Chateau des Rontets, Pouilly-Fuisse 2004

\"rontetspouilly_label\"Thanks to Robert Parker, Hollywood and some dude named Kendall Jackson, Chardonnay has gotten a bad rap over the years. It\’s been over-planted, over-hyped, overpriced and truly underwhelming when produced in the United States. In the wrong hands it can taste like sugary grape juice with some toast stuck in, with aromas of an extinguished old match. But grown in the right conditions, in the right place, it can make some of the finest white wines in the world, showing an incredible amount of expressiveness and balance. So, as a certified Sommelier and someone who truly appreciates every and all wine, I was pleasantly surprised to be drinking a biodynamic chardonnay on a cold winter night in January, and actually enjoying it.

This happy meeting of fermented grape juice with my mouth took place at Counter Restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Deborah Gavito, the owner of Counter, has done an amazing job sourcing over 300 producers for her all organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine list. The wines represent a commitment to bringing quality wines with a conscience to her customers and, for the most part, they pair extremely well with her \”vegetarian bistro\” fare. Lyle Fass, contributor to Organic Wine Journal, picked the Chateau des Rontets exclaiming \”I really didn\’t think I would be drinking Chardonnay tonight, but this is too good to pass up.\” He was right.

My first impression with this pale yellow wine was the nose. What little oak it had was lost in the great aromatics of pineapple, citrus, and honey. Then there was this other note that I just couldn\’t describe. It was extremely unique. But like any professional wine drinker, er… taster, I pressed on. What struck me was how bright, balanced and full this wine tasted. The oak was, again, almost nonexistent, but for a wine that tasted as though aged in stainless steel there was a real mouth-filling roundness. But, like any good wine, this was balanced by a perfect amount of acidity which kept it tasting fresh and aromatic. As I discussed the wine with my fellow diners, it struck me what I had been smelling… French toast.

Maybe it was my sub-conscious telling me to drink more Puilly-Fuisse, but I swear there was this unmistakable aroma of French toast. Not just French toast made with good old American Wonder Bread. I\’m talking brioche French toast. When I mentioned this to Lyle, he said what I was smelling was the terrior of Puilly-Fuisse in Burgundy. Another explanation is that as the wine warmed up the aromas of honey, pineapple and yeast mixed together, giving me the sensation that I was back in my youth in Burgundy enjoying my Grandmother\’s Sunday breakfast at the Chateau. All right, I made that last part up. I\’m from New Jersey and the closest thing to brioche I ever got was the Challah my mom baked once a year for Rosh Hashana. That\’s how good the wine was, though.

In fairness to this wonderful grape, I had an epiphany that I need to give Chardonnay more of a chance by seeking out small organic/biodynamic producers who let its true character and surroundings show through. There is a reason that some of the finest whites in the world come from Burgundy, and terrior has much to do with that. There is also a reason that people drink Yellow Tail Chardonnay, and that it only costs $6.99, but right now I can\’t think of it.


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