And the new vintage of two of the most consistently good and inexpensive Australian chardonnays are widely available in the Washington area for between $9 and $12 a bottle.
We've been recommending Milton Park Chardonnay South East Australia since the 2006 and 2007 vintages.GE Ultrasonic Probe And despite solid scores from the critics year in and year out, it still costs less than $10 a bottle. The 2010 vintage is on sale at Calvert Woodley for $8.99 (regularly $9.99) and costs $8.99 every day at Total Wine More stores throughout Virginia and at sister stores in Maryland, Corridor Wine Spirits in Laurel and Beltway Fine Wine in Towson. The new vintage hasn't been reviewed by the major wine publications, but Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, arguably the world's most influential critic, loved the 2009 vintage at $12 a bottle.
"For $12, it is difficult to find a better Chardonnay than Thorn Clarke's 2009 Chardonnay Milton Park," he wrote in the August 2010 issue. "Very Maconnais like in character, with no evidence of wood (although some barrels are used), it offers up notes of white peaches, honeydew melons, and hint of spice. This fresh, medium bodied, richly fruity white is meant to be consumed over the next 6 12 months."
The suggestion that there is little or no oak flavor appeals to an increasing number of white wine drinkers who prefer more fruit flavors to the buttery, woody characteristics that come from aging in oak barrels. That more full bodied, toasty style is common in traditional and more expensive California chardonnay. But if you're looking for a crisper, fruitier white, these unoaked or lightly oaked chardonnays from the southern hemisphere are an affordable option.
Another consistent winner, which sees no oak at all, is Yalumba Chardonnay Unwooded Y Series South Australia. The 2010 vintage earned 88 points from Josh Raynolds at International Wine Cellar, and it enjoyed an unbroken string of scores between 85 and 88 points from Wine Spectator for eight consecutive vintages from the 2002 through 2009.
"High pitched aromas of green apple and quince, with a deeper nectarine quality in the background," is how Raynolds described the 2010 in the Jul/Aug 2011 issue of IWC. "Juicy, palate coating orchard fruit flavors are pleasantly straightforward and expand in the mid palate, picking up a touch of peach nectar. A kick of lemon pith adds focus and bite to the finish.
"Lots of fruit here," he added.
Yalumba Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay just barely breaks the $10 barrier at State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD, at $9.99 a bottle. But it's more commonly found for about $11 a bottle at Total, Corridor and Beltway, and for a dollar or two more at Calvert Woodley, Bell Wine Spirits, Magruder's on Connecticut Ave. (See the slideshow for a representative sample of prices for both Milton Park and Yalumba.)
These are the type of reliably good, inexpensive whites that you'll want on hand if it hits 70 degrees, like it's forecast to do Thursday (the first day of March?!). And if you prefer the full bodied California style, you can find Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay in almost any store where wine is sold for about $10 to $15 a bottle. Or right now at Rodman's in Friendship Heights you'll find this California chardonnay for just $8 a bottle.
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