Chardonnay lovers seeking good value have much better odds browsing the South American or Australian aisles at their local wine shop. There are always exceptions that prove the rule, like these and these. We are also big fans ofFranciscan Chardonnay Napa Valley now that it’s widely available around town for $12 a bottle, rather than the $15 to $18 it used to fetch. (Full disclosure: We first tasted the 2009 vintage at a dinner with the winemaker Jay Turnipseed at Cafe Du Parc, hosted by Franciscan Estate’s PR firm.)
We’ve repeatedly sung the praises of Washington State’s largest winery, Columbia Crest – as recently as just a few months ago – for its Grand Estates wines, which it makes in quantities of 200,000 to 250,000 cases each year, yet they perennially score well with the critics. We noted in February that The Wine Blue Book lists 2009 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Columbia Valley Grand Estates as a “Great Value” by virtue of its average 88-point score from the critics and $8 price tag, just 31 percent of the average cost of West Coast chardonnay with the same scores.
Some wine enthusiasts dismiss wines from the large, often multinational wine companies. The consistency large national brands strive for can seem boring to wine drinkers who revel in subtle variations in the flavor profile of a wine from one vintage to the next. They prefer wine that is more artistic expression than consumer product. They believe in the concept of “terroir,” which suggests that the tastes and aromas of a wine should reflect the place and specific vineyard characteristics where the grapes were grown as much or more than the type of grapes or winemaking skills that produced it.
But most casual wine drinkers just want something they like. And just as beer drinkers know what they are getting in a bottle of their favorite microbrew, lovers of oaky, buttery chardonnay know what a bottle of Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve tastes like. That’s why Kendall Jackson sells more than 2 million cases each year of what the wine geeks would derisively call a “grocery store wine” – often a term of endearment to us.
So for simple sipping on the front porch, you can’t get much more reliable than Columbia Crest. We like the mid-priced Grand Estates line, because it’s consistently good and can be found all over town for about $8 a bottle. But Columbia Crest’s less expensive Two Vines label is a good bet for parties, and its Horse Heaven Hills (or H3) wines are generally a worthwhile splurge at about $13 a bottle.
Columbia Crest it owned by an even more mammoth wine company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, owners of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington state’s oldest winery that also produces vast quantities of deliciously affordable wine. (The company also imports the wines of the Antinori family, makers of a pair of our favorite Italian value wines, Tormaresca Neprica andSanta Cristina.)
“Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame,” wrote Harvey Steiman, scoring it 87 points in the November 30, 2011 issue of Wine Spectator. Château Ste. Michelle made a whopping 420,000 cases of the 2009 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, which is why you’ll find it for less than $8 a bottle at Total Wine stores in Virginia and at their sister stores in Maryland,Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel and Beltway Fine Winein Towson. You’ll also find it for just $1 more in the District atCalvert Woodley.
You might also find the 2010 vintage in stores, which in keeping with the consistency you get from these better national brands, also scored 87 points from Steiman, who calls it, “Light, polished and creamy, with a tangy greengage plum edge to the pear and cream flavors,” in the May 31, 2012 issue of Spectator.
“It’s easy to find great wines made in tiny quantities that cost a fortune,” writes Food & Wine magazine’s Ray Isle. “What’s hard is locating amazing wines that are sold in stores across the country, that are delicious regardless of vintage, and that ring up at $20 or less per bottle.”
Well, at $8 a bottle these two Washington State chardonnays are easy to find and perfect for the front-porch sipping season that’s just getting into high gear.
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