New choices in chardonnay. The 2009 Joel Gott unoaked chardonnay (about $20) puts me in mind of a young Audrey Hepburn in pearls and a little black dress, a coolly elegant customer with a tiara in her jewelry box at home. And the 2009 Hahn SLH estate chardonnay (about $25) conjures up visions of Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, a voluptuous, nearly over-powering presence.
Both wines hail from California, but the similarities stop there. The first, made with grapes from Monterey County by Joel Gott Wines, based in Napa’s St. Helena, is fermented in steel and never sees the inside of a barrel. The Hahn, made with grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands, is redolent of oak and vanilla in the extravagant style that has become synonymous in many wine drinkers’ minds with California chardonnays. The Gott, on the other hand, is much closer to the flinty style of a French chard. Both styles have their admirers, but they are likely to view one another from separate and sometimes hostile camps.
I align these days with the partisans of the lean and clean unoaked chards, but I can appreciate the full-blown pleasures of the oaked, too. In both cases, the key is balance. If the steely chards aren’t carefully made, they can go from lean to emaciated. If the oaky chards aren’t ruthlessly policed, they can easily leap from full-blown to fatally overblown.
Both styles, when as meticulously crafted as the Gott and the Hahn, will pair beautifully with food, but the unoaked chard is more versatile, at home not only on the table but in a glass by itself as a perfect summer aperitif or social sipper.
An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, websites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times.