Food & Drink

Chardonnay bargains can be found

Although it can be quite difficult to find very good, inexpensive chardonnays, I am finding that the 2007 vintage is living up to its reputation of being an excellent year. A number of real value-priced wines are available in the marketplace.

In the past several years, I have tasted several labels from Penfolds, finding many of their wines to be value-oriented. So it was hardly a surprise that the 2007 Penfolds Chardonnay Koonunga Hill received an 88 rating from the Wine Spectator and is available at $10 per bottle. This chardonnay is aged in oak, so it is somewhat buttery and creamy with hints of ripe peach. The wine tasted very refreshing and paired well with roasted chicken. There were 35,000 cases imported, so it should be easy to locate.

Penfolds was established in 1844 in the outskirts of Adelaide, Australia, by an English physician who had a strong conviction for the medicinal value of wine. Until 1950, Penfolds mostly produced fortified wines and Brandy. A fortified wine is made by adding a distilled spirit — in other words, alcohol — to the grape juice during the fermentation process. This additional alcohol stops the fermentation of the must, thereby killing the yeast and leaving residual sugar in the wine with a higher alcohol content.

Beginning in the early 1950s, Penfolds changed their focus to the production of table wines, and only a small percentage of their production today remains fortified wine.

The 2007 Edna Valley Chardonnay from Paragon Vineyard was quite crisp, with pronounced citrus flavor. The term “crisp” is another way of saying refreshing — meaning that the acidity of the wine was evenly balanced by the alcohol and fruit flavors. Although the majority of the wine was aged in oak barrels, it also contained the subtle flavor of vanilla. This wine also retails in the $10 range and should pair well with grilled salmon. It received a rating of 87 points from Wine Spectator, with the winery producing a whopping 380,000 cases. Edna Valley Vineyards is located five miles from the Pacific Ocean in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Wine & Spirits Magazine named Angeline Winery the American Value Brand of the Year in both 2006 and 2007. The 2007 Angeline Sonoma County Chardonnay spent 18 months in oak, which was quite obvious upon tasting. The wine tasted buttery with flavors of ripe apple, containing quite a long finish. Wine Spectator awarded an 88 point rating and the wine retails for $14.

Angeline is located in Santa Rosa, Calif., and this particular chardonnay is comprised of grapes grown in several Sonoma County vineyards. A wine label lists where the grapes were grown for that wine and can be generic or quite specific. Sonoma County is a very large region that contains a number of smaller growing areas. Angeline, for example, produces a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County. On the other end of the spectrum, some wines simply say a California Table Wine — meaning the grapes could have been harvested in various areas throughout the state.

Jim Rawe, family attorney and avid wine collector in Bradenton, can be reached at