Thu 31 Jan 2008
The travel section of Sunday’s New York Times featured a story on that oxymoron traveling frugally in Hawaii. The writer, Matt Gross, said this about Hawaii’s too evident charms: “Hawaii is easy, Hawaii has nothing to hide. Hawaii is, touristically speaking, pornographic in its single-minded baring of its assets.”
Substitute the words “California chardonnay” for “Hawaii” in those sentences and you have a pretty good summation of the general tone of chardonnay wines from the Golden State, many of which make a shameless appeal to be adored, enveloping our senses — or “our every sense,” as PR scribes like to pen — with clouds of cream and butter and cinnamon toast and coconut cream pie and butterscotch and roasted marshmallows and pineapple-upside-down cake. They’re chardonnays for our most basic instincts, a French kiss straight to our simplest sense of gratification: “If it tastes like dessert, it must be good.”
There’s an alternative, often found in actual French chardonnays from the homeland, the cradle of chardonnay, Burgundy, and, I’m happy to report, they don’t have to be expensive (see previous entry). The wine I mention in this post is the Montagny Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet 2005 from the venerable and well-known domaine of Faiveley.
This is not a chardonnay that flatters you and tries to make you like it. In fact, at first I was feeling a little snubbed by this wine, thinking that perhaps its standoffishness was, you know, my fault; I mean, it was like taking in a mouthful of chilled limestone and steel. My famously austere high school geometry teacher was friendlier than this. Gradually, though, as we poured, swirled, sniffed and sipped — we were cooking dinner, a pasta with grilled sausages — the wine gave in slightly, became less distant, more rounded and shapely, though always with this bright edge of minerals etched with scintillating acid. It took on touches of roasted lemon and lemon curd, dried thyme, a bit of roasted hazelnut and a hint, a bare hint, of glazed grapefruit. Richness began to filter back toward us, but in a subtle, constrained fashion; this wine was not going to lose a grip on its purposeful purity and intensity.
Made two-thirds in stainless steel and one-third in barrel, the wine sees no new oak: Yippee! Wilson Daniels, in St. Helena, Ca., imported 900 cases. I rate this chardonnay for grown-ups Excellent. The suggested retail price is $24, though you can find it on the Internet for $19.50. Drink through the end of 2009 with fresh shellfish, grilled trout, quenelles of pike, dry goat’s-milk cheeses.