• Grapes on the vineThere are so many times when I see someone looking at wines in a store with that lost look in their eyes. They are aimlessly searching in hopes that a wine will jump off the shelf and shout “I’m affordable, and have the exact flavor profile that you’ve been waiting for!” Except every time the wines stay on their shelf, and the customer ends up going with a brand they’ve heard about, a label that’s eye catching or whatever wine is on a case stack sale.

    The first step towards choosing a good wine is knowing what you want. When someone asks me, “well what do you like?” I typically respond with, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I may like crisp, bright, fresh whites while the customer may favor full bodied, aggressive red wines.

    With the sheer volume of wine being produced in this day and age selecting a bottle to enjoy with dinner can be frustrating and disheartening.

    I would like to interject here with a thought. When it comes to what you like step out of the box from time to time (not a pun on box wine, unless all you drink is box wine.) If the only wine you drink is white wine, try a rose. If all you enjoy are big bold reds, try a sparkling red (like Lambrusco from Italy.) The point I’m trying to make is that you will find new worlds to explore that will make drinking wine more enjoyable, and quite possibly a lot more affordable. When you have a larger selection to choose from you can find bargains more readily.

    Let’s get back to what type of wine you currently like. If you are predominantly a Chardonnay drinker, you will find that Chardonnays tend to fall into three categories:

    1. Tropical fruit on the nose, rich and creamy on the palate with a full body, bold fruit and flavors of butterscotch or vanilla.

    2. A green apple aroma on the nose and a crisp minerality on the palate. The Chardonnay is fresh and complex with a lean body.

    3. This category of Chardonnay lies somewhere in between. These wines have a fullness, yet tend to present enough acidity to balance the mouth feel. Giving the wine a lighter more complex experience.

    If you are a lover of rich Chardonnays (choice #1) then you will want to focus on California AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) such as Napa, Russian River Valley and Sonoma County, or if you like French wines try regions in Southern Burgundy, Pouilly Fuisse, Mercurey, Rully, and any region with Montrachet in the label (i.e., Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, etc..) Just by picking a Chardonnay with these names on the label will improve your chances of success by at least 60%. —> side note: the French wines won’t say Chardonnay on the label (unless they were tailor made for the US)

    If you prefer the crisp bright approach to Chardonnay (choice #2), look for cooler climates in California (they tend to be higher in acid and a less viscous mouth feel.)  Sonoma Coast and Central Coast (un-oaked on the label if possible) will fit the bill, in France, Chablis on the label is your best bet (Premier Cru or Grand Cru on Chablis labels is a lot more money, but make for amazing wines.) New Zealand also has some great Chardonnays in this category for reasonable prices.

    For those who like something in between it is going to be a bit trickier. I had a wine the other day that exemplified this (choice #3) to a tee. Nickel and Nickel 2008 Chardonnay from Medina Vineyard in Russian River Valley. It is lush and full yet crisp and balanced. Keller Estate 2007 Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast “Oro de Plata” is another great example (made with neutral oak and stainless steel.) The Keller Estate is a leaner, crisper style, but it exhibits a fullness and slightly creamy mouth feel as well.

    In subsequent blogs I promise to go into more detail identifying which years and producers are more to your liking. For now I’m trying to give an overview of Chardonnay that will make selecting one easier. With the sheer volume of wine being produced in this day and age selecting a bottle to enjoy with dinner can be frustrating and disheartening. Do not feel belittled or uneducated because what you like isn’t what someone just said is the hip new thing.

    Whenever you may think of how little you may know of wine in the grand scheme of the wine world always tell yourself, “No one knows everything… No one” It’s all a matter of enjoyment. I implore you to do the same. Do not be intimidated by the fact that you may not know as much as someone else, and never let anyone make you feel uncomfortable because they make light of your wine knowledge or lack thereof. I will impart a basis for growth and a desire for something new in blogs to come.

    -Jonathan Hood