Chardonnay is ubiquitous. The most popular white wine variety in the U.S., it comes in many styles and at many prices. California is sometimes derided for developing a “buttery and oaky” Chardonnay. This big—maybe even voluptuous—style is dismissed by some wine writers and many would-be critics. Rombauer Vineyards is probably the best-known producer of such wines. They’re very good at delivering big-and-buttery. Sometimes we appreciate wines like this. Your reviewer remembers sharing a luncheon table with the late Koerner Rombauer and thinking his Chardonnay that was poured for us as being a damned good accompaniment to whatever food was on the plate.
But there’s room for other versions of this grape variety—a leaner style that often showcases the freshness of the grape itself—sans enhancement or embellishment from oak cooperage. A bonus is that the winery saves a whole lot of money on expensive barrels—and usually passes at least some of those savings on to their customers.
This week’s wine ‘Pick,’ the 2017 Chardonnay from Toad Hollow, is officially priced at $15 dollars retail and can sometimes be found for considerably less. But price is not the reason this wine appeals. While exhibiting the characteristics of the variety, it shows them in an unadorned fashion. The Toad Hollow unoaked Chardonnay shows floral and citrus-influenced aromas, followed by flavors that include crisp apple, Bosc pears and maybe just a bit of melon. The predominant impression is freshness and brightness, rather than heft and substance, though there is a little creaminess in the finish.
Food Affinity: Could be a clean-tasting offset to some richer dishes, but we’d suggest with simpler, and similarly clean-tasting dishes. Grilled rockfish or the classic Trout Almondine?