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By The Glass
Roberto Viernes

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) is a slogan conjured up by winemakers who make everything but chardonnay. Why do some malign it so? It is still the No. 1 white wine in the United States.

The chardonnay grape also happens to be one of the noblest. It does well in so many different countries, from India to Thailand. It can attain unheralded complexity and soaring heights of grandeur when made perfectly. It can also be the most unassuming thirst-quencher and most quaffable wine at a most reasonable price.

Oh yeah, it also goes great with a wide range of food.

My first recommendation is the chardonnays of Neyers Winery, owned by Bruce and Barbara Neyers. The wines are made by the talented Ehrin Jordan of Turley Cellars fame, using wild yeasts that give the wines a more natural character and complexity. Judicious amounts of new French oak add even more complexity, rather than mask the fruit.

Yields here are minuscule, less than 2 tons per acre on average, giving the wines a tremendous intensity and concentration. All this adds up to really good juice!

The 2003 Neyers Carneros Chardonnay ($22) is a beautiful wine with a forward and engaging personality of pineapple, candied apple and a pretty lace of vanilla. It is rich but not overpowering.

Climbing the hedonism ladder you will find the single-vineyard 2003 Neyers El Novillero Chardonnay ($36), with even more tropical fruit flavors and even more precision and intensity. It is perhaps the best Carneros chardonnay I've ever had.

The 2003 Neyers Theriot Chardonnay ($42), also single-vineyard, is more Burgundian, with a note of earth, high-toned fruit and exotic floweriness that I find in only the finest chardonnays. It expands on the palate with intense flavors of passion fruit, poached pears and apricot, and a complexity that is beguiling and decadent.

These wines lend themselves well to lobster. Grill, poach or steam it, throw some butter on it and you're in "the zone." A whole roasted chicken with lemon, rosemary and mashed potatoes would also be yummy.

Here are some imported selections that thrilled my palate:

The 2001 Vie di Romans Chardonnay "Vieris" ($26) from Isonzo del Friuli in the northeastern part of Italy has a killer bouquet of white flowers, nectarine and poached apples. It has a laser-like core of fruit that lingers. Forget about being heavy or alcoholic, this wine is just plain delicious! I would have it with rich and creamy pastas or salmon sautéed with olive oil, lemon and capers.

The 2002 Henry de Vezelay Bourgogne Blanc ($15) is made by Bernard Raveneau, one of the greatest winemakers in the world, period. It tastes of citrus, honeysuckle and melon, with a supremely elegant texture and mouthwatering finish. The gulp-ability factor here is off the charts. It goes great with raw oysters, or fried shrimp or whole fish with a creamy sauce.

So enjoy. Drink as much chardonnay as you like. Have no shame. ABC can have another meaning -- All the Best Chardonnays. The next time someone tells you that chardonnay isn't cool any more, teach him or her some new ABCs.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and
wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to features@starbulletin.com

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