It’s going to be all California all the time at the LCBO this month. You’ll hear radio ads, see billboards and be confronted by all things California at your local liquor store. It’s a good thing for all you California wine fans, bad if you like drinking your wine from other parts of the world, as one product consultant told me when I was looking for an Aussie Pinot. “Last month, there was a big push on Australia. This month, it’s California so there’s less Australia on the shelves.” The good news is that California makes some very good wines and you can pick some up at decent prices if you know where to look … Over the next five weeks, I’ll point you in the direction of some good California wines that won’t break the bank, starting with one of California’s icon grape variety Chardonnays.
I have long been a fan of Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay ($16.95 – #175430), a reasonably good Chardonnay for under $20, and over the years I have only been disappointed once – let’s call it an off vintage, which so rarely happens in the Golden State. On the shelves, you’ll find the 2011 and it’s a nice little wine for the price with vanilla, butter and caramel notes (all what you’d expect from a California Chardonnay), but there is also a decent seam of acidity to keep it from getting too laid down with the weight of all those sweet oak notes… the thing I do like about this wine is that it has a lighter side where the fruit still exists in unison with the oak (*** ½+).
If you’re looking for something with a little more oomph, check out the Ghost Pines 2010 Winemaker’s BlendChardonnay ($19.95 – #308122) – this one shows its fruit right on its sleeve and some pretty interesting flavors that should have you sipping over and over again to see if you really did taste that. Creamy vanilla, apple purée, peach and lemon meringue all make an appearance on the nose and the palate, but not always at the same time – that’s what makes this one so interesting; it’s the Bits ‘n Bites of wine: next sip, whole new ballgame (****).
Finally, check out the Hahn 2010 Monterey Chardonnay ($16.95 – #234393): it combines the best of both worlds. You see Monterey, California, bills itself as “cool climate in a hot climate state”, so you’ll find all those flavors and smells you’ve come to like in Cali-Chard but there’s a seam of acidity that runs right down the middle, thus paralleling what you find here in Ontario, and while the Wente seam keeps things from being too weighty, this seam keeps things fresh and lively. The wine has nice structure with a lovely floral note along with apple, peach and vanilla – best part is that it does not leave your tongue feeling weighted down, that’s what good acidity can do. (****+)
Ghost Pines 2010 Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay, $19.95 – #308122 (**** = very good)
Hahn 2010 Monterey Chardonnay, $16.95 – #234393 (****+ = very good +)
Wente 2011 Morning Fog Chardonnay, $16.95 – #175430 (*** ½+ = good+)