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Popular and Distinctive - Chardonnay

September 28, 2007|By DON HARRIMAN

With the heat of summer upon us, it's a great time to enjoy the versatile white wine known as chardonnay.

Rich is the word that best describes chardonnay's flavor and explains its popularity.

Chardonnay is the primary white grape grown in the Bourgogne region of France. French chardonnay is commonly known to Americans as White Burgundy.

Chardonnay makes up about half the grapes used to produce Champagne and sparkling wines (pinot noir is the other principal grape). Its popularity has soared over the last two decades, mostly because it's one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It's produced everywhere from California to Australia - and even locally in the Tri-State area.

Chardonnay has a distinct, yet delicate aroma. It often smells like apples, lemons, peaches or tropical fruit. Depending on where the grapes are grown, how they are grown and how they are fermented, chardonnay wines can range from semi-sweet to bone dry.

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Flavors can include apple, pear, tropical, vanilla, fig, peach, honey, spice, butterscotch, hazelnut, citrus fruits, melon, butter, smoke and oak, among others. Differences in flavor often come from how the wine is fermented. Chardonnay fermented in steel barrels will usually produce a fruit-forward, crisp, clean-tasting wine. If, on the other hand, fermentation is in either French or American oak barrels, the wine will be drier with characteristics of oak and butter.

With such an extensive variation in flavors, chardonnays can be paired with a wide variety of food. Strong cheeses, shellfish, light seafood (broiled flounder), heavy seafood (grilled salmon), poultry and pork can all be good choices. My favorite pairings are with lobster and scallops.

Don't be bound by the clich that white wine is for white meat and red wine is for red meat. While it's true that nothing beats a thick New York Strip with a glass of red cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay can be paired with some light red meat dishes, especially if you're cooking with butter or cream.

To the right are a few Chardonnay recommendations, listed by vineyard, region and price.

Best Picks...



Budget

Santa Ema (Chile), $6

Lindemans (Australia), $8

Kendall-Jackson Vitners (California), $12

Middle of the Road

Domaine Manciat (France), $18

Francis Coppola Director's (Russian River, Calif.), $20

Dutton Goldfield (Russian River, Calif.), $28

Special Occasions

Cakebread Reserve (Napa Valley, Calif.), $55

Williams Selvem Hawk Hill (Russian River, Calif.), $110

Louis Jadot Batard Montrachet (Cote De Beaune Puligny, Montrachet, France), $190

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