30 Second Wine Advisor: An odd but slurpy Chardonnay

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An odd but slurpy Chardonnay

If you think you're just about over Chardonnay because of its ubiquitous status as "a glass of white wine" for casual sipping, you're not alone: As I've often observed, the "anything but Chardonnay" club is a large and growing body among wine enthusiasts.

Still, every rule has its exception, and Chardonnay is no exception to this rule. I've always found my head easily turned by White Burgundy, for example, which is 100 percent Chardonnay of course. But cheap Chardonnay? There's a category that's easy to diss. Too often greedily over-cropped and industrially made, low-end Chardonnay - even from France - comes up short on flavor, length and character.

I said "often." I didn't say "always."

Today let's hail an offbeat Chardonnay that's a long stretch from the typical style. Ripe, juicy and luscious, so fruity and aromatic that it conveys a distinct impression of sweetness, Domaine Lafage's "Novellum" Chardonnay is an approachable outlier that sells in the recession-busting range of $10 to $12 in most markets.

Made by young Languedoc wine maker Jean Marc Lafage and exported to the U.S. by the reliable Eric Solomon, the wine bears only the basics on its simple front label: The word "Novellum" is centered over a large capital "N," with "2008 Chardonnay" added almost as an afterthought. You have to turn the bottle around to learn that it's made by Lafage and comes from the Cotes Catalanes ("Catalan hillsides"), a hot, arid region where the Pyrenees drop down to the Mediterranean coast where France meets Spain.

The Latin name "Novellum" echoes "Nouveau" ("new"), and the recent vintage suggests a wine that saw little delay between the vineyard and the bottle. Certainly it's fresh and bright. The wine sees a bit of oak (30 percent of it ages briefly in new barrels, the rest staying in stainless steel). But the real oddity comes when the new wine is aged on the "lees" of previously fermented Viognier for three months, imparting a luscious floral character that's different from just about any Chardonnay you've tasted.

If you aren't worried about wine in an offbeat style, this one's a fine value at the price. As the name "Novellum" suggests, it's best drunk up young and fresh. My tasting notes are below.

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Today's Tasting Report

Maison Lafage 2008 "Novellum" Chardonnay Vin de Pays Cotes Catalanes ($12.99)Novellum

Odd but interesting wine. A floral note plays counterpoint to abundant fresh-apple fruit, so fruity and textured that it almost seems sweet, although sufficient acidity keeps it reasonable with food. Definitely slurpy, relatively light in alcohol at 11.5%. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., an Eric Solomon selection. (July 28, 2009)

FOOD MATCH: Its fruity character made it a fine match with a local, natural pork chop braised with onions and garlic.

WEB LINK: Here's a link to the importer's short fact sheet on Domaine Lafage, but I can't find specifics about the Novellum:

You'll find a few vendors for Lafage Novellum Chardonnay on Wine-Searcher.com:

For U.S. distributors by state, see the importer's Website,

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