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the chardonnay that made american wine cool

photo (2)Remember the movie Bottle Shock a few years ago? This is the wine that was in it, and has a big role in the history of wine in this country.

Most people hear Chardonnay and think big and oaky – which is what most California Chardonnay is at this point. But that’s not how it started out, and Chateau Montelena lets the real taste of Chardonnay come through.

Back in the 70s, new winemakers in California just started mimicking everything that people in Burgundy did with their Chardonnay, because it’s the best Chardonnay in the world (my opinion, but a lot of people agree). But the climate and soil are very different in France than they are in California, and the exact same process for making wine will make a minerally, silky piece of amazingness in Burgundy and then a big fat oak bomb in Napa.

Montelena’s Chardonnay is so similar to French ones that in 1976 a panel of judges who blind-tasted it declared it the best Chardonnay from a mix of French and Cali Chardonnay. The French are still pissed and raised all sorts of high school antics about why the thing was rigged, but nonetheless Montelena had won the Judgment of Paris and made American wine a player on the international wine scene. (For those of you who follow my Mad Men wine count every Monday, this one of the big reasons most characters on the show don’t drink wine – US wine wasn’t really thought of as good until this big Judgment of Paris!)

Anyway, now a lot of American Chardonnay is so over-oaked you can’t even tell it’s made from grapes. White Burgundy remains one of my all-time hands-down favorite wines in the entire world – and it’s 100% Chardonnay. So don’t knock Chardonnay – just knock over-oaked versions of it if that’s what you hate about it. And check out the Chateau Montelena, about $40-45.


21 thoughts on “the chardonnay that made american wine cool

  1. I am not much of a Chardonnay drinker, but I can’t seem to get enough of Rombauer Chard. It’s the only one stocked in my house at all times.Plus, here in the bay area people can’t seem to get enough of it. Do you know any others that taste similar perhaps? 🙂 Love reading your posts by the way!

  2. Pingback: Leaner and more elegant | spiritcollections

  3. I like the cleanliness of the Montelena Chardonnay and the way Bo has been able to keep JIm and Mike’s stainless steel crispness amongst the oakiness. I have loved the Montelena and the Grgich Hills Chardonnay. I don’t know much of French wines, but I love the inexpensive Pernand de Vergelesses and I can see (taste) being confused between the two.

  4. There are more Burgundian style Chard makers in Sonoma than Napa. Napa has become the Oak & Butter Bomb capital of Chardonnay. I’ve actually dubbed that kind of wine “Cougar Crack.” Some of my favorites that are more along the Burgundian style are MacRostie, Ridge Montebello Chard, Simi(Russian River) and I think someone else mentioned Littorai.

  5. I carried a Magnum of the 2000 Chardonnay home from a trip to Napa a few years ago and poured it last Thanksgiving, back in Miami, for only the worthiest of guests. I loved it s , I haven’t been able to dispose of the empty bottle yet and I usually have no trouble letting go.

    I also had to stop by to visit Mike Grgich to show my respects as well as taste. He, as you surely know made that winning chard for the Chateau in the Judgement of Paris Tasting and he’s still throwing down some mad good wine.

  6. Pingback: drink me: chateau montelena riesling | grapefriend

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