sense that the wine producers are trying to make a statement about vineyards, the characteristics of the grape variety or the aesthetic of the vintage. But they can be damn tasty. And I can never forget that I fell in love with wine while buying bottles that cost, for the most part, $15 or less. 

(A quick aside: When it comes to recommending cheap wine, I have to plug The Reverse Wine Snob. No one has tasted and praised more cheap wine than he.)

On to the cheap Chards...
Virginia: home to some solid, cheap Chardonnay.
2010 Prince Michel of Virginia Chardonnay - USA, Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($15)
A slight spritz in the glass. Lime, nectarine and floral aromas. On the palate, tangy, light, easy-drinking. Flavors of honey and canned pineapple juice, but the acid comes through with a lot of crispness. Made in a mix of stainless steel and old barrels, this is holding up well. Overall, I think this winery falls somewhere in the lower-middle class of Virginia wines, but I think this Chard is one of the best wines they make. (85 points)

2011 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Paragon - USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley ($12)
Gold color. Yellow apple, honeycomb and some sea shells on the nose. Juicy apple and tangerine on the palate, with medium acid. Some whipped honey, nuts and nougat notes. Tasty, and solid for the price, but lacks a bit of personality. (84 points)

2012 Simi Chardonnay - USA, California, Sonoma County ($12)
Aromas of pineapple, apricot some yellow flowers. Creamy and full on the palate, with yellow apple, whipped honey, almond and a slight herbal note. Well-balanced with acidity, the oak shows, but it’s a fun wine. One of the better in this price range. (85 points)

2009 Columbia Crest Chardonnay H3 - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills ($12)
The oak bothered me more now that the fruit has faded a bit over the years. Still some golden apple and honey flavors show through, but the oak, caramel and vanilla are a bit too strong for my palate. I can tolerate a good amount of oak, this is too much for me. That said, if you like the caramel and buttered popcorn, this is your stuff. (83 points)

2012 Alamos Chardonnay - Argentina, Mendoza ($8)
Aromas of green pear and white flowers, some popcorn. The palate shows juicy pineapple and pear, along with rich golden apples, coconut shavings and popcorn notes. Still, crisp acid throughout, which keeps it lively, stemming from the high elevation vineyards (3-6,000 feet). Green apple, butterscotch and nougat flavors combine on the finish. Fun stuff, and definitely a solid Chard for $8 bucks. (86 points)

Medium golden yellow color. Rich and toasty (obviously) on the nose, honeybutter and pineapple, golden apple and cinnamon. Rich and honeyed on the palate, with pineapple, butter biscuits, popcorn, actually some acid for some balance. Chunky pineapple and mango on the finish. Rich and simple, crowd-pleasing for those crowds who like this style. I know it’s supermarket stuff, and I’m sure other wine nerds will mock me, but, dammit, I can’t help but find this wine fun. (83 points)

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