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Chardonnay ABC's

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Chardonnay thrives in a wide range of climates, but in this country, the California version rules in terms of popularity. And while the trend for big flavors, high alcohol (which can lend a touch of sweetness) and lots of oak has subsided a bit, the California style still echoes those passions. You can't argue with success, so why not give the people what they want? Still, a whole other world of wine is out there, so this time around, we decided to try chardonnay—from anywhere but California. The top picks come from three very separate regions spread across the globe. Here's the lineup:

2007 Chehalem Chardonnay, Inox, $18.99

Big and bold ripe fruit aromas of mango, papaya, pineapple, fig and light spice make this no-oak Oregon chardonnay a standout. The flavors are every bit as rich with creamy citrus and pineapple up front, sweet tropical fruit in the middle, and lemon and lime with a pleasantly spritzy feel on the finish. The name Inox comes from a French abbreviation for stainless steel, reflecting the no-oak status of this wine.

2007 P. Ferraud Macon-Villages, $16.99

This French entry shows impeccable balance and structure on both the palate and the nose. It opens with sweet clover and stone fruit aromas backed by soft oak, vanilla, spice and mineral. Both rich and refreshing in the mouth, silky fruit (apricot, apple, pear, honeyed melon) is balanced by crisp citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit) and pineapple. The finish is long and smooth with just the right hit of acidity. A lovely wine.

2007 Yalumba Chardonnay, Wild Ferment, $14.99

Heavily toasted oak first dominates the nose, then gives way to subtle layers of buttery citrus, sweet graham and smoked ham. The oak is much more subdued on the palate, where bright citrus plays against creamy, sweet apple and melon. The finish is long and lovely, offering tropical fruit accents and touches of orange and almond. This is a typically great effort from this top Australian winery at a very nice price.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.

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