30 Second Wine Advisor: Natural value

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Natural value

In my part of the world today, the greatest rivalry since the fall of the Iron Curtain reaches its zenith in the game of college basketball, as the long, tall athletes from the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky meet late this evening on the road to the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. Only the victor will move forward through the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.

It doesn't get much more competitive than this. Except, of course, in the world of wine, if you choose to get involved in the great debate between the partisans of "natural wine" and those who favor extracting all the flavor possible from the grape by any means necessary.

I won't go into detail today, simply referring you to the writers Alice Feiring for the naturalists and the ubiquitous Robert M. Parker Jr. for the interventionists if you're just desperate for more.

Personally, I try to keep to the middle of the road, or at least to stay on the pavement rather than screeching into the underbrush, although I do admittedly lean toward the natural side.

Given the choice between a New World-style wine industrially tweaked by centrifuging, flavored with oak chips and "enhanced" in color with commercial products like the widely, but secretly, used Mega Purple, or a fresh, relatively unmanipulated European wine like today's feature, Jean-Marc Brocard 2011 "Kimméridgien" Bourgogne Chardonnay, I'll go for the old-school Old World option every time.

This White Burgundy, which qualifies as a fine value under our "Wine Focus topic, "Wine Values ($20 and under)," this month, is made from the fruit of "15-year-old Chardonnay vines grown on Kimmeridgian limestone, fermented with indigenous yeast," according to the label, which adds, "Mon vin puise arome en terre" ("my wine draws aroma from the earth").

Let's deconstruct that: While 15 years doesn't constitute "old vines," it is long enough for the grape vines to have extended their roots deeply into the soil; and that soil, the clay-and-limestone mix known as "marl," resides in the so-called Kimmeridgian ridge, a geological feature that extends all the way from Burgundy through the Champagne region, the Loire Valley and, beneath the English Channel to Southern England's emerging wine regions. All these regions are known for wines that express the minerals of their environment in the grapes and wine ("terroir").

To put the icing on the cake, natural-wine fanciers typically applaud the use of the natural, indigenous local yeasts that reside on the grape skins, which impart natural, if sometimes wild flavors; the other side favors using tested strains of commercial yeast, which provide consistency and control at the expense of, well, naturalness.

The proof of the pudding, and the wine, is in the tasting, though, and this wine pleases with its fresh, zippy apple and citrus fruit and subtly earthy minerality. My tasting report is below.

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Today's Tasting Report

Jean-Marc Brocard 2011 "Kimméridgien" Bourgogne Chardonnay ($16.99)

Jean-Marc Brocard

Transparent straw color. Fresh apple aromas, but there's something more, a pleasantly earthy scent of wool and a distant, subtle hint of mandarin orange. Fresh and tart on the palate, crisp white fruit and a touch of chalky minerality; rational 12.5% alcohol, and a zippy lemon-squirt of palate-cleansing acidity. Simple and fresh but with plenty of flavor interest, it might not stand up to the gravitas of a top white Burgundy, but then, neither does its price tag. U.S. importer: Vanguard Wines LLC, Columbus, Ohio. (March 26, 2014)

FOOD MATCH: White Burgundies traditionally go well with Brie, Camembert and other creamy soft cheeses; lighter seafood and saltwater fish such as scallops or cod; roast chicken or veal, and fresh vegetable dishes. It was fine with a risotto of roasted fennel and onions finished with nappa cabbage.

WHEN TO DRINK: A sturdy modern screw cap keeps the wine fresh, not such a common thing with French wines, but frankly - especially with clear, subtle whites - a good thing. It's not made for long-term aging but would certainly keep, and might gain a little complexity, over five years or so.

VALUE: It's a fine value at my local price, which is right on the national median for this wine according to Wine-Searcher.com.

WEB LINK: The Jean-Marc Brocard website is available in French and English. This link goes to a fact sheet (French only) on the 2012 Kimméridgien.

Find vendors and check prices for Jean-Marc Brocard 2011 "Kimméridgien" Bourgogne Chardonnay on Wine-Searcher.com.

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