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June 23, 2010

The Grape Escape: Chardonnay off the beaten path

Yes, I told you last week that it’s perfectly appropriate to chill your red wine a bit in warmer weather. But when summer’s sultry days clamp down like a moist, heavy wool blanket as they’ve been doing lately, sometimes we’d really rather just go to a white wine and serve it refreshingly chilled.

White wine? How about Chardonnay? One of the great, classic white-wine grape varieties, it traces its roots to Burgundy in France, where it’s the sole grape in the region’s white Burgundies.

Chardonnay worked so well in Burgundy that it quickly spread around the temperate world. It’s particularly big in California, but the Golden State’s Chardonnays tend to be hearty white wines that even John Wayne might have imbibed, full of alcohol, oak and fat, buttery flavor. That’s OK, I guess, but hardly the thing for a hot summer quaff.

For something a little more refined, let’s go back to France, but head off the beaten path. This one hails from the Côtes Catalanes, the hilly vine country where the Pyrenees meet the sea and France meets Spain. Look for it at The Wine Rack, 2632 Frankfort Ave., 721-9148, where it’s easy to spot by the big “N” on the label.

Novellum “N” 2008 Chardonnay Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes ($12.99)

This transparent, bright straw-color wine offers fruitful scents of cooking apples and tropical fruit, pineapple and dates. It hits your palate with mouth-filling, appley fruit shaped up by tart, zippy acidity, finishing up with a cleansing squirt of juicy lemon.