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Wine Review: Chardonnay may become queen again

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Chardonnay, the once reigning queen of white wines, has teetered a bit on the throne.

However, there are still places in this world where the name Montrachet (pronounced: mohn rah shay) will engender smiles, sighs and an appreciative nod. Montrachet chardonnay wines have for centuries been considered the apex of all white wines. Coming from the hilly and cooler Burgundy region of France, it is a wine without peer that still commands a hefty price.

The growing of chardonnay grapes in this area opened a Pandora’s box of variations. There were some exceptional wines produced that were true to their French sisters, but as with anything good, there were knockoffs. All of the chards were drinkable and many were quite good, but they were nothing like the chardonnays of old that had created the variety’s reputation. Many of the lesser chardonnays were not even aged in oak as the traditional style calls for. Yet other producers even went as far as to ferment in oak casks, as is tradition. It is that touch of oak and vanilla, derived from the barrels and cask, that marks a true chardonnay.

As you have probably already deduced, I am about to introduce two chardonnay wines that are not only worthy of your attention and true to the style of old but also are not copycats. To put it in another way, these wines, while bowing to the traditional style, have tinkered with the wine just a bit in order to make it more friendly to today’s food choices and dining experience.

Columbia Winery 2016 Chardonnay ($15)
This is undoubtedly among the best chardonnay wine values. This is a comfortable wine that combines all of the elements of a fine chardonnay into a mellow and easy-to-drink beverage. The aroma is alive with the scents of pears, apples and vanilla, with a hint of roasted nuts in the background. The flavor is bright, fruity and crisp, accenting green apples and pears. The finish is soft and possesses a toast-like element. From beginning to end, this is a grand wine and worth far more than its modest price tag.

William Hill Estate Winery 2017 North Coast Chardonnay ($18)
This wine is not one of those boring chardonnays that are so very common today. It is a wine in which the fruit is boldly expressed in both the aroma and the flavor. The grapes have been selected from vineyards that lie in some of California's cooler regions, assuring quality grapes for the winemakers. The choice of grapes from the North Coast vineyards proves to be a good one as this wine displays all of the charm of a California chardonnay. The aroma stresses a floral note, which includes orange blossom and jasmine, coupled with tropical fruits and a great deal of citrus. The aromas carry over into the flavor, where they merge with oak and vanilla. The finish rounds off this cornucopia of flavor by presenting soft tropical fruits and citrus wrapped in a creamy silky mouth feel, a trait found only in better chardonnays. The wine also fits nicely in the price and quality niche that makes it a great buy for the quality offered.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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