Summer is the
to sample this
The charm of
By Brian St. Pierre PHOTODISC
CHARDONNAY IS an international star, the most sistent complexity, although there should still be
popular wine in the world. Like the Rolling Stones, a fine-tuned balance and some authority in the
Nicole Kidman and Star Wars, it’s been a hit every- flavor. These are wines labeled with a wider geo-
where—Chardonnay grapevines flourish in every graphic identity, such as Sonoma County or Santa
wine-producing country. Barbara County in California, or Columbia Valley
In a few of those places, where the stony soil and in Washington state; from Australia, look for Yarra
cool weather are so poor that they provide a real Valley and Margaret River.
challenge, the grape takes those adversities as a char- Chile weighs in here with citrus-accented
acter-building exercise and turns into great wine. In entries from the Casablanca Valley (often great
France, it happens along the “golden slope” of Bur- bargains); in France, well-known names of good-
gundy, where wines such as Corton-Charlemagne, value white Burgundies are Rully, Pouilly-Fuissé,
Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet are the elegant, St-Veran and Mâcon-Villages. It’s interesting to note
glorious template for winemakers everywhere. that these Old World wines are completely depen-
In California, the transformation happens in the dent on Mother Nature—no irrigation is allowed.
breezy Carneros district above San Francisco Bay and The results are unique and enchanting.
the cooler reaches of Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, After that, the best Chardonnays are medium-
as well as some fog-blanketed canyons in Monterey bodied, good dry white wines, with solid flavor but
and Santa Barbara. Recently, it’s even been occur- not much complexity. These are usually labeled
ring on the high ridgelines of southern Australia. In with broad geographic designations, such as “Cali-
the multinational pecking order of dry white wines, fornia,” “Southern Australia” or various valleys in
these chilled-out beauties are the top guns. Chile. They basically define the New World style,
The reasons are simple—and delicious. These with straightforward tropical-fruit flavors, fairly
wines are very definite and loaded with character, high alcohol, more mellowness than crispness and
balancing rich fruit, crisp acidity and smooth texture. a slight butterscotch aftertaste from oak flavorings.
They’reimmediatelyandobviouslyappealing. On the whole, Chardonnays range from
Some are lean and racy (Carneros, Russian straightforward everyday wines that can handle
River), and some more full-bodied and rich (parts of mixed-food occasions to complex bottles reserved
Monterey and Santa Barbara, and Adelaide Hills and for special events. Try one this summer and see for
McLaren Vale in Australia), but they all have that yourself why this beautiful white wine is so univer-
perfect balance in common—a seductive mix of sally popular. C
green apples, figs, melons, hints of mango and
vanilla, and a refreshing snap of tartness in every sip. Brian St. Pierre is the author of several books on
The second level of Chardonnays is nothing to wine, including the new The Wine Lover Cooks
sneeze at, either; there’s just a little less of that per- Italian (Chronicle Books, San Francisco).
IN THE WARM months of
summer, wine lovers’ hearts
turn toward whites. But
they’d be brokenhearted if
they had to stay strictly with
The other whites of the
world offer variety and complexity—delightful glimpses
of the regions they’re from.
They’re wonderful with
cheese, the lighter meals of
summer or just alone on
the deck at sunset.
First on this list is Sauvignon
Blanc, a refreshingly zesty
white that matches well with
seafood, especially shellfish,
and with pasta dishes and
poultry. Try varieties from
France’s Loire Valley, New
Zealand and California to
sample the unique characteristics of each.
Another fabulous white is
Riesling. Its traditional home
is Germany, where it assumes
a peachy, floral and mineral
character. Rieslings from
Alsace in France are distin-
guished by concentrated
fruit and a steely demeanor.
Rieslings go well with most
foods, even those with a
hot spicy kick.
No sampling of other whites
is complete without Pinot
Grigio. This is a fairly neutral
grape, so it goes well with
food. Expect a little more
color from this white as the
skins are a little darker than
most. Excellent varieties
come from Italy, California
and Oregon where the grape
is called Pinot Gris.