Once again, chardonnay is the king of Washington wine -- at least for now.
Last fall, grape growers crushed 33,400 tons of Chardonnay, the most ever in Washington. This pushed the famous white wine grape ahead of riesling, which was the top Washington grape in 2008.
Chardonnay, made famous in France's Burgundy region, is the No. 1 white grape in California too, where it often is made in a big, bold, buttery style.
Washington chardonnay cannot necessarily be defined in any particular way. It can be rich like California or bright and crisp like chablis (the French version, not the faux California plonk that isn't actually chardonnay).
Buttery styles of chardonnay typically are fermented in oak barrels and aged sur lie, meaning the spent yeast and other sediment are left in the barrel and periodically stirred. This provides a certain level of richness on the palate.
Brighter, crisper styles of chardonnay now are in fashion because of a consumer backlash to the buttery versions. Often, these are aged in stainless steel tanks for just a few months before being bottled and sent to store shelves.
Here are a few Northwest chardonnays worth checking out:
Adelsheim Vineyard 2008 chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $22 -- Many in Oregon sequester their Dijon clone chardonnay in French oak and bottle under cork. Dave Paige does neither with these lots from Elton Vineyard (Eola-Amity Hills), Boulder Bluff and Bryan Creek (Chehalem Mountains), which provide notes of apricot, pear and citrus. Firm acidity and lemon zest in the finish lend this to suggestions of crab and lobster or cheese such as gruyere, manchego or pecorino.
Buried Cane 2007 chardonnay, Washington, $14 -- Dusty pear, pineapple, chalkboard dust, fresh corn on the cob and cooked banana aromas delve into bold flavors of citrus, gooseberry and Gala apples, finished by some apple skin and citrus pith.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13 -- Who says chardonnay is losing its grip? Market research and this fruit-forward wine indicate otherwise. Pear, pineapple, lemon and apricot aromas are backed by smoky oak, butterscotch, fresh linen and bay rum tones. It's full-on pear and juice pineapple on the entry with some apple peel, late butterscotch and citrus pith bitterness. Consider serving with crab, ginger-influenced salmon or scallops.
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2007 Conner Lee Vineyard chardonnay, Washington, $12 -- It's almost unheard of to see vineyard-designated wines at this price, particularly from such a highly regarded chardonnay source in the Columbia Valley. A light barrel program allows for sweet lemons, pineapple and Golden Delicious apple aromas. The entry is exotic and hedonistic with more apple, banana and lemon custard flavors.
Columbia Crest 2008 H3 chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $15 -- Asian pear and Golden Delicious apple tones show up alongside the oak, butterscotch, beeswax and fascinating minerality from the sometimes wind-blown Horse Heaven Hills. Sugared yellow grapefruit and a squeeze of lemon extend the finish.
Pend d'Oreille Winery 2008 chardonnay, Idaho, $15 -- Bosc pear, Golden Delicious apple, starfruit and pineapple aromas transition into more apple and Asian pear flavors with lingering acidity and some apple peel on the finish.
Silver Lake Winery 2008 chardonnay, Rattlesnake Hills, $9 -- William Ammons crafted this in a fruit-forward fashion with aromas of melon, apple, pear, grapefruit and gooseberry, backed by river rock and Circus Peanut candy. Citrus dominates the lively palate, starting with sections of orange and tangerine, turning to zesty lemon and pith in the back end.
Snoqualmie Vineyards 2008 chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $10 -- Hints of peach, pineapple, citrus and anise within the aromas don't disappoint in this offering that includes viognier (6 percent). Peach leads the tasty profile of this softer-styled chard that also offers up pears, french vanilla ice cream and sweet lemon.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.