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Chardonnay still a good place to start the holidays

By Dave Buchanan

Dreaming of a white Christmas means so many things but I'd like to start with a Chardonnnay, please.

Maybe winter (actually it's still really, really late fall) isn't traditionally considered Chardonnay time but let's be real. A good (affordable) Chardonnay is hard to find.

The always entertaining W. Blake Gray, in his blog The Gray Market Report, earlier this week commented that many people disrespect Chardonnay because it's become the phylloxera of the grape world.

"But there’s also contempt from the knowledgeable about Chardonnay’s kudzu-like takeover of the world’s vineyards," write Gray. "It’s like phylloxera; it escaped its home in Burgundy and has caused the uprooting of native vines in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain -- basically, any country where grape farmers are trying to make a living."

His premise being that great Chardonnay is out there but it's not produced everywhere the grape is grown.

And it's grown nearly everywhere, largely due to wine makers eager to share in the wine's immense popularity.

So why not write about Chardonnay, no matter how loud the cries from the ABCer's (you known, Anything But Chardonnay).

During my Thanksgiving break (which was about 4 hours) I enjoyed the St. Francis Winery 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay, which lists for around $10-$12.

According to the winery, most of the grapes (65 percent) grapes come from the Russian River Valley, the very sort of cool climate that produces terrific Chardonnays.

This wine certainly reflects the mellowing influence of the Pacific Ocean, showing ripe fruit flavors and sharp acidity, which made it a fine pairing for the Thanksgiving table.

Not surprisingly, the North Fork Valley (aka West Elks AVA), with its cool temperatures and long growing season, also produces fruity, high-acid Chardonnays.

Chardonnays made solely from Grand Valley grapes tend to be flabby, with less acid and more sugar (and higher alcohol) because the grapes get so ripe in this warm climate.

That said, some local winemakers, thinking here particularly of Jenni Baldwin-Eaton at Plum Creek Cellars, do a marvelous job of blending grapes from both areas to get the best virtues of the individual growing areas. provides further reviews here, if you're interested in reading more.

St. Francis Winery, located in Santa Rosa, Cal., also produces some delightful red wines, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a couple of fascinating Zinfandels, including the 2007 Wild Oak Old Vines Sonoma County Zinfandel.

I tasted through these wines during the holiday (the 2006 Old Vines Pagani Vineyard Sonoma County Zinfandel was the red wine at the Thanksgiving table) and I'll write more about these later.





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