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Chardonnay, which became the grape that many wine lovers loved to hate for a while there, seems to be regaining a bit of its luster as more producers move away from the "butter and sweet oak" formula that made so many of the Chards of the '90s all taste alike.
But even if we're starting to make exceptions, there's still an active "anything but Chardonnay" movement in the wine-geek community.
A couple of years ago I ran across a California Chenin Blanc that, tongue firmly in cheek, played into the anti-Chard phenomenon with the wacky moniker "Chard-No-Way." The other day I spotted the 2006 release, and it's just as good as the original.
Although it's a modestly priced bottle with a pop-wine look, it uses fruit from the Wilson Vineyards in Northern California's Clarksburg region west of Sacramento, a microclimate that many consider one of the best sources for Chenin Blanc outside its natural home in France's Loire Valley.
A citric, minerally, complex Chenin Blanc in a screw-capped bottle that sells at the winery for just $11 and that turned up at a local retailer for 8 bucks? This is the kind of deal that inspires wine lovers to joke, "back up the truck" to the wine shop door and fill 'er up. You'll find my tasting notes below.
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Vinum Cellars 2006 "CNW Chard-No-Way" Wilson Vineyards Clarksburg Chenin Blanc ($8.99)
Clear light straw color. Delicious lemon-lime aroma with a subtly earthy back note. Fresh, crisp and tart, ripe and juicy white-fruit flavors built on zippy acidity. Although it's barrel-fermented in French oak, I don't find perceptible wood here, just mouth-watering and approachable Chenin Blanc. (June 17, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: A versatile pairing with poultry, pork or fish; it was fine with a simple Italian-style linguine with white clam sauce.
VALUE: A very good buy at the $11 winery price, and a great buy at this local price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although it's meant as a drink-now sipper, Chenin Blanc can age capably for years, particularly under the sturdy metal screw cap.
WEB LINK: Here's the winery fact sheet on 2006 "Chard-No-Way" Chenin Blanc.
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