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Truly toothsome Chardonnay

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, and Jason Wentworth

Chardonnay continues to be America’s favorite wine. Though hard to believe, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the mid-1960s, when generic “Chablis” was the rage, plantings of Chardonnay in California hovered around a mere 1,000 acres. By the late 1980s there were 30,000 acres, and as of 2010 there were more than 95,000 acres planted across the state, according to California’s Wine Institute.

Though Chardonnay vines are planted throughout the U.S., most Americans associate California with Chardonnay. This perception may have its origins in the so-called “Judgment of Paris,” a wine competition held in Paris, France in 1976. A panel of judges conducted two blind tastings. In one, five California Cabernet Sauvignons were tasted alongside five red wines from Bordeaux. Much is still made of the fact that California’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon bested five of Bordeaux’s most exalted reds.

Many, however, have forgotten the second tasting, which pitted five California Chardonnays against five prestigious white wines from Burgundy, considered to be the source of the world’s finest Chardonnay-based wines. The judges again gave top honors to a California wine, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. There’s no doubt that this (at the time) startling outcome served as a springboard for increased plantings of Chardonnay in California as well as, ultimately, its unstoppable popularity in the U.S.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently visited the current state of California Chardonnay through a blind tasting of 22 examples under $30. The group’s top pick was the Truchard 2010 Carneros/Napa Valley Chardonnay ($24/bottle). Carneros spans portions of both Napa and Sonoma counties, and is a relatively cool region for the area, thus making it a good place to produce balanced Chardonnay. Indeed, the Truchard is full of rich, pineapple-like fruit laced with toasty vanilla notes that are complemented nicely by firm, refreshing acidity.

Also worth considering is the tasting’s best value, the richly fruited Sonoma Hills 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($14/bottle).

Both wines will pair nicely with the fuller flavored foods cooler weather brings. Try them with roasted turkey, chicken, or pork, as well as dishes with creamy sauces.

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