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.