There’s enough butter on the Thanksgiving table without importing more in a Chardonnay bottle. This is my public service announcement to those wishing to exercise a modicum of restraint on November’s feast day. If this makes sense, read on. If not, you’re in the wrong place.
The place I went for buttery Chard relief was Lompoc, California, the heart of Santa Barbara County grape territory. The destination, Melville Vineyards and Winery, has made a name crafting estate-grown wines from Burgundian and Northern Rhône grape varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The surrounding hilly terrain is “blessed” by difficult, sandy soils that coax the best from vines, not to mention the ocean-tempered winds and cool fogs that render, among other qualities, valuable acidity in the fruit.
I visited the site a couple years back and, for what it’s worth, the Melvilleans were good people too, always a plus that makes me feel better about a winery’s product.
A journey to Lompoc wasn’t necessary this time around, as I found an unexpected stash of Melville at a state store in Montgomery County. Potential for a Turkey Day Chardonnay? Pass the potatoes, hon.
2009 Melville Estate Chardonnay – Verna’s This bottle shouldn’t be served at full-on refrigerator frigid. I learned this as it warmed in the open air of my kitchen, the pleasure factor rising in proportion to the elevating temp. I suggest pulling the cork, setting it on the counter and offering guests a pour just before the food is served. It will make the transition into dinner effortlessly.
The Verna’s has a light, citrusy nose that flashes other subtle scents that resemble vanilla pastry or custard. A semi-dry Chardonnay with a soft golden color, it never approaches heavy handed oak overtones. Rather, it fans out a hand of earthy minerality and firm acidity, with a pleasing touch of toastiness imparted by its time in neutral, five to 12 year-old French oak. (Note to other winemakers: Use more gently used barrels!)
The wine’s filliping “natural” qualities are suited to cleanse away the intense, fatty flavors (think gravy and, um, butter) of Thanksgiving. It can also take a punch of spice. As the liquid settles in the belly, the fruit idles cheerily on the palate before the next dose. It won’t dominate a meal like its buttery-rich, estranged siblings. It knows its place.
As I’ve found with several Melville wines, the vineyard and grapes express themselves in the bottle – which translates to minimal mucking around during the winemaking stage. They are representative of a budding network of vintners committed to balanced wines that bring acidity, true fruit without over-extraction, judicious use of oak and a genuine sense of the place of origin, or terroir. After taking note of this, I found a short passage on the Melville website that underscored the point more poetically: At the time of harvest, we consider the wines to already be made, and we take every precaution to not interfere with their own natural path of evolution.
The ground is profound, my turkey-loving friends. No Land O’Lakes required.
Melville Estate Chardonnay – Verna’s is available at Philly area PLCB stores for $18.99 a bottle.
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Contact Jeff Alexander at [email protected] / On Twitter: http://twitter.com/mainlinevine