1. De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay - The De Wet family settled in South Africa in 1694. They were the first registered wine estate in the Robertson Wine Valley, and established a reputation for Chardonnay in the 1970s when they introduced the Burgundian grape to the country.
Danie de Wet is the cellar master, assisted by his sons Johann and Peter. Danie attended the Geisenheim Institute in Germany, one of the world’s leading centers for the study of viticulture and cellar technology. His meticulous attention to detail and the particulars of South African terroir and how they interact with Chardonnay makes for wines that are incredibly precise, balanced, and lush, on par with fine white Burgundy. His Limestone Hill Chardonnay is unoaked, but always vibrant and brimming with fresh fruit. Robert Parker describes it as having "impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length." This is a Chardonnay for lovers and skeptics of the grape alike. Drink it with caesar salad and roast chicken, Indian curry, or spicy Chinese noodle dishes. It's incredibly versatile and refreshing in almost any context.
2. Domaine Picard Bourgogne Chardonnay - We're going back to the basics with this lovely Chardonnay from Domaine Picard. White Burgundy is ground zero for Chardonnay, responsible for the world wide recognition this chameleon grape enjoys. Within the north to south escarpements in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône, a tributary of the Rhône, there are 400 types of soil. Burgundy is extremely terroir driven, rather than producer driven. It makes sense for Chardonnay and Pinot to thrive here, because these grapes are extremely sensitive to minute differences in climate and soil, each little subregion putting its unique stamp on the wine made there, so that you still recognize Chardonnay, but it's like meeting family members of a close friend -- mannerisms and patterns of speech are the same, but each person is unique and a product of their own experiences and internal struggles.
Domaine Picard is located in Chassagne Montrachet, founded in 1951. Today the third generation is at the helm. Their focus shifted a decade ago into more organic and biodynamic practices. Today their team of over 40 people work tirelessly, juggling the tasks of soil, cellar, and administration. Their holdings consist of six estates spanning 136 hectares of vines. Their entry level Bourgogne Chardonnay is full of bright, crisp fruit -- green and golden apple, balanced acidity, and a full, slightly creamy palate. It's light on its feet but has Chardonnay's signature body and heft. Drink it with rich, flaky fish dishes, or a Marseille style fish stew fragrant with herbs and savory broth.
3. Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay - Greg Brewer, the founder and winemaker behind Brewer-Clifton, is responsible for establishing the Santa Rita Hills as a serious destination for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in just a few decades. In the 1990s he cobbled together enough money to start a winery and now, thirty years later, the reputation of the Santa Barbara area for fine Burgundian style wines with California soul has grown tremendously. Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay comes from the Los Alamos region of Santa Barbara County, a relatively unknown region whose sandy loam soil lends itself to fruit with a bit more flesh and weight. Brewer describes it as saline and precise, with lime and lemon zest, green apple, mineral, and white blossom notes. This is an elegant, textural Chardonnay to drink with oysters and fish, or a cozy fall spread of roast pork with braised cabbage, fennel, and apple.
4. Otto's Constant Dream Pinot Noir - And now, it's Pinot time! Our first foray into the Burgundian red grape that has taken over the world leads us to New Zealand, a country known for its zippy, intense Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir also thrives in the cooler, windswept corners of this beautiful country. Fiona Turner is the winemaker behind this lovely little Pinot from hillside vineyards in the heart of the Wairau Valley. The grapes are farmed sustainably and hand harvested. The wine is full of bright, primary fruit notes -- ripe velvety plum, strawberry, and cranberry. There are notes of fruit leather, spice, and a slight smokiness characteristic of New Zealand Pinots. It's the perfect fall Pinot -- it's like jumping into a pile of crunchy leaves, biting into a cranberry-spice muffin, and sitting around a smoky campfire, all at once! Drink it with salmon, roast chicken, charcuterie, or around a backyard firepit.
5. Fel Pinot Noir- Elegant, lush Pinot from Anderson Valley in the rugged, remote region of Mendocino in northern California. The cool climate in this region provides acidity and focus to the lush fruit from sunny, warm daytime weather. Napa, Sonoma, and even Santa Barbara have become synonomous with quality California wine, but Anderson Valley feels untouched, like the last frontier of California winemaking. This Pinot still possesses a smooth drinkability and forward fruit for those that love the grape or those that are just getting started. This would go beautifully with roast pork, spice rubbed chicken, or vegetarian cassoulet topped with a bubbly crown of cheese.
Aubrey Stout (Aubrey is a talented wine specialist at Imbibe Chattanooga).
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
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