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Value Vino

Chic chard

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“Mineral!” she said. Smugly. This is what happens when one pontificates about wine in front of somebody susceptible. It always comes back to bite you.

But, as it happens, she was right. We were tasting a 2009 Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages, and both mineral and citrus, along with faint floral notes, were in the nose and on the palate of this chardonnay-based wine from one of Burgundy’s most respected producers. Like many of Drouhin’s entry-level chardonnays, this inexpensive wine (it should sell for less than $14) is meant to be consumed young, and our bottle was already nearing the end of its suggested window from harvest date. It was still lively, with plenty of acid to make it a great summer sipper, but we bet that it might have shown more fruit (we also got a little Granny Smith) six months ago.

The M-V is from a large terroir in the south of Burgundy, whereas grapes for Drouhin’s 2009 Laforet Bourgogne come from all over the region. There’s a blending advantage in casting a wider net, and though this wine is priced slightly less than the M-V in some markets (it retails for around $12 at Gabriel’s), and is produced exclusively in stainless steel and packaged under a stealth-style screwcap, it seemed to have retained more of its lively, lemon-bright, fresh-grape character. Either one is a good introduction to un-oaked, mineral-forward French chardonnay, a style many California winemakers are finally coming around to after years of producing heavily oaked versions.

Still fermented and aged in stainless — and also bottled under screwcap — the 2009 Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran could almost be mistaken for a wine that had seen a touch of mature oak. It should be on shelves for somewhere under $18, and the higher price reflects additional complexity. “Smacky” is a word (if there is such) that came to mind, with more conventional flavors of lemon and green melon also present. This wine, stylistically similar to Pouilly-Fuissé, is much less expensive than the better-known P-F yet can nevertheless transition nicely from goat cheese to mussels in a white wine sauce. Or, in a San Antonio summer, from cold shrimp with lemon to swordfish on the grill.

We finally see the use of both old and (some) new oak in the Joseph Drouhin 2009 Rully, another 100 percent chardonnay wine. It bumps up against our $20 Value-Vino price cap, and may be a little harder to source (disclaimer: mine came from the importer) due to smaller import quantities. But if you do find it, the comparison to the unoaked models is instructive. (OK, maybe a better word would be illuminating?) It’s not as though there’s a quantum-leap difference, but all of a sudden there is a good deal more complexity, complexity tied to floral aromas, tropical fruit qualities, some creamy toastiness … and the potential for at least a little more aging. Not mention a broader range of pairing possibilities. Grilled quail? Sure. Grilled vegetables, too. A lobster roll if you’re feeling posh. All for $20. Plus the lobster.

Drouhin is now printing smart-phone codes on the back labels of these wines in case you want more information.

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