For hard-core fans of chardonnay, Burgundy is the centre of the universe. Nowhere else does the world's most popular white grape rise to such elegance and complexity as in the great central-eastern region of France.
Trouble is, the best white Burgundies, all of which are 100-per-cent chardonnay, tend to be very expensive, starting at roughly $30 a bottle and usually soaring to multiples of that sum in such trophy-white appellations as Meursault and Puligny Montrachet. Most of the bargains come from the big southern swath known as the Maconnais, which churns out three times more chardonnay as the rest of Burgundy put together. It can take some hunting to find a good one, sadly. A lot of wine labelled Macon is ho hum, and I'd frankly take most $12 Chilean chardonnays over the average $16 Macon unless I knew something about the producers involved.
I'm happy to report that a terrific Burgundy value was just released this week in Ontario. It's called Louis Jadot Macon Villages 2007 ($14.95, product No. 164145) and will reach a few other provinces before the year is out. Jadot is one of the more respected large negociants in Burgundy, as dependable a brand as one could hope for in a region not known for consistency or value. This wine is the essence of affordable versatility in a well-priced chardonnay. Medium-bodied, it's clean and crisp, with a moderately silky texture and notes of tangy lemon and chalky minerality. The toasty, vanilla-like influence from oak-barrel aging is subtle and nicely integrated into the fruit. It could match nicely with a lot of light, vegetarian fare but would probably be best paired with chicken, veal or salmon. For the money, it should make connoisseurs just as happy as bargain-hunters.
If you prefer the naked flavour of stainless-steel-aged chardonnay and live in British Columbia or Alberta, consider Joie Farm Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2009 from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley ($22 through the winery at www.joiefarm.com). Also available in a smattering of restaurants in Ontario, the medium-bodied white almost squeaks with cleanliness, showing ripe pear-like fruit on a slightly chalky texture.
In a much more quaffable, simple style is the well-priced and widely available Just Chardonnay, a new release under screw cap from southern France. Medium-bodied and round, it offers up hints of apple and peach in a balanced, well-crafted crowd-pleasing style. Wine snobs need not apply. This one is designed to be approachable as an unpretentious cocktail as an accompaniment to food.
Ready for a killer red bargain? It's name is Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2008 ($7.45, No. 446633). Familiar to bargain hunters and Italian-wedding caterers across Canada, the Citra brand from Italy did wonders with this wine from the 2008 vintage. Ultra smooth and remarkably concentrated for a wine of its price, it delivers a ripe, almost voluptuous cherry core and nice balancing acidity. Very versatile and nice on it's own.
Returning to full inventory after a brisk sales run is another great Italian value that I've mentioned before, Spinelli Malbec (discounted by 50 cents to $7.45 until April 25, No. 143750). Full-bodied, succulent and smooth, it offers up juicy berry flavours and a hint of mulled-wine spice.
Also from Italy comes Castello di Neive Barbaresco ($19.95 No. 160143). It's not cheap, but Barbaresco, the kid brother red of famed Barolo, usually tends to cost upward of $30. Medium-bodied and delicate for a nebbiolo-based wine, it shows a floral note, juicy cherry and a hint of tar. Great for braised meats and mushroom-based dishes.
Greek wine - especially Greek red wine - gets scant attention in this country, sometimes with good reason. But an impressive one, Skouras Saint George 2007 ($16.95, No. 162321), was released last week through Vintages stores in Ontario. Saint George is the alternative name for the ancient red grape aghiorghitiko, which can be coaxed into a variety of styles, from light rosés to full-bodied reds. This one is medium full-bodied, dark and reminiscent of sweet black-skinned fruits and licorice (think black wine gums). It has a firm spine of acidity and there's even a dusting of herbs here. I could see it pairing well with a variety of Greek dishes and lots of vegetarian fare.
Another huge bargain from this past week's release at Ontario Vintages stores is Chakana Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15.95, No. 93807). Opaque purple in colour, this full-bodied red from Argentina is rich and voluptuous, with layered flavours of cassis, dark chocolate, tobacco and black pepper carried on a smooth frame. It has well-integrated tannins and makes a great partner for steak.
PICKS OF THE WEEK
A rare bargain from Burgundy, Louis Jadot Macon Villages 2007 ($14.95, product No. 164145) is available in Ontario and will reach a few other provinces before the year is out. Medium-bodied with a moderately silky texture and notes of tangy lemon and chalky minerality, it makes a nice match for light, vegetarian fare as well as chicken, veal or salmon.
Pricier than other South American cabs, full-bodied Chakana Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15.95, No. 93807) from Argentina is rich and voluptuous, with layered flavours of cassis, dark chocolate, tobacco and black pepper carried on a smooth frame. It has well-integrated tannins and makes a great partner for steak.
Joie Farm Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2009 from British Columbia's Okanagan Valley ($22 through www.joiefarms.com) is available in B.C., Alberta and a smattering of restaurants in Ontario. It's medium-bodied and almost squeaks with cleanliness, showing ripe pear-like fruit on a slightly chalky texture.