Chardonnay Snobbery

If I had better career advice in my youth I might have dropped out of economics and opted for making a living by tasting wine. Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher do that for The Wall Street Journal. Imagine that. They’re paid to drink.

Their April 29 “Tastings” said, “If you were planning g to head to the wine store tonight to pick up a bottle of American Chardonnay under $20, we have one word of advice: Don’t.” After more than 50 inexpensive chardonnays, and found only four worth drinking — St. Francis, Clos du Bois, J. Lohr and Rutherford (in that order).

I haven’t tried Rutherford but the other three are fine. Clos du Bois was my January pick as the top party wine, because it comes in a 1.5 liter size for $16. But that price is so far under $20 it makes me wonder what other wines Gaiter and Brecher tasted. They mentioned being disappointed by Bogle (which does a better job with Merlot), but that too is only about $8. J. Lohr is about $9. Perhaps they should have spent, say, $13-14 before deciding only four U.S. chardonnays under $20 are worth drinking.

It may be true that many Americans are too stuck on chardonnay, but it is not true that you can’t buy a very good bottle for less than $20. Here are a few readily available chards with WS (Wine Spectator) ratings above 90 – the bottom edge of outstanding. Some years may be better than others, and prices are approximate:

Chateau Souverain WS91 $14
St. Clement WS91 $15
Chateau St. Michelle “Indian Wells” WS90 $18
Sebastiani WS 90 $13
Villa Mt. St. Eden WS90 $13

Here is one I like from South Africa:
Glen Carlou (So. Africa) WS91 $14

And one from New Zealand:
Allan Scott (New Zealand) WS 90 $14

If Gaiter and Brecher tried any of those and didn’t like them, or if they haven’t tried them at all, then they’re not wine experts.


5 thoughts on “Chardonnay Snobbery

  1. Alan, what I’d like to know is if you’ve ever tried Columbia Winery’s Cellarmaster’s Riesling? I had it at a wedding and have been a fan ever since. I don’t claim to have a well-developed palate, but it’s the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

  2. I suspect Hunter is talking about Columbia Crest of Washington, which makes very good, fairly-priced wines (mostly under their “Grand Estates” label). I don’t recall being knocked out by their Riesling, but I’ll give it another try. Columbia Crest is owned by Chateau St. Michelle whose upscale “Eroica” Riesling (made with Dr. Loosen of Mosel) is quite excellent.

  3. To emphasize my comment that some years are better than others, Wine Spectator for June 30 downgraded the 2003 Souverain to 86, St. Clement and Sebastiani to 88 and Villa Mt. Eden to 81. A score of 85-89 is still very good, but they rated a Wall Street Journal favorite, J. Lohr, at just 80 — 1 point above average.

    What I suspect this shows is that it would be wise to stock up on 2002 and avoid 2003, which appears to be a disappointing vintage.

  4. Apology to Hunter. He’s talking about another Washington outfit, Columbia Winery — I’ve seen their chardonnary in the DC area, but not the Cellarmasters Reserve Riesling which has a price at the winery of $9.99. It’s only 9.8 percent alcohol, so buy two if you can find it. Eroica is more than twice that price, but worth it.

  5. You’ve got it right, Alan. My parents now order the stuff by the case. I was disappointed to find they finished the latest batch prior to my Memorial Day visit.

    Speaking of my underdeveloped palate, maybe the low alcohol content is why I like the flavor so much.

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