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Value Vino

Buff bottles: chard slims down

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It’s white wine weather almost all the time in San Antonio. This is vexing to those of us who tend to prefer red, but most of us can get over it. The rest of you know who you are, and it’s no good trotting out the old ABC (anything but chardonnay) argument — especially in the face of the apparent about-face of (mostly) California winemakers. The seismic shift away from ponderous, oaky chards that were totally self-absorbed has been nothing short of remarkable, and a recent tasting of two West Coast chardonnays reinforces the feeling that we soon won’t have chardonnay to kick around anymore. The stainless-produced Foxglove Central Coast Chardonnay (Foxglove is a second label of California’s Varner Winery) is exquisite and leans tropical; Airfield Unoaked Chardonnay from Washington State’s Yakima Valley takes the grape in a more citrus-driven direction. Both should be very food-friendly. A recent New York Times survey of Oregon chardonnays suggests that these producers, too, are falling in line.

One of the highest-rated Oregon chards, especially with price taken into account, came from King Estate, and the Signature Collection Chardonnay was deemed “clean, fresh and tangy, like an inexpensive Mâcon-Village.” I didn’t find the Signature bottle, but I did come across one of its spiritual antecedents. The 2010 Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages (around $13) was “just beautiful,” according to my notes.  Well, yes, there was more: a gossamer mouth feel given strength by a whiff of minerality, grace notes of citrus, a refreshing crispness … and, with time in the glass, some undertones of tropical fruit. Let’s say pineapple sprinkled with sea salt. Some sheep’s cheese I just happened to have hanging around was a willing accomplice. French chardonnay has always been toned. After several seasons on The Biggest Loser, American chards may be catching up. Damn; it’s always useful to have at least one wine to kick around.

So now, instead, I propose pinot grigio/gris — or would if I hadn’t just tasted King Estate’s entry-level offering. Labeled a pinot gris (most Oregonians prefer the French iteration of the grape’s name), the 2010 Acrobat (also around $13) is a simple Oregon designation, meaning the grapes can come from anywhere in the state. Simple, however, is not what I’d call the wine.

Straight from the refrigerator, the nose is naturally a little closed, but it opens up into the usual white flower/citrus spectrum as it warms, ending with a hint of tropicality. On the palate, it fairly shouts spring, with a crisp, lemony entry that shades into passion fruit and hints of spice. As I happened to have a Meyer lemon in the refrigerator, I got that out as well, cut a wedge and took a bite: yes. “Really pretty” say my notes, and I guess I should believe them — and should also find some new descriptors. Plus a new wine to deride. Candidates cheerfully considered.

Veteran food, wine, and spirits writer Ron Bechtol has been a Current contributor since 1993 and is the local editor of the Fearless Critic restaurant guide to San Antonio.

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