Sips: great California chardonnay for $13

I give Wente Vineyards’ 2008 “Morning Fog” Chardonnay from California’s Livermore Valley near San Francisco Bay high praise for its balanced approach. For one thing, use of oak is judicious, thanks to the fact that only half the wine is fermentWenteed in oak, the other half in stainless steel. Don’t get me wrong; the oak is definitely there, but it frames rather than dominates as it does in so many California chardonnays. As a result, the delicious fruit in this wine is readily apparent, especially pear and lemon notes with touches of butterscotch and cinnamon.  I enjoyed it with an appetizer of fried clam strips drizzled with lemon (stolen, I will admit, from the plate of my 11-year-old son who finds them irresistible). With alcohol at a relatively modest 13.5 percent, this is a chardonnay that should have broad appeal, providing a middle ground for those who like their oak but also those who prefer a more restrained, Burgundian  approach. The wine is 97 percent chardonnay and three percent gewürztraminer, with 86 percent from the Livermore Valley and 14 percent from Arroyo Seco in Monterey County. Perhaps most surprising, the suggested retail price of this estate grown chardonnay is just $13, a fact that almost made my eyes pop out. I served it quite cold on a very warm summer evening this week here in the northeast.

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