For satisfying white wines that are widely available and won't break an everyday budget, it’s worth turning to Chile, which is producing some very impressive wines these days.
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Until now, I have favored sauvignon blanc, Chile’s signature white, to chardonnay, based mainly on a preference for crisp, lean whites. I’ve enjoyed any number of sauvignons in recent years, from Veramonte's delicious budget version to Concha y Toro's more complex, small-production "Terrunyo," which I think is one of the best American sauvignons, North or South.
But I have just discovered an excellent Chilean chardonnay that represents another good value. It is the 2003 Montes Alpha Chardonnay, at $20 or so, from the Casablanca Valley. Montes, which was started only in 1988, now produces 300,000 cases a year (3.6 million bottles) with a variety of whites and reds over a range of prices.
The style of the Montes Alpha Chardonnay, to put it simply, is more Burgundian than Californian. It is rich yet lean, rather than rich and fat as some from California can be. Key to this, I suspect, is how the wine is aged. It gets a year in French oak barrels, most of them previously used from one to three years, giving the wine a relatively muted wood component. By contrast, many California chardonnays are aged in new American oak, which imparts a stronger vanilla and buttery quality that I sometimes find overwhelming.
The result here is a balanced, pretty wine with attractive fruit. It is medium-bodied, with pear and subtle lime notes, a hint of vanilla and a somewhat spicy character with nice touches of orange rind and ginger. It will match well with richer fish dishes, such as salmon, as well as pork and veal. With its elegance, it will also serve well as an aperitif.
And so do I, at the right time and in the right style, such as Montes Alpha’s. It’s what makes this wine stand out in the proverbial sea of chardonnay.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch@hotmail.com.
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