The Conscientious Consumer in Quarantine: Chardonnay Edition

In this series, The Conscientious Consumer in Quarantine, I’m going to point to some of my favorite producers, wineries that are owned by individuals human beings, human beings who use their wineries to employ other people and feed their families, human beings whom I would encourage you to support with your patronage. Wineries make money primarily in two ways, namely by selling wine and by having visitors. Both of those revenue streams are being deeply slashed during the Covid 19 pandemic, as restaurants are closing and, in many if not most instances, tasting rooms have been asked to close down for the time being to help stop the spread of the disease. The following wines are wines I encourage you to purchase online to help support these small producers so that, when this is all over, they will still be there for all of us to visit.

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Chardonnay is an acquired taste, in my opinion. I’m not always a huge fan of this wine; some producers place far too much emphasis on new oak, on malolactic fermentation, and the result can be overpowering, something akin to stirring a vat of butter with a number two lead pencil and then chewing on it.  However, if you’ve ever had such an experience, then I urge you to keep reading. A few bad glasses of the notorious “cougar juice” kept me at bay from the varietal for far too long, and now that I’ve had more experience and found others — others which I have fallen in love with for their balance, their complexity, their depth, I am grateful that I did not give up on the varietal the first time I had one that I didn’t enjoy.

Chardonnay is perhaps unique in its ability to juggle many different things — aromas, flavors, feelings, simultaneously. It can at once be light and girthy, rounded and acidic, subtle and strong. It can taste of crisp green apples and buttery oak in the same sip. Not only all of this, but it pairs diversely, pleases crowds that contain both discerning wine drinkers and casual guzzlers, and is a must at a good picnic. Below, are some of my favorite examples of the grape, coming from small producers who I encourage you to support by ordering from them during this pandemic.

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Chateau Montelena, Napa — $58

This may be the single most famous Chardonnay on the planet, and for good reason. It does all of the things that I mentioned above, ages incredibly (I’ve enjoyed many older vintages), and is quite reasonably priced. Moreover, the 1973 vintage of this wine, which sadly I have yet to taste, won the white wine competition at the Judgement of Paris in 1976 and put the Napa Valley on the map. Stock up on this amazing wine, and maybe grab a bottle of their Riesling and a bottle of the Estate Cab while you’re doing it, at montelena.com.

Fairsing, Willamette Valley — $42

This amazing Pinot producer owned by two of my fellow Nebraskans also makes a really baller Chardonnay. From cooler climes in Oregon, this wine takes on a vibrancy that I just love. Sonja and I were supposed to visit them in person next month, but since we can’t, we encourage you to visit them at fairsingvineyard.com — and don’t forget to add Pinot Noir to your cart as well!

Fullerton “Five Faces”, Willamette Valley — $36

The Fullerton’s make great wine, and while they like their colleagues at Fairsing are perhaps best known for Pinot Noir due to being located in Oregon, that isn’t preventing them from doing some awesome stuff with Chardonnay as well.  This one is a favorite of ours, and you can get it at Fullertonwines.com.

Grgich Hills, Napa Valley — $43

Miljenko (Mike) Grgich is a legend in Napa. He actually made the 1973 vintage of Chateau Montelena I raved about earlier, and then went on to found his own winery a little farther south in the Valley.  I interviewed Mike for a few articles I wrote a while back, and can’t recommend his wines enough. While shopping at grgich.com, I encourage you to snag a few of his Croatian wines as well, because, well, how cool is that? Enjoy!

Update: Violet Grgich just emailed to let me know that if you use code HAPPY97, in honor of Miljenko’s 97th birthday, you’ll get 20% off and penny shipping! Order ASAP!

Palmaz “Amalia”, Napa Valley — $70

If you’re at all “techy” and you like wine, you absolutely have to visit Palmaz Vineyards when Napa reopens, hopefully soon. Easily the most technologically advanced winery I’ve ever seen, the Palmaz family produce some phenomenal wines including this beautiful Chardonnay. Julio Plamaz’s wife convinced him to make this wine, and thus became the eponym for a fantastic Napa Chard. You can get it at palmazvineyards.com.

Saddleback Cellars, Napa — $38

Nils Venge became the “King of Cab” when he produced the first 100-point Cab in the US, but his royalty extends beyond that single varietal. I’ve enjoyed a lot of Nils’ wines over the years, and on a few enjoyable occasions his company as well. He’s a hell of a nice guy and a hell of a great winemaker. His Chardonnay, like most of his wines, is a real winner. Buy it at saddlebackcellars.com.

Smith-Madrone, Napa — $40

Ok, ok, to be honest, yes, I’m going to recommend every wine that Stu, Charlie, and Sam Smith are making up on Spring Mountain by the time I’m done with this series, but why shouldn’t I? I’m talking about small family operations and phenomenal wine, and this three-man operation that produces world-class wines and was founded back before Napa was “hip” sure fit that bill. This Chardonnay is exactly what I was thinking of when I talked about the varietal’s ability to juggle complex flavors and aromas, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. You can — and should, purchase it at smithmadrone.com.

Tamber Bey “Sans Chene”, Napa — $ 38

This is one I couldn’t fail to mention on any piece about Chardonnay. The affinity for aging this white varietal in oak goes back to the old world, but is prominent here in the US as well. Less popular, but every bit if not even more amazing, is what this grape can do without oak, or sans chene in French. So this wine, from our friends at Tamber Bey, is aged 100% in stainless steel. If you’ve never had “unoaked” Chardonnay, try this one. I think you’ll be amazed. Buy it at tamberbey.com.

Vermeil, Napa — $52

My love for Coach Dick Vermeil has already been well-documented on this web page, but I won’t let that stop me from pointing out that he makes a phenomenal Chardonnay. We served this at our Super Bowl party this year, the one that the KC Chiefs, which Vermeil once coached, won! I still have this bottle, and honestly, I plan to remove the label and frame it in my man-cave next to a framed copy of the KC Star’s post-Super Bowl coverage. Maybe I’ll do that later today. You can buy this wine at vermeilwines.com.

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I told a neighbor yesterday that, if wine country remained closed throughout the summer, it would probably look very different upon reopening. If the tourist season comes and goes and tasting rooms stay shuttered, I fear many of them will never reopen.  I know that wine is expensive, or can be, and that perhaps this gives the false impression that those who make and sell it are extremely wealthy. Some are. Others, the ones I love most, are farmers, agriculturalists who have a knack for the art of fermenting grape juice into something very special. They are not necessarily wealthy, and they are not guaranteed to survive this pandemic if we do not do what we can to support them in these times. For that reason, it is all the more important to order wine from our friends who make it. As always, thank you for reading. Be well, take care of yourselves and one another, and keep in touch.

Cheers,

Mark

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