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Chardonnay without the 90s hair


The continued popularity of chardonnay is undeniable, and it remains one of the most widely planted grape varieties. In the '90s, big oak was all the rage, but mercifully, the prominence of those "chateau 2-by-4s" has subsided. The wines tasted this week were complemented, rather than overwhelmed, by oak. The specified price point was $15-plus, but there was one real surprise:

2008 Abeja Chardonnay, $35

Walla Walla, Wash.-based John Abbott is making some of the finest wines in the Northwest, and this chardonnay is no exception. The nose is filled with unctuous aromas of ripe apple and peach laced with touches of basil, tarragon, vanilla and just the right kiss of oak. Round and elegant in the mouth with a palate of ripe peach, crisp apple and buttery apricot, this wine is impeccably balanced and amazingly persistent.

2007 Clos du Val Chardonnay, $20

This is a California classic with a French connection in Bordeaux-born co-founder Bernard Portet. It opens with beautifully floral aromas highlighted by peach, pear and ripe lemon, along with notes of butterscotch and oak. Tangy citrus up front is backed by melon, apple and tropical fruit. A nice butteriness comes through on the finish that's marked by light oak and food-friendly acidity.

2009 Morse Code Chardonnay, $8.99

This bargain-priced wine was an accidental ringer in the lineup of much more expensive bottles. It's the second label from Henry's Drive in Padthaway, Australia. The aromas are fruit driven and offer bright citrus and pear with just the lightest hint of oak. It's a refreshing wine with tangy lemon, sweet melon and green apple flavors marked by touches of spice and orange zest at an amazing value.