As noted before, the world’s most popular wine hasn’t been the most frequently featured in this column, largely because inexpensive California chardonnay – the type that dominates wine-shop shelves – “has been lousy for a long time now,” according to Dorthy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, authors the Wall Street Journal’s now-defunct Tastings column.“It has little real fruit, far too much oak flavor and harsh tastes,” they wrote a few years ago.“Too often, it has reminded us of fingernail polish that has been mixed with oak chips while it aged in the tank truck along the highway.”
Chile has always been a great source of good, affordable wines that typically strikes the right balance between the delicate Old World style for French chardonnay and the heavier New World style produced in California. One consistent winner is from Casa Lapostolle, which produces a delightfully crisp sauvignon blanc, but also earns high marks year in and year out for its entry-level chardonnay, widely available all over town for as little as $11 a bottle.
In large, high-volume stores you’re likely to find the 2010 vintage Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Casablanca Valley, which scored 87 points from Wine Spectator. “A rounded, lush style, with buttered melon, pear and fig notes and a creamy finish,” wrote James Molesworth in the Sept. 30 issue. “A crowd-pleaser.”
But you could just as easily encounter the 2008, which earned an identical score and remarkably consistent tasting notes from Molesworth. “Juicy, with modest toast that guides the melon and yellow apple fruit flavors through the nicely rounded finish,” he wrote in Sept. 2010.
If you’re looking to stay in single digits for a bottle that’s equally good from one year to the next, an even more ubiquitous label is Cousino-Macul Chardonnay, from Chile’s Maipo Valley. Widely available for about $9 a bottle from your favorite wine shop, corner beer & wine, grocery store and big-box retailer.
Perpetually on sale at Calvert Woodley for $8.69 a bottle, the 2010 vintage of Cousino-Macul Chardonnay is “Fresh and light, with a mix of green and yellow apple fruit and a floral-tinged finish,” according to Molesworth’s web review. Though he only awarded it 84 points (still “good” on the Wine Spectator scale), Jay Miller, formerly at Wine Advocate, scored the 2009, which you’re bound to find in some stores, 87 points and the 2008 88 points. (See the slideshow for a representative sample of pricing around town, or compare prices and find these wines online or at a wine shop near you nationwide.)
“If there is anyone delivering more bang-for-the-buck than Arturo Cousino and his namesake winery Cousino-Macul, I’d like to know about it,” he wrote in the April 2009 issue of WA. “Over the years Cousino has continued to fine-tune his portfolio, and the wines are better today than they have ever been.”
There’s something very comforting about a wine that pleases every time you open a bottle, year in and year out. That why Chile is becoming one of the most reliable sources of “comfort wine.” And you may need some of that, if winter tries to sneak back into the Washington area this weekend.
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