Sunday, October 29, 2006
Now I'm a Believer: the 2004 O'Reilly's Chardonnay
I am the first to admit that I am not a huge chardonnay fan. I find many of them overblown, over-marketed, over-priced, and over-hyped--not to mention overly buttery and toasty. They can be so difficult to pair with food, and yet all over America people drink them by preference. Though not a card-carrying member of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club, I do sometimes look askance at friends who enthuse over their latest boutique chardonnay find. Tonight I joined the ranks and chilled down a 2004 O'Reilly's Chardonnay ($12.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar). This just might be the bottle that makes me a chardonnay believer.
O'Reilly's is the budget-friendly line from one of my favorite Oregon winemaker's, Owen Roe. They proudly list the O'Reilly's wines before their better known Owen Roe bottlings and celebrate their great value--which I would certainly agree with. I love their higher-end bottlings (especially the Bordeaux-style blend Abbot's Table which usually is available somewhere between $20-$30). They focus on quality and I must say I've never had a disappointing bottle of wine made by them or by their neighbors at Sineann.
The 2004 O'Reilly's is typical of all Owen Roe bottlings, in that they strive to achieve good varietal character and not monkey about too much in the processing of the grapes. For chardonnay, the varietal characteristics without processing should be fruits: apple, pear, citrus, pineapple, guava. It's processing that adds the oak, toast, vanilla, butter, cream and coconut--and in the wrong hands this can be a total disaster, with artificial oak and vanillin flavors the result. This wine, however, was made using early-ripening Dijon clones and 2/3 of the fruit was aged in stainless steel (to preserve the varietal characteristics), 1/3 in 3-4 year old American and French oak barrels (to add some interesting richness and depth to the wine).
I had a glass while I was roasting some potatoes in the oven, grilling some salmon to top off with some Scandinavian dill-mustard sauce from the Joy of Cooking, and sauteeing some snap peas in lots of cracked pepper and a smidge of butter. It was pale straw in color, with some apple and citrus aromas. The taste was citrusy and smooth, with a nice long finish of vanilla and hints of tropical fruit like pineapple. At the very end of each sip you got just a bit of toast--nothing overwhelming or daunting. I kept reaching for the glass, over and over, amazed that such an inexpensive wine could have so many flavor dimensions.
The wine was excellent with the fish, stood up to the mustard, and complemented the roast potates and buttery peas. This was a food-friendly chardonnay, with textbook chardonnay characteristics and excellent QPR. It would be just as good with roast or fried chicken, caesar salad, or crabcakes. Available at many on-line retailers on both coasts, it is a great example of a quality Oregon chardonnay and is well worth seeking out.