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Help Me Appreciate Chilean Chardonnay

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Help Me Appreciate Chilean Chardonnay

Bill Hunt | Jul 21, 2008 06:49 PM

Can someone help me understand the mystique of Chilean wines?

We just returned from a week away, and I asked my wife to pick up a few Chards, as all of my white Burgs were buried in my cellar, and we were out of our normal house whites. We were having a baked chicken dish, with light cream sauce, and I though that a Chard would fit the bill nicely. She came in with three Chards that were highly recommended by the cellar-master at a local boutique grocery/wine shop. One was an ‘05 Veramonte Casablanca Valley “Reserve” Chardonnay. The cellar-master stated that this had just gotten a big writeup in WS and was a “fabulous” Chard. If I heard correctly, it was priced at US$12.99, but I could have confused it with one of the other two.

Now, I have had the Veramonte Chard, though am not sure if any have been their “Reserve” bottlings. Back “when” they were part of the Franciscan portfolio (may still be), we attended several wine dinners featuring this wine, though maybe not the “Reserve.” This wine was as unimpressive as all of the previous iterations.

I realize that to many a geographer, the Casablanca Valley is considered to be the South American version of Sonoma. However, I cannot imagine any wino rating it so. I’ve had dozens of examples of Chilean Chardonnays, and most have come from this area. They have ALL left me flat. Now, I am probably a wine snob, as I would rather pay US$40 for a really good wine, than US$13 for a poor one. I also have to admit that I enjoy Chardonnay – from a steely, flinty Chablis to a honeyed, full-bodied Montrachet, to a big, CA fruit-bomb. We probably do as many white Burgs, as Cal-Chards, but then it depends on the food we’re having. The bigger Cal-Chards go better by themselves, or with a more finely delimited menu. Burgs seem to be more universally food-friendly. I also enjoy Cal-Chards that are more Burgundian in character, so long as they are complete and good wines. Jim Clendenin’s Au Bon Climat Chards come to mind here, plus a few dozen other producers.

The Veramonte “Reserve” Chardonnay was typical of what I have encountered with all Chilean Chards. It was horribly angular with nothing but sharp edges everywhere. Nothing could be said to be “finished.” It was thin, but had sharpness everywhere. I’d liken it to putting a piece of A`a (a type of rough Hawaiian volcanic rock) into my mouth. The Chards that I like are more like well polished river rocks – smooth, round and finished. Typical of most Chilean Chards, this one also had a strange, metallic finish, though 90% was fermented in French oak barrels. It was such, that I’d really call it an “aftertaste,” rather than the finish. Any Chardonnay fruit was minimal and overwhelmed by the edginess and that aftertaste.

This particular site has been producing Chardonnay since 1990. In that time, someone should have brought a bottle of well-crafted Chard from FR, or CA, for the winemakers to taste.

Still, most of the wine-drinking world embraces these wines and sing their praises. Usually, the word “value,” comes into play. For me, “value” is about the pleasure that one derives from a wine, predicated on the price. In the case of this wine, I’d gladly pay US$1.25 for a bottle, if there was nothing else available and I was nearly broke. I need to say a special prayer of thanks, that I do not have to drink this swill, and then a prayer of support for anyone, who does.

Hunt, kneeling to pray

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