Last time we looked at $10 California chardonnay – a category generally to be avoided – we found an old favorite, Chalone Vineyard Monterey County, on sale locally for less than $10 a bottle. Now, not only is Chalone frequently on sale for as little as $8 a bottle, but the lingering economic gloom has kept several other reliable bottles under the magic $10 mark.
See the slideshow for representative prices and availability at a wine shop near you.
“A lovely quaffer, with nice, light Chardonnay fruit,” is how Journal columnists Dorthy J. Gaiter and John Brecher de thatscribed the 2007 vintage of Clos de Bois. “Lightly toasted, so it’s fun as a glass of Chardonnay at the bar but could pair with lighter meals, too,” they wrote, rating it, Good/Very Good in June of 2009.
Like the Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines we featured last month, Clos du Bois is what wine geeks call a “grocery store wine,” which to some might suggest it’s not worthy of your attention. But we use it simply to mean a wine made in large enough quantities to be distributed to any wine shop that wants it, including large grocery chains and convenience stores.
Indeed, many of the mass market wines aren’t particular interesting, and don’t display all the aromas and flavors characteristic of the grapes they’re made from. Wine geeks would say they’re not “varietally correct.” But we’d just say they taste like generic red, white or pink wine. There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just that there are many more interesting wines you can enjoy for $10, $8 and sometimes even $5 a bottle (like this or these).
Yet some grocery store brands like Clos du Bois do a remarkable job of making good, interesting California chardonnay – wine that tastes very much like what you’ll get when you plunk down $20 or more for a bottle. Another of our favorite grocery store brands is Bogle Vineyards, which sells 1.2 million cases of wine in the U.S. each year. Aside from a solid, consistently good chardonnay, Bogle makes a range of wines from merlot, sauvignon blanc, cabernet, pinot noir, zinfandel and the like, all of which are likely to please when you find one at the grocery.
“Fresh, intense and vibrant, with sweet pea, green apple, melon and honeysuckle notes that are full-bodied, ending with a clean, crisp finish,” is how James Laube described it in the April 30, 2011 issue.
Bogle made 250,000 cases of its California chardonnay. But the granddaddy of grocery store chardonnays, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve is produced in small batches of 2 million cases annually. (If that’s the “Reserve,” we don’t really want to know how much regular wine they make!)
Yet as Gaiter and Brecher noted way back when, “if you really, really are determined to pick up an American Chardonnay for less than $20, perhaps for entertaining this summer, you could do a lot worse than good old Kendall-Jackson.”
The husband and wife team of wine writers disagree about it. “Dottie likes its round, buttery, mouth-coating and slightly Muscaty tastes, while John finds it too lab-made and oaky.
“But we both agree that there’s never anything wrong with it and it’s easy enough to drink. It’s a solid Good wine, it costs about $12 or so and it’s available pretty much everywhere.”
In fact, it’s available for less than $10 locally at all Total Wine, Corridor, Calvert Woodley and elsewhere.
What’s the moral of the story? For chardonnay drinkers it’s don’t head blindly down the domestic chardonnay isle in the wine shop – or the grocery store – looking for cute labels you’ve never tried. You’re likely to be disappointed. Stick with the ones you know and like.
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