Call it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous for being expensive. Bring on the Yellow Tail shiraz, right?
Nevertheless, that producers like Leeuwin are making these kinds of wines points to the quality that has been overlooked in Australia’s troubles over the past decade. The Leeuwin chardonnay ($70, sample, 14%) is top-notch, even for the price, and if it isn’t high-end white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France), it’s not supposed to be.
Look for rich, delicious apple fruit, as well as what the wine magazines called baked apple aromas, with a little cinnamon and spice mixing with the apple. Also, the wine has a full mouth feel, which you should get at this price. This is a New World chardonnay, a little heavier and with a little more oomph than white Burgundy, but it understands that quality is about more than oomph. In this, it should age well, losing some of the heft and becoming more refined over the next several years.
Drink this chilled with classic chardonnay cream sauce dishes; it’s also the kind of wine to give as a gift for someone who wants to explore high-end chardonnay, and understand that terroir exists in places other than California and France.
In the Winestream Media’s version of the world, the only odd grapes that matter come from countries that don’t make enough wine to matter, but are sold in Manhattan. If odd grapes are used in something that’s actually on store shelves, the wine gets 87 points, like the Scaia Garganega Chardonnay.
Which demonstrates two things — the uselessness of scores, and the idea that we should not be afraid to try something that isn’t what we usually drink. The main reason I bought this was wine was because it was an odd blend, and as the Italian Wine Guy has said more than once, the Wine Curmudgeon never met a grape he didn’t want to try. Especially it costs $10.
The Scaia Garganega Chardonnay ($10, purchased, 12.5%), an Italian white blend, speaks to all of those points. It will never get a 90-plus score because it’s a cheap white, and because the chardonnay is blended with the grape used to make Soave, an Italian white that is too often indifferently made. Besides, any self-respecting Winestream Media type would gag at the thought of chardonnay blended with garganega.
All of which is just wine writing foolishiness. The Scaia Garganega Chardonnay features the best of each grape — crispness and acidity from the garganega and a bit of richness and tropical fruit from the chardonnay. It’s a combination that’s to be much appreciated on a hot summer day, either on its own or with any kind of seafood. It’s also the kind of wine to keep on hand if you want a glass with dinner
Highly recommended, and a candidate (almost certain to be included) for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Th month: white wine for summer.
? Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): The Josh Cellars reds are some of the best values in the world. Unfortunately, this California white is nowhere near as well made as the reds — thin, bitter, and stemmy, and what seems like fruit chosen to hit the price point and not to make better wine.
? Argento Chardonnay Reserva 2014 ($12, sample, 13.5%): Grocery store chardonnay from Argentina that demonstrates how Big Wine can turn ordinary grapes into something quite pleasant when it wants to. Look for white stone fruit and a hint of sweetness that balances everything out.
? Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($15, sample, 13.5%): Consistent, well-made, varietally correct California sauvignon blanc that always offers value. Look for citrus and tropical flavors, but none that are overdone, and a clean finish. This may cost as little $12 or $13 in the grocery store, which is the time to buy several.
? Line 39 Pinot Grigio 2014 ($12, sample, 13%): One of the oddest wines I’ve ever tasted, with little pinot gris or pinot grigio character and more chardonnay flavor than anything else. But it’s 100 percent California pinot grigio, and without any added sugar despite a decidedly sweet feel to it. Go figure.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Estancia Chardonnay Unoaked 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Not very chardonnay-like, with an odd, though pleasant, orange muscat aroma and a hint of sweetness. Chardonnay for people who want it to taste like moscato.
? Toad Hollow Risqu ($16, sample, 6%): One of my favorite bubblies, mostly because it’s made using an obscure grape and equally obscure sparkling process. This is the best it has been in years, and one of best sweet sparklers I’ve tasted in a long while. Tight, wonderful bubbles, sweet lemon, and acidity to balance all.
? Cellier des Dauphins Les Dauphins Reserve Rouge 2013 ($13, sample, 13%): Grocery store plonk masquerading as award-winning French wine, with lots of flabby sweet red fruit, harsh tannins, and almost nothing else. This is a marketing wine, where what the label looks like is more important than what’s in the bottle.
? Chapoutier Belleruche Rose 2014 ($12, sample, $13): Everyone else likes this wine more than I do, and it always shows up on summer rose lists. But it always seems pricey for what it is — sweet, crisp strawberry fruit and not much else.
You love your Mom, right? You want nothing but the best for her, don’t you? Then the Belland Les Champs-Gain is the wine for her and Mother’s Day.
The Belland Les Champs-Gain ($70, purchased, 13%), a premier cru from the Puligny-Montrachet region in Burgundy, is everything that great wine is supposed to be. It’s the kind of chardonnay that people dream about, and that even those of us who don’t want to pay more than $10 for wine will drink without hesitation — subtle and muted, with layers and layers of flavors and aromas.
Look for white pepper, a brilliant use of oak, and almost ripe apples, three signs of great white Burgundy from Puligny. But there is so much more going on that it’s almost impossible to describe. Besides, just listing a bunch of adjectives won’t come close to doing the wine justice (even though that’s apparently what I’m supposed to do).
Highly recommended, though availability may be limited. In which case, ask your retailer for something similar, and you can’t go wrong. White Burgundy remains one of the few parts of the French wine business that hasn’t shot itself in the foot, head, and behind, for which the Wine Curmudgeon is quite appreciative.
? There’s ranting, and then there’s ranting: Stuart Piggott, an English wine writer who lives in Germany and champions riesling, has had quite enough of overoaked, high alcohol chardonnay, thank you very much. His screed takes on Kistler, one of the most popular (and expensive) of those wines; imagine Monty Python meeting GoodFellas. It’s funny, spot on, and contains a couple of words we don’t use on the blog for those of you who worry about those things. Most importantly, Piggott doesn’t dismiss all chardonnay because of some, but points out that chardonnay that’s varietally correct is still one of the great wines in the world.
? A long way to go: ShipCompliant, which helps wineries with the maze that are federal and state liquor laws. notes that we still have a long to go before out-of-state retailers can ship wine to most consumers. Currently, only 14 states allow retailer shipping, and that doesn’t include the biggest markets in the country, like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. The Wine Curmudgeon, who has often been accused of disparaging direct shipping, mentions this not for that reason, but to note that until three-tier changes, most of us will not be able to legally order wine from an out of state retailer, no matter what the hype.
? Turn it into bio-fuel: How out of touch with reality are liquor cops and health officials? Consider this, from South Africa, where cheap pinotage has been accused of causing one region’s drinking problems. The Western Cape premier wants producers to turn their grapes into bio-fuel instead of wine as one way to combat the problem, but apparently failing to note that there is no feasible method to do that and that other booze, like ale, is substantially cheaper than wine. Said a wine industry spokesman: “We accept that alcohol abuse is a very big problem in the Western Cape, but we believe that there should be a focus on illegal traders and [unlicensed bars] — some of whom even sell alcohol on credit.”
The world of California chardonnay has gone in so many directions over the past decade that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track. First, everything was toasty and oaky, then there was the backlash against toasty and oaky, and then there was the backlash against the backlash. Meanwhile, alcohol levels shot up by a point or more, giving us chardonnay that was hot as some zinfandels, close to 15 percent. Except when they weren’t.
Through all of this, a handful of producers ignored the trends and did what they did best. One is the Jordan chardonnay ($30, sample, 13.7%). Vintage after vintage, it’s dependable, well-made, and varietally correct. This, in the hipster world of California chardonnay, is often seen as damning with faint praise.
Which is foolish. What’s wrong with doing something correctly every year? The Jordan is the archetype for California Russian River Valley chardonnay, with green apple fruit, oak more or less in balance, and a rich mouth feel. This vintage is a little less oaky and more crisp, with a bit of apricot in the mix.
The Jordan chardonnay is better with food, and especially with classic chardonnay dishes made with cream sauces. But given the extra acidity in this vintage, don’t shy away from from roasted fish or chicken ballotine. Highly recommended (even for the holiday that must not be named), and regular visitors here know how fussy I am about chardonnay.