Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blind Tasting: Chardonnay Showdown

With summer upon us, it is only natural to turn towards white wines. With their fruity, crisp and delicious flavors- there's nothing to dislike about white wines. Despite the disproportionate critical acclaim red wines receive, I've heard that white wines actually outsell red wines by a wide margin annually in the United States.

When the subject of reds and whites comes up, I think to pass along some easy-to-remember advice I read a couple of years ago regarding serving temperatures of wine. The ideal serving temperature of Cabernet Sauvignon is 63F. For Chardonnay, 52F. To achieve this ideal serving temperature consider the "rule of 20". For reds, put them in the fridge for 20 minutes prior to serving. For whites, take them *out* of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving. This of course assumes the wines are stored at room temperate (somewhere in the mid to high seventies).

Tonight at the house, we had an interesting blind tasting. 2 California Chardonnays: the 2006 Ridge Santa Cruz vs. the 2006 Charles Shaw. The 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz was #2 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list last year (weighing in at "95 points" from the famous James Laube); we tasted the 2006 vintage of this same wine. The wine retails for $35. I picked up a bottle of the '06 for $33 at The San Diego Wine Company on my last business trip, but I haven't seen it around at too many other shops. The 2005 Charles Shaw on the other hand garnered a "double gold" medal at the California State Fair and received a rating of 83 points from Wine Spectator. Like other Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe's, this wine can be had for between $1.99 and $2.99 depending on where you live.

All 4 of our tasters tonight correctly identified the Ridge as the superior wine. As the temperature of both wines increased from refrigerator temperature towards room temperature, the differences became more noticeable. The Ridge showed density and an array of flavors the Shaw didn't seem to be capable of. I have to say though, I thought it was really close. I felt that these white wines were even less differentiated (especially when served chilly) than their red counterparts. We previously did a Shaw vs. Caymus shakedown a few months ago, and perhaps I say this because I've tasted more red wines than white, but I think I had an easier time guessing which was the better wine when we were tasting Cabs.

I've read articles debating whether Chardonnay is difficult to differentiate. I think Chardonnay can be a delicious wine, but I think this tasting leads me to be cautious about spending more than $20 on a fancy looking bottle. Ironically, I had a *great* Chardonnay the night before- even better than either of these two. It was a 2006 Kendall Jackson Camelot Highlands Santa Maria Valley that showed vanilla and butterscotch flavors on top of more traditional Chardonnay highlights like "oak", "pear", or "butter". The Camelot was fantastic- Wine Enthusiast called it "perhaps the best $25 bottle of Chardonnay made".

I guess the moral of the story is that there's a lot of good Chardonnay to be had out there. However, in terms of whites, I don't know if it is my favorite varietal. I've really enjoyed the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier lately, both of which can be had for close to $10.

Do you have a white wine you'd recommend? If so, please post a comment for the benefit of others. If I can find it, I'll give it a whirl and post back my impressions.

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