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This Chardonnay proves bigger isn't better

Deitch: '01 Litaud Saint-Véran crisp, delicious in restrained manner
/ Source: msnbc.com

Regular readers will know that I prefer Chardonnay on the lean side, with minerals, good acidity and not too much oak, which, unfortunately, is just the opposite of many that I try. So when I find a Chardonnay with those qualities and delicious fruit, I get excited. As unlikely as it seemed for me in retrospect, I found myself swirling, sipping and savoring Chardonnay for hours the other night with Jean Jacques Litaud’s 2001 Saint-Véran “Les Pommards.”

This elegant $14 wine is an excellent value that will make you reconsider Chardonnay if you’re not inclined to drink it, or, if it’s your main white, will give you a new appreciation for the still highly popular but often maligned variety.

Now, I realize that, stylistically, many American Chardonnays (and Cabernets and even Pinot Noirs) are made in a big and powerful style because that is what winemakers think Americans want, a style that has been validated and promoted by certain critics.

I am not trying to deliver a lecture here, but when you taste a wine like Litaud’s Saint-Véran you’ll see my point. It is a textbook example of size doesn’t matter when it comes to making a good wine, as many wines from this part of France will attest.

The Saint-Véran appellation, in case you’re not familiar with it, is in the Mâcon area in the southern reaches of Burgundy. It accounts for the wines from a number of villages near the more famous Pouilly-Fuissé, with Saint-Vérans typically costing considerably less.

Litaud’s Saint-Véran, crisp and luscious in its restrained way, tastes like more expensive Burgundy. The minerals are there and so is the ripe fruit, mainly green apple and melon, with touches of vanilla, white pepper and lime on the finish. The wood is there but subtle.  “Les Pommards,” by the way, refers to the specific vineyard where the grapes for this wine are grown.

Altogether, Litaud makes about 6,000 cases of Saint-Véran, Pouilly-Fuissé and Mâcon-Vergisson, sending about half his production to the United States.  Although the Saint-Véran has fairly good distribution in this country, the importer, Alain Junguenet of Wines of France, will welcome a call if you can’t find it at 908-654-6173.

For white Burgundy without the stratospheric prices that wines from more celebrated parts of the region command, the Mâcon area is well worth exploring. It can be hit or miss, but finding wines like Litaud’s Saint-Véran makes the hunt worthwhile.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Thursdays. Write to him at .