Get Chardonnay bang for a way smaller buck

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      Picking up from where we left off earlier this month, more Extreme Chardonnays—this time, it’s money talking.

      Ah, Chardonnay, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways. Which I actually did, the LDB brochure in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other, the whole damn booklet, cover to cover. I see 338 different Chardonnays—go ahead, challenge my count, waste half an afternoon totalling up flyspecks—and that includes the ones that aren’t so-called (i.e., the French Chablis and mini Chablis, and Montrachets and Meursaults).

      Then, an estimate: another 150, plus or minus, in the private stores, and we’re pushing 500 different Chardonnays. You can drink one a day and still have a small reserve on hand to welcome the 2010 you-know-whats (seeing as I’m not allowed to use the word Olympics without prior approval from the commissariat).

      In an ongoing look at different Chardonnays—which still has some ways to go, by the way—we took price as the prime consideration this time, and came up with a very small tasting: only three wines, representing the cheapest and the most expensive in our market.

      There may be costlier Chardonnays available at private wine stores around town, and I’m virtually certain there are, but I’m just as certain you won’t find cheaper ones.

      From $7.99 and $8.49, then, to $103 and change—those are the bookends. They were acquired in the same store (at 39th and Cambie); chilled the same length of time; opened at the same time; poured into glasses of the same shape and size; and sipped one, two, three.

      In the LDB system, the cheapest is a Californian, Grey Fox, for $7.99. Next in line is the Argentine Marcus James, for $8.49. The panel’s advice? Go the extra—you get way more bang for your half-buck with Marcus.

      Don’t let the ultra-pale colour fool you. There’s actually some fruit in this fresh-tasting, light glass—a little citrus and even a little spice, no noticeable oak anywhere, and a touch of tartness for the finish.

      Conclusion: for the price, a very good buy; an all-day, every-day gulping wine, great for sangria or other soda’d swizzles. Plop in fruit, lots of ice, a splash of vodka, and some mint leaves, and there’s a fast punch for the deck.

      Okay, what you really want to know is how the most expensive Chardonnay tasted. Pretty good actually, but—well, there’s a big but, about as big as the price tag. Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2005 is the name; the bin number is 144. (That’s derived, says the label, from “the total number of wine trials undertaken in the development of this wine”. I’m not entirely sure what “wine trials” are when it comes to developing Chardonnay, but I think I’d like to attend a couple, strictly in the role of observer.)

      According to the label, Bottle 3004 is the one I shelled out $103.99 for. Yes, I did. No, I won’t be doing it again. Let one of the other 3,003-plus go that route; a one-time trip cured me of the curiosity.

      It is a very nice wine, and if it cost, let’s say, $24.95, I’d be back in a flash, and so would the entire complement of tasters on the panel this time. But at a C-note-plus, there is no way it’s worth that kind of cash.

      Let me proudly hang out my Philistinism here and now: you can get a whole case of the Marcus James for that. (If you can find it; recent efforts have turned up only a few bottles at far-flung liquor stores.)

      In a recent article in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, we see the same vintage is a little cheaper there— £34.99 (about $70). An Australian site called WineStar rabbits on about “sumptuously flavoured and deeply layered”¦poise and refinement”, doing that let’s-see-how-many-different-flavour-components-we-can-list-in-one-sentence-just-in-case-somebody-else-comes-up-with-some-we-missed thing.

      In doing so, it cites citrus blossom, white peach, nectarine, melon, grapefruit, and undertones of bacon and smoky oak, to say nothing of its “long, fluffy and seamless palate”. They list a price of AU$129.99 for it, the equivalent of about $126.

      It’s smoky, even a bit roasty, with major oak in evidence and not-so-seamless alcohol sticking up out of the fruit, and there’s an odd mix of wood and citrus in the not-all-that-long finish. But, as Peggy Lee used to say, “Is that all there is?” Are there a lot of naked emperors roaming around the Adelaide Hills?

      But hey! Full marks for the brazenness of bringing forth a hundred-dollar bottle of wine with a screw cap. Means you can save some in the door of the fridge for meat loaf tomorrow night.

      But that “fluffy palate” thing is new to me; I’m going to hang on to it for the next comparison tasting of fabric softeners we do in this corner.

      Now I just have to try and finesse this whole shopping excursion past the accounting department.