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Wine Review: A toast to chardonnay wines outside of Europe

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Chardonnay – a name that indicates the height of excellence and, at times, the pit of mediocrity. For centuries, the chardonnay wines of France were considered to be at the apex of all of the world’s white wines and very often were priced accordingly. During the Prohibition period in America – Jan. 17, 1920, to Dec. 5, 1933 – American-made wines became totally nonexistent.

Since the American wineries were under the strict scrutiny of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, wines had to be smuggled into this country from overseas, and they were often pricey. Just as a point of useless information, the expression “It’s the real McCoy” indicated wine or spirits that were smuggled into this country by Tim McCoy, as his “stuff” was always of the highest quality. In this way, the rich and famous were introduced to the best of the best from Europe.

When Prohibition ended, the American public had come to expect that the newly freed American wine industry would produce the same wines as it did in the past, which just could not happen. Most of the wineries had pulled out their grape vines and planted other products to remain in business. Also, it takes a new vine about five years to produce adequate wine grapes, and some wines need additional years of aging. The new American wines were not the equal of the foreign wines, and it took several years to bring the wineries back up to the production of better wines.

The recognition of the return of fine wines from the American wine industry came in 1976 when, at the Paris blind wine tasting, also known as the Judgment of Paris, a bottle of Chateau Montelena 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay took first place over all of the much more expensive French chardonnay wines that had always won and cast the eyes and palates of the world on to California wines. So important was this event that in 2008, Hollywood made a movie about it called “Bottle Shock,” and I recommend seeing it if you are interested in wine or even just curious.

Anicca Chardonnay ($40)
This chardonnay comes from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, a region that is rapidly becoming the source of excellent examples of the Burgundian varieties of chardonnay and pinot noir. Summer flowers are the first aroma encountered when the wine is poured into the glass, followed by citrus, fresh ground herbs and oak. These aromas follow through to the flavor, where they merge and mingle with an obvious and often hard-to-find buttery sensation, which remains on the palate for a very long time, a feature that is not often found in the quickly made chardonnays.

Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast 2022 Chardonnay ($25)
There is something in this wine that is not present in the quickly made chardonnays, and that is oak. For centuries, oak aging has been the final step in making a chardonnay and has become an integral part of the flavor and aroma. The aromas of peach and nectarine and oak spice with hints of caramel is easily discernible along with pear, apple and roasted nuts. The finish is a host of fresh-picked fruit displaying peach, apple, apricot and an under flavor of honey, vanilla and oak. I found this to be an excellent and affordable example of the variety.

Yarden 2022 Chardonnay ($26)
From the hills of the Galilee in the nation of Israel, a grape-growing and winemaking region that is as old as the Bible, comes a modern chardonnay of distinction. It is a well-made chardonnay that prominently displays the aroma of green apple, peach and citrus with oak and vanilla firmly in the background. The flavor mirrors the aroma, and the finish is unusually long for a chardonnay. This wine can prove that the chardonnay grape has the ability to produce truly fine and interesting wines, and I found it to be an excellent representative of the variety.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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