August 24, 2006

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Got milk?

Falling into new wine season
Celebrate with a nice chardonnay
By Tim Protzman tprotzman@sbcglobal.net

Soon it will be fall. The leaves will turn yellow and orange and red and burnt siena, which is the color left over after someone torches your minivan.

Soon you’ll stop and go to work behind the school bus that picks up the children on their way to school. Geese will flock together. They’ve already started. Just this morning a whole bunch of them were hanging out on an empty baseball field near my house. They were Canadian Geese, except for one lone Snow Goose trying to fit in. It was on the edge of the flock and you could clearly see that it was a bit ostracized. I felt its pain. Until recently I was like that Snow Goose, the one wine drinker who tried to be different, daring and non-conformist. But like those totally-hip-in-their-own-mind people who wear mostly black and use the word “microcosm” a lot, I was just missing out on some of life’s simpler pleasures.

It started last week. We were going to lunch and we chose Taco Bell. Now I rarely eat at Taco Bell. I like it but when I was in my early 30s I had this friend named Kenny. He thought too much. And he’d say things like, “If I took acid and went to an Impressionist art exhibit would it seem like photo realism?”

Whenever you went out with Kenny, you always ended up at Taco Bell. And this was before the chalupa. So it was with some disdain that I ended up at Taco Bell for lunch.

I can’t tell you what I had, but it was good. It was this folded thing with lettuce, salsa, tomato, cheese, ground beef and a crunchy thing in the middle. I searched the Taco Bell Web site and narrowed it down to a Fiesta Salad or a Crunch Wrap Supreme, which sounds like a maneuver one of those personal trainers at the expensive health club would make you do.

“I saw you at Taco Bell last night, don’t deny it, I’d know your 1978 purple Gremlin anywhere. Get down and give me 20 Crunch Wrap Supremes!”

Sitting there in the car, with a diet Coke and a Crunchy Fiesta Salad Wrap, listening to Diana Ross and the Supremes singing “Where Did Our Love Go?” I made a life-changing decision. I was going to drink more chardonnay. It’s refreshing and light, perfect for relaxing on a warm Indian Summer afternoon. It’s also versatile. It goes with most meats, fish and poultry and it is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Chardonnay is the Pabst Blue Ribbon of wine. Wine aficionados long ago moved on to the trendier more exotic varietals. I’ve even heard cork dorks brag, “We were off chardonnay long before everyone else had discovered it.”

They forget that chardonnay is one of the true noble grapes, as individualistic as the soil and winemaker’s imagination are fertile. Its styles are different, not only from continent to continent, but from vineyard to vineyard. A Sonoma chard can be rich and buttery, a Napa sleek and fruity, a Chablis metallic and tart, and an Australian downright tropical with vanilla and mango fruit notes.

The problem with chardonnay today is we have a few mega-producers making a so-so product which captures a huge market share through clever marketing. Most use some form of animal logo. Five of the top ten best selling wines at the State stores are chardonnays. So how does one know which is right for him?

First off price is not always an indicator. We tried the Rombauer 2005 Carneros Chardonnay and found we like the 2004 Edna Valley Paragon better. The Rombauer sells for $27.99 and the Edna Valley, from California’s Central Coast, just north of Santa Barbara, costs $15.99. The Rombauer was a bit brooding compared to the rich slightly sweeter taste of the Edna Valley. There were more mineral flavors in the Edna Valley and it had a better aroma. I also like Sonoma-Cutrer because of the style, although at $28.99 it’s not cheap.

Wine friends have told me there’s nothing like bicycling through Napa and stopping at a little restaurant for lunch where you get just-picked vegetables, ultra-fresh seafood and fowl and delicious wine by the glass. They also say the same for Burgundy where, if he likes you, a winemaker may allow you into his cellar for a glass that come from vines not more than 100 feet away. It’ll be a tiny little plot that sells most of its grapes to a bigger winemaker but keeps just enough to make a few hundred cases. But there are no large wine estates in Manchester, New Hampshire, so like most American wine fans we gotta buy the stuff, and it’s not always easy to choose a great chardonnay when someone else decides what to put on the shelf. But here are a few chards that present a decent interpretation on the grape, give you a feel of the style of each region and aren’t too expensive.

Vine Cliff from Napa $23.99. Nice butter tones.

Qupe Chardonnay Bien Nacido Reserve, $24.99. Big lemon fruit start with a custard finish.

Vocoret Chablis La Foret, $17.99. Chablis is chardonnay grapes grown in the Chablis region between Champagne and Burgundy. This is a light wine that really takes off with food.

Any wine by the French producer Verget. Pricey, not for every day, but when you’re ready to take chardonnay to the next level.

Any Australian chardonnay from West Australia’s Margaret River District. Try Cape Mentelle, Voyager or the more expensive Leeuwin. The cool Indian Ocean air keeps the fruit chilled at night. The wines have a balance that the big vat producers of Eastern Australia have forgotten.

Wild Horse Central Coast, $12.99. Nice and dependable. California.

Simi, $12.99, California from Sonoma. Better than any chardonnay you’d get at Hooters.

Meridian Chardonnay Santa Barbara, $8.99. Good for every day.

Meridian Chardonnay Edna Valley Reserve, $11.99. Cheap enough for everyday, tasty enough for company.

Callaway Chardonnay Coastal California, $5.99. It’s one-dimensional, but it’s interesting. Not too oaky, buttery or tart.

My dream chardonnay: Grgich Hills Napa Chardonnay, $49.99. This family-owned cult winery learned the trade in the former Yugoslavia and now they make a deep, serious, but fun to drink wine that’s the poster child for the Californian Chardonnay style. So good it even goes with Snow Goose.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at tprotzman@sbcglobal.net.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com


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