Supermarket Chardonnays

California's Central Coast offers some strong selections.

There’s nothing better than a good California Chardonnay to go with
your favorite appetizer. But choosing among so many inexpensive
selections can make for a daunting shopping experience at the local
supermarket. So we decided to make it easier by limiting our choices to
the burgeoning Chardonnay region of California’s Central Coast.

At an Oakland Safeway store, we purchased four wines for about $10.
From Monterey County, we bought a J. Lohr Riverstone Estates Arroyo
Seco (2007)
, an Estancia Pinnacles Ranches (2008), and a
Sterling Vintner’s Collection Central Coast (2007). And
from San Luis Obispo County, we chose an Edna Valley Vineyard
Paragon (2007)
. All were $9.98 with our Safeway club card.

Because some of us were familiar with these Chardonnays, we
conducted blind taste tests. It made for some surprises, and in the
end, we decided we could strongly recommend two of the four wines while
giving a slight thumbs-up to a third.

Our surprise favorite was the Sterling. Two members of our group,
including me, didn’t expect that this wine would come in first place
because we had tried it previously and were less than impressed. But
under blind conditions, we found the Sterling to have a burst of flavor
with overtones of tropical fruit and a smooth aftertaste. It also
exuded a bright, clean aroma with hints of melon. One in our group even
detected a bit of vanilla. On a scale of one to ten, we gave it a
seven.

Our second-place winner, in close balloting, was the Edna Valley.
It’s a very light Chardonnay, almost like a Pinot Grigio. We viewed it
as the consummate daytime wine, great for brunch or lunch and a perfect
complement to fish, particularly salmon. It features bright, clear
flavors with hints of fruit and nutmeg while leaving a smooth
aftertaste. One of our tasters described it as “a nice wine for a light
summer occasion.” We gave it a six.

Our third choice was the J. Lohr. Its placement in our rankings came
as a big surprise to two of us, including me, because we drink it often
and thought it would score much higher. It sports a fruity and crisp
bite with brooding and complicated overtones. But one of our tasters,
who is a regular J. Lohr drinker, was startled to find it had a
somewhat acidic and immature nature. We gave it a five.

And finally, our fourth choice was the Estancia, another surprise
for me, because I have liked this Chardonnay in the past. But we found
it to be a boring, bland white wine that’s not worth the price. Sure,
it’s smooth and clean and has no bitter aftertaste like some similarly
priced Chardonnays do, but there are plenty of better choices for
around $10. We gave it a three.

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