Though some might argue that delicate is not a word that has much to do with Chardonnay, many producers in Washington State are taking that sentiment to task and turning out fine examples of Chardonnay that show the wine’s refined side.
Chardonnay as most Americans know it is a wine that really came of age in the 1980’s. Just like almost everything else – the hair, the shoulder pads, the wine of the times was big, opulent, and not much for subtlety.
Rich and buttery, these luxurious Chardonnays answered perfectly to the taste for excess that ruled the decade. These wines were also, in a way, the first real example of a distinctly American style. Crafted with the rich and nutty Chardonnays of France’s Cote d’Or in mind, wine makers in California started to produce Chardonnays redolent of oak, vanilla, and even buttered popcorn that filled the mouth with soft round licks of velvet.
These rather lush examples of Chardonnay have stuck around a lot longer than some of the other fads of the times – but tastes have started to make a marked shift towards Chardonnays produced with a lighter hand.
Chardonnay is a grape that can be greatly influenced by climate, terroir, and the choices a producer makes. The Chardonnays from Washington’s Columbia Valley are a great introduction to the grape’s adaptability and propensity for variation – not to mention some of its very best expressions.
VT tasted: Cote Bonneville Winery, Dubrul Vineyard 2008 – $47/bottle
Try: A classic Chardonnay from the Cote d’Or of Burgundy. Look for the Puligny-Montrachet AOC – these are wines that are rich with flavors of roasted nuts and a hint of smoke.
VT tasted: Efeste “Lola” Chardonnay 2009 – $30/bottle
Try: A classic California-style Chardonnay from Napa. These are wines that have a luscious mouth feel and notes of vanilla, burnt sugar, and ripe fruit.
VT tasted: Januik Winery Cold Creek Chardonnay 2009 – $25/bottle
Try: A flirtatious Chardonnay from Sonoma. These examples are creamy as opposed to rich, and have notes of peach and pears to compliment a hit of oak.
VT tasted: Owen Roe Dubrul Vineyard 2009 – $28/bottle
Try: A tropical-scented and silky Chardonnay from South Africa. Though the flavors are ripe, they’re accompanied by racy acidity and a clean finish.
VT tasted: Rulo Sundance Chardonnay 2009 – $20/bottle
Try: This style is becoming increasingly popular and also done very well in Australia. The usual suspects of oak and vanilla are replaced with bright tropical flavors and a tight finish.
VT tasted: Woodward Canyon Chardonnay 2009 – $44/bottle
Try: This is a wine that is lush with bright herby notes of Meyer lemon and lemon verbena – think of those flavors in a custard and then pour it into a glass. What you’ve got on your hands is a wine that evokes the Chardonnays of Mersault – located in the Cote de Beaune region of Burgundy.
For more information on the episode featuring these wines, click: Episode Guide: Weighing Washington Chardonnays.