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2002 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne, Burgundy, France

Do you really know what Chardonnay tastes like? Really? There was a point at which I thought I knew. I was young, a hip Web designer who for the first time in his life had some disposable income and I was buying Hawk Crest Chardonnay from gourmet grocery stores and drinking it with homemade pasta and cream sauce. The height of sophistication, right? But just like when I finally went to Italy and realized what real fettuccine with a perfect cream sauce tasted like, I also discovered one day that the Chardonnay I had been drinking was preceded in history by hundreds of years worth of wines in Burgundy, and they, like the Italian pasta, had the honest claim on how Chardonnay really tastes.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a prelude to dissing every California Chardonnay, as much as some of my friends might like it to be. No. I stand firm. I like quite a few California Chardonnays, but just like my appreciation of Australian Shiraz needs to be tempered with the knowledge of that grape's history in the Rhone, so too does my affinity for California Chardonnay need to be filtered through the reality that it often cannot hold a candle to those made in Burgundy.

Most white wines suffer in comparison to an excellent wine like this, made from Grand Cru vineyards in the heart of Burgundy. The producer, Domaine Vincent Girardin is a family run estate that has been passed down from father to son for 11 generations. Until the current Girardin, the family estate was rather small, but in the twenty-some-odd years that Vincent has been managing the estate, he has managed to grow it significantly.

The estate is both dedicated to its traditional family practices and to an extremely high level of quality in its wines, while embracing modern technology to its fullest. Grapes are fully sorted twice before they are crushed, and they are hand harvested from vineyards that are kept with no herbicides or fungicides. (This is of course for the family's estate wines, of which this wine is not one. Girardin actually makes wines in small quantities from over 60 different appellations, making him both a family estate as well as a negociant, albeit a small one. Girardin produces around 46,000 cases). Once the grapes are pressed, however, they leave the world of the traditional winery and enter a highly technology driven winery with temperature controlled fermentation vats and separate winemaking facilities for reds and whites (uncommon in Burgundy) among other things.

After a cold soak of 7 to up to 15 days (much longer than most) Girardin's white wines are barrel fermented in 40% new French oak. In an odd technique, the wines are often removed from the barrels after fermentation and placed with the lees (chunky stuff that's left after the pressing) in tanks to mix for a while before being aged (in the case of this particular wine) for 13 months before being (unfortunately) lightly fined and filtered before bottling.

Tasting Notes:
A light pale gold in the glass, this wine has a heady nose of lemon curd and sweet pastry, with a hint of minerals and mint (?). In the mouth it is smooth and silky, with a bright acidity that drives primary flavors of lemon, honey, and crushed stones which taper into a very impressive finish that lasts and lasts.

Food Pairing:
I had this wine with a goat cheese, fries, and lavender salad that was just divine. The wine had enough acidity to cut through the richness of the goat cheese without overpowering the delicate flavors of the dressing and the little bits of quince that were thrown in.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $60

This wine is readily available for purchase online.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.