Wine — In Praise Of An American Favorite
In Praise Of An American Favorite

By Tim Protzman

By the glass or bottle, Chardonnay is worth a taste

Four of us had a 6:30 p.m. dinner reservation. Since our table wasn’t ready, the hostess suggested we wait in the bar.

The barkeep asked us what we wanted. Almost in unison came three requests for the ubiquitous glass of Chardonnay, no discussion of vintage or even a question as to the vineyard’s locale, just three trusting souls ordering a simple glass of wine.

Now I consider myself a leader of sorts, but that night something told me to go with the flow — there was solace and reward in just being “one of the herd,” so I ordered the same. What I received was a nice wine, not too oaky, not too sweet, a Callaway Chardonnay from the Temecula region of Southern California. I was so impressed by the simplicity and straightforwardness of this wine that I realized I needed to do my next column on Chardonnay  — America’s favorite wine.

Let me say straight out that I prefer red wine to white. It’s not that I don’t like white, but in my apprenticeship, I made the mistake of telling Gil, my wine guru, “I don’t like red wine.” To which he replied in his most Zen-like manner, “But red wine…is where all the flavor is.”

That one statement, along with his slightly disapproving look, began my initiation into the cult of red. Today nine out of 10 times when I drink wine it’s red, so doing a column on Chardonnay is a good excuse to drink some great white wines.

Chardonnay wine is made from Chardonnay grapes that got their name from the town of Chardonnay in the Burgundy region of France. The grapes are crushed and fermented in new oak barrels. This gives it that oaky, vanilla flavor. Some wineries use stainless steel instead of oak barrels and add oak chips to the vat. Other wineries use neither, preferring to add artificial oak esters to the vats. I sometimes think I can taste the difference by the “chemical” quality these wines give off.

Chardonnay can be very acidic, so many winemakers use a two-part fermentation process. Some of the wine ferments in barrels naturally by letting yeast turn the sugars into alcohol, and some undergoes the malolactic fermentation process. This happens by adding leuconostoc cultures to the wine. It reduces the acidity, mellowing out the wine. This is one of the reasons I liked the Callaway so well, plus it costs $8.99 a bottle.

Here are six more Chardonnays that are not too sweet and not so oaky that they’ll remind you of a mouthful of tongue depressors.

Clos Du Bois, Flintwood Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay 1997 — melon and apple fruit tastes, tart with no tannins. $23.99 California.

Cakebread Vineyards 1999 Chardonnay — a thrilling wine. Crisp with the right amount of acid and buttery balance. $32.99 California. (thought the 2000 needed more time.)

Heldersberg 2000 Stellenbosch Chardonnay — an easy-drinking wine without any oaking or cloying sweetness. Fresh tasting. $7.99. South Africa.

Pierrette et Marc Guillemot-Michel Quintaine 1999 Macon Villages — a great nectary wine with apple, pear and a subtle touch of oak. Very smooth, great with fish. $16.99. France.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay 2000 — a super house wine for everyday or guests. $12.89. Washington State.

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2001 — peach and butter flavors with the faintest hint of oak. My favorite, a defining Chardonnay. $15.99. California.

A reader writes:

When ordering drinks in a restaurant bar prior to being seated: Tip the bartender; they rarely receive a split from the waitstaff.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Find the wines discussed in Hippo’s food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

—Tim Protzman

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