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Don't Hate the Grape

Chardonnays classic and contemporary alike
Tasting Table: Don't Hate the Grape

"I hate Chardonnay" is a deeply ironic statement.

Despite the ire many drinkers save for the grape, few would turn down a bottle of white Burgundy, aka Chardonnay by another name.

California has indeed pumped out barrel after barrel of flabby, cloying Chardonnay over the past 20 years. However, the grape's roots on the West Coast aren't anchored in butter, vanilla and oak. Here's proof, both long-lived and recent:

Old: Napa's Stony Hill has been making judiciously oaked Chardonnay since 1952, and wines from Sonoma's Hanzell Vineyard have been similarly made since 1957. Both producers' current vintages show how great a California Chardonnay can be. The 2009 Stony Hill ($42 for 750 ml; click here to buy) is lean and bright, its high acidity accompanied by flavors of flint and green apple. The 2009 Hanzell ($75 for 750 ml; click here to buy) carries more toasted-nut notes, but it's a savory element rather than the saccharine vanilla of new oak.

New: Younger producers with an eye turned toward Burgundy and their California forebearers are helping to bring about an end to Chardonnay's bad rap. Both Wind Gap Winery and Broadside Winery are using barrels made by mixing used oak with stainless steel or cement, and they're creating compelling bottlings. The 2010 Broadside James Berry ($25 for 750 ml; click here to buy) is all sun and rocks, while the enticingly tart 2009 Wind Gap's Crown Vineyard ($40 for 750 ml; click here to buy) develops a rich edge the longer it's open.

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