Driving home from a summer vacation visiting family in Michigan, I stopped overnight in Buffalo, N.Y., and soon had thoughts of a crisp delicious white after a long day in the car. Happily, at Protocol restaurant just off the New York State Thruway the wine list included the lively 2008 Saintsbury Chardonnay, with its balanced, citrus-and-pear flavors and surprising character and elegance for the price. Only $20 retail, it cost me just $29 at the restaurant.
One of the world’s most popular white varietals, chardonnay is produced in just about every grape-growing country. An awful lot of these wines are completely mediocre, and finding one that consistently displays real finesse and elegance in this price range can be daunting. Decent examples from Burgundy, the grape’s home, tend to be more expensive, and modestly-priced California bottlings too often range from the neutral and boring to tasting of buttery popcorn or far too much oak. Which makes the Saintsbury look like even more of a standout.
David Graves and Dick Ward founded the winery in the cool Carneros region that straddles southern Napa and Sonoma more than thirty years ago — the AVA was established in 1983. Pioneers in the area, the two quickly became famous for vibrant, savory pinot noirs, and they now produce seven cuvées annually.
But chardonnay does extremely well in Carneros too. Constant cool breezes from the Pacific make for a long growing season that allows grapes to ripen more slowly, so they develop more flavor while retaining crisp acidity. At Saintsbury, barrel fermentation and aging only 20 percent of this wine in new oak barrels give the blend richness and texture, without hammering your tastebuds with notes of raw wood. No filtration before bottling means more bright fruit.
With scallops in beurre blanc and lobster butter, this white was a fine accompaniment, and it comes with an easy-to-open screwcap. Wherever you drink it, you won’t be disappointed.
Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”