A must taste: 2002 California chardonnay

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
June 30, 2004
The drums are beating for the 2002 California chardonnays. One publication calls it a 99-point vintage. Since the scale only goes to 100, that's darn near perfect.
The Wine Spectator magazine says it is "a year of destiny. The 2002 California chardonnays are sensational."
Writer James Laube says, "As you prepare to stock up on California chardonnays for summer enjoyment, here's an uplifting thought. It doesn't get much better than this."
The experts say the 2002 vintage is a result of perfect weather, plus some very astute winemakers who limited the yields of grapes taking only the best because there were so many that fit that description.
California normally produces good white wine vintages year after year after year. As recently as 2001, that vintage was being hailed as an all time great. Now 2002, according to Laube, could be one of the best in that state's history.
Laube is recognized as an expert in the field. If he says the 2002s are classics, I'm a believer.
So what does all that mean to you, the buyer? It should mean when buying a bottle of chardonnay for summertime consumption you will look at the vintage year and likely select the 2002 over all others. Second, these great wines come onto a market that is already glutted with other vintages of this wonderful white wine so prices should stay stable.
And thirdly, it will mean frustration. The limitations of our state warehouse have never been more obvious. The Wine Spectators list of top wines names 13 that range in score from 97 to 94. Not one of them is on the state's wine list. I forgive that because we're talking about wines that sell for as much as $80 per bottle and not less than $48.
But when we go to their "Smart Buys" listing, wines rated as high as 91, but selling for as little as $14, I can't find one on the warehouse inventory either. There are 15 smart buy wines and none readily available to consumers who will want to buy them, try them and enjoy them.
I've gone on with my homework and have found a few that are on the Mississippi list. A number qualify as very good with scores in the high 80s. Your favorite store either has them or can order them. Here's the rundown.
Steele chardonnay is on the state's list, but not the 2002 vintage unless they've just gotten it in. It's about a $25 to $30 wine, rated 89 and described by the Spectator's reviewer as a "rather exotic yet streamlined effort that ends with a refreshing lift."
Thomas Fogarty wines are also available. Their 2002 is rated 88 and sells in the low $20 bracket.
The Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara is a good seller in the state and most stores carry it. Their 2002 has a score of 87 and should sell for slightly more than $20.
I've never had a bottle of Chateau St. Jean chardonnay I didn't like and I'm certain the 2002 will be in that category. Rated 87 it is a bit pricey, pricey meaning more than $30, but darn well worth it.
You might also look for the Ferrari-Carano. It's another 87 score and is described as having a"smoky, butterscotch aromas" and smoky pear, creamy oak and spicy nuances." Look for it to be about $26.
Others that I see on the Mississippi list include Robert Mondavi's Napa Valley (certainly not his Coastal release which is always poor) (87), Qupe (87), Beaulieu Vineyard (86), Byron (86), St. Supery (84) and there are others.
If the 2002s aren't in yet, 2001 was an outstanding vintage as well and you can't go wrong with them. But I plan on checking out the 2002 vintage and I'm expecting a treat. Check with your favorite store as to whether they are on the shelf.
Chardonnays are the summertime wine of choice for most people in our area. Sauvignon blancs are wonderful, but have not yet found a large following. Pinot gris are equally wonderful, less fruity but usually with nice lemony flavor. And, of course, champagne on the patio is always a treat. But the chards, either as sipping wines or with summertime fruit salads, chicken, veal, even certain types of fish, are wonderful.
As we said earlier, you can't go wrong with any of the recent vintages of California chardonnay. Apparently, with the 2002s, you will only do better.

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