Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Raymond Vineyards, Chardonnay Reserve, Napa Valley, 2003, $18

This Napa Valley chardonnay shows admirable restraint. While marked by ripe fruit flavors, it has a firm structure and crisp character that prevent it from seeming sappy. It’s a wine that entices like cool jazz rather than just blasting away like a brassy big band.

In part because of the region’s inherent heat, many California chardonnays still try to overwhelm the taster. They’re big and bold, with tropical aromas and a sweet, vanilla-tinged character. Tasty enough, they can never be accused of displaying elegance or refinement.

This wine, like a small but growing number of California chardonnays, represents a backlash against that style.

With no malolactic fermentation and only six months in French oak, it retains both natural acidity and the natural flavor of the grape. As a result, it displays finesse rather than power.

Chardonnays made in this sort of refined style make especially good dinner partners, since they rarely overwhelm the food. I tried this one with roast chicken, and it proved delicious.

As a bonus, few Napa Valley chardonnays come at such a reasonable price. Restaurateurs should take note.

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