One of the things I have noticed as I explore my enjoyment of wine is how malleable my palate has become. I find that wines I may have written off a year or two ago now capture my interest, and conversely, styles that I was once enamored of are no longer as captivating as they once were. Chardonnay is a perfect example. For a long time, I eschewed the typical California style of Chardonnay; the big, buttery tones born of extensive malolactic fermentation, long maturation in new American oak, the broad and heavy mouthfeel and viscosity that have come to define the style. For a long time, I wrote this style off; I considered it, at best, a style best paired with food. Fettuccine Alfredo, ravioli in cream, and roasted poultry all seemed the de rigeur accompaniment for this style of wine. I could not envision this style as something to be enjoyed alone.
I admit, I have turned a corner. It is difficult for us to pinpoint the moment when our tastes change. Sometimes in life, we make have a moment of reflection, and all of a sudden, something we used to not care all that much for becomes something we enjoy. You move north and appreciate the beauty of a fresh snow. Somebody links a youtube video to your Facebook page, and you finally understand the raw, swaggering appeal of the Dead Boys. You take a ride in the back seat of the Bluesmobile and you have a real connection to outrunning Illinois Nazis. (Yes, I once took a ride in the back seat of the Bluesmobile. Buy me a beer, and I'll tell you a colorful story). That's where I'm at with Chardonnay.
The 2011 Ventana Chardonnay is an approachably priced bottle of wine, going for $15USD in my market. It shows a lovely pale gold in the glass, with a rim that fades quickly. The nose is typical of warm California appellations: lots of topicality, with notes of lemon pastry, mango and banana.
On the palate, there are similar elements: tropical flavors such as mango, pineapple and a subtle citrus tone. There is ample acidity, but it doesn't have that big malic bite of green apple; there is a pleasant creaminess without being a popcorny butterbomb. A touch of vanilla shows up, demonstrating a light hand with the oak ageing, and there is just the subtlest hint of almond on the finish. It has a body that is round without being weighty, and is dry but not astringent. Integration is the key here. I would say that this is a very well balanced wine.
No single element dominates the tone here. This will work well as a cocktail wine for those who favor this style, and it will excel as a food wine for folks who might enjoy this with heavier white meat dishes. It is a good example of California Chardonnay, without being overly obtrusive.