This vintage of the Chateau Montelena chardonnay shows once again the greatness of California wine
Full disclosure first: When we talked last month, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told me he read the blog and enjoyed it. Who am I to argue with his good sense?
Regardless, it’s easy to write nice things about the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, which I do every couple of years. This vintage ($50, sample, 13.9%) is again a testament to what makes California wine so wonderful – fresh, layered, sophisticated, and uniquely different from great wine anywhere else in the world.
In addition, the 2017 tastes completely different than the 2015. Which, as Crafton and I discussed last month, is part of the joy of wine. Truly take what the vineyard gives you, and let the wine speak for itself. Because what’s the point of making the same wine every year just to get 92 points?
The 2017 is still very, very young, and its fruit and spice won’t completely show themselves for at least several years. But the wine is still drinkable and quite enjoyable – some floral and apple-y aromas, a wonderful rich baked apple fruit precisely balanced with the rest of the wine, and a long, amazing, and chalky finish.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Mother’s Day. Toast Mom with this, even if you can’t be with her, and appreciate life’s small pleasures in a time of uncertainty.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
• Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.
• Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow
• Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import
So when I took my own advice and used Wine.com a couple of weeks ago, the Giesen sauvignon blanc ($11, purchased, 13%) was one of the first wines I ordered. And it was a fine choice.
The key to this New Zealand white is that it tastes like sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, but it’s much more than just a lot of grapefruit zinging up the glass. There’s a little gooseberry mixing with the white grapefruit, as well as fresh herbs and the bit of tropical fruit in the middle that the best Kiwi sauvignon blancs seem to have. Plus, look for lots of minerality on the long, clean, and fresh finish.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. Chill this, and drink it on its own as the weather warms, or pair it with grilled shrimp or boiled seafood.
It wasn’t, of course, because of the three-tier system. That I actually believed the people who told me it was available in many other parts of the country shows that even I can be duped. And I know better.
This vintage of the La Petite Perriere is highly recommended, which means Hall of Fame quality and a spot on the shortlist for the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year. And why not? It tastes like top-notch sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire, home to some of the best sauvignon blanc in the world. But it costs about as much as a plonky bottle of supermarket white wine.
Suck on that, three-tier system.
Which isn’t surprising, since the Saget family, whose company makes the wine, has been in business since Napoleon was emperor of France, more than two centuries.
Look for more lemon than grapefruit fruit, a pleasant change from the New Zealand style that predominates, even in non-New Zealand wines. There’s also a little something tropical in the middle (barely ripe melon?), and lovely Loire-style minerality on the finish. I drank this with socca on Saturday night; for the time it took to finish the bottle, I wasn’t stuck in my house during the pandemic, but enjoying wine and food the way they should be enjoyed.
South Africa’s MAN chenin blanc offers quality and value in an $11 white wine
I’ve spent the past couple of months writing about South African wine, not only here but for the trade media. The goal? Trying to figure out if South Africa can fill the void caused by the 25 percent tariff on French, Spanish, and German wine.
Sadly, despite top quality wines like the MAN chenin blanc ($11, purchased, 12.5%), the answer seems to be no. The reasons are many, including the three-tier system (since each wine needs a distributor, which most don’t have) and problematic pricing on higher-end South African wines.
Which is too bad, since the MAN chenin blanc does everything a terrific $10 wine should do. It’s a far cry from the country’s pre-Apartheid chenin blanc, when it was called steen and was likely to be soft and flabby.
Instead, the MAN is fresh, crisp, and enjoyable, without any cloying fruit or sweetness. Look for some lime and tropical fruit and more layers of flavor than most chenins at this price have. In this, is a professional wine and very well done, and shows how far South African winemaking has come.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve speaks to Oregon quality and value
The Ponzi family was one of the first to make pinot noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1970s, and their pinot has long been regarded as some of the state’s best. Now, second generation winemaker Luisa Ponzi wants to do for chardonnay what her father Dick did for pinot.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve ($40, sample, 13.5%) shows the skill and quality in her approach. First and foremost, it’s a tremendous value – a top-notch New World chardonnay that is quite young but delicious now (and could age for as much as a decade).
Look for an almost baked apple aroma, followed by fresh, tart green apple fruit and baking spice flavors and supported by just the right amount of oak. The finish is long and pleasant. This wine, as most great Oregon wines do, sits somewhere between the French and California versions of chardonnay and shows why Oregon has earned its excellent reputation.
Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to buy now drink and buy again and keep for a couple of years.
Hopefully, that guy isn’t looking for a $3 bottle of wine.
This $3 wine challenge? One bottle was sort of palatable, but the other four weren’t even close
A 3-liter box of decent wine, like the Bota Box rose or the Black Box merlot, costs about $15, which is less than $4 a bottle. Do yourself a favor and buy one of those. Don’t waste your money on any of the wines in the WC’s fifth, almost annual, $3 wine challenge.
• Four of the five were noticeably sweet and a couple were very sweet. Which would be fine, except that these wines pass themselves off as dry.
• The Two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s smelled like old cheese. More yummy!
• The best of the five was Walmart’s Oak Leaf, which was thin, watery, and not obviously sweet, but sort of tasted like chardonnay. And it’s the only one that had any acidity, and there was even a touch of nicely done fake oak. Yes, that would be damning with faint praise.