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C M J GThe world of wines is a lot bigger than my grocery store buying days let on. Working at a top-notch restaurant in Los Angeles, one with a serious wine program, has afforded me a privileged view of some of the greatest producers almost nightly. I learn every shift, with my own piecemeal understanding of new and legendary winemakers crashing in sets of waves; sometimes, like last Thursday, being a sizable break that sets you tumbling.

The closing ceremonies of the sommelier staff are always the same, breaking down stations, polishing, cleaning and restocking before our nightly bonding unwinds in the cellar, after we’ve clocked out. We gather round the samples that our wine director has amassed, from guests and salespeople, or we’ll taste some interesting leftovers from service that night. Often the wines are just footnotes that don’t carry much over the late night chatter.

Last Thursday, however, was a themed evening on Burgundy, and a night that made quite an impression. It was hard not to be wrapped up by a vertical tasting of Ghislaine Barthod (my introduction to the estate’s Pinot Noirs from Chambolle-Musigny), but another producer had me stammering over its beauty. A Premier Cru Chardonnay from Chassagne-Montrachet, with which I was unfamiliar, its label simple and not letting on much more than it would be of a certain quality (as Premier Cru designates).

The Chardonnay was lemon hued in the glass and led with a developing scent of citrus, golden apple, smoke and a surplus of chalk. The effect wasn’t instantaneous, rather a slow transmission that took hold. I was revved up by the mouth-filling body (medium-plus), the luscious texture of a complex range of flavors that brought out more pear and apple under fresh-squeezed lemon, a little wood spice and a lot of chalk like two blackboard erasers smashing together violently on my palate while retaining mouth-watering acidity. It was overwhelming. Each sip surpassed the previous, and by the end of the night I had consumed more than my fair share.

I kept harping on it, until the wine director clued me in on the price of the Chardonnay from Jean-Noël Gagnard’s Les Caillerets vineyard ($100 a bottle). My ignorance had been helpful in demonstrating what a Premier Cru was capable of, without being influenced by a staggering price tag or prestige of the family and their vineyard holdings.

After that night I did my homework and saw the family’s vast reach in the village of Chassagne-Montrachet. I also read about the fickle and warm vintage from which I’d tasted (2011), and weighed my own chances to ever taste more of this wine again—to make sure it wasn’t a fluke—as few places carry the wine in California. It’s the constant reward of schooling, the unexpected storming of one’s taste, that makes for such a draw to the job. Introduced to a great wine of Jean-Noël Gagnard through the auspices of my wine director, the din of guests subsided and the after-hours repartee fading, the sea of wine becomes the night.

TalinayChardonnay was my great discovery for 2012, spending a lot of extra income finding interesting buys and asking reps to provide me samples to understand the many faces of this noble grape. While I am often introduced to newer and nerdier varietals, I was looking forward to one more yesteryear dalliance with an emerging Chilean wine region; an introduction to the Limarí Valley.

I had been dropped off a seven-fifty of 2010 Talinay Tabali Chardonnay from the D.O. of Limarí Valley in the north of Chile. Within the Coquimbo Region, Limarí Valley has a warm climate, where noble varietals, such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, enjoy cooling morning coastal fogs—the Camanchaca—that moderate temperature and preserve the inherit acidity as the afternoon sun warms up the area, allowing the grapes to ripen fully but evenly. The soil does the rest. The vines are growing in limestone heavy terroir, and these mineral roots are reflected in the wine.

I poured a glass of the medium-yellow Chardonnay stretching out its curvy legs (medium) that stuck to the edge of my glass. After a few spins I dropped my nose and took my first inhale. Exuberant and youthful fruit in the form of ripe pear, tangerine and lime, white flowers and crushed rocks manifested. On the palate it was dry and pure with medium-plus acidity and medium-body delivering Bartlett pears, squeezed limes and fleur de sel. There was mild interplay with oak that came across tastefully and rounded out the mouth feel. Suave.

An encouraging start from a relatively new (to me) D.O. of Chile, with the Talinay Tabali Chardonnay flaunting a bit of that Old World character (being compared to Chablis for its chalky soils formed by the ancient ocean beds that once washed over the Limarí, as we had talked about the geology in my WSET course) while retaining its enticing fruits and creaminess in the mid-palate. Sometimes you can have it all!

BlindA vintage change was the only thing different about the Luigi Buadana Chardonnay hailing from the Langhe in Piemonte that I sipped and spat at a Tuesday Chardonnay tasting, rediscovering a wine that had been good to me in the past. I had last tasted the 2010 vintage with the importer at my retail post, finding it particularly attractive for its freshness and bright flavor profile, before experiencing the latest release (2011) in a blind trial with my group.

Buadana It rounded the table cloaked in a double paper bag, deep in the lineup (number five of seven Chardonnay we would taste), that immediately struck me with its vibrancy of fruit on the nose and palate. Chardonnay isn’t an aromatic varietal, but this Italian white was bordering on medium-plus intensity with a youthful bouquet of lemon curd, citrus blossoms, tropical nuance and underlying salinity (mineral quality). From the perfume to the palate the wine was exciting and it made me break form, asking if the rest of the group was similarly affected. Met with a stoic response, I carried out penning my notes—possessing a medium body, medium alcohol (well integrated), medium-plus acidity, medium-plus flavor intensity that followed the tantalizing scent, carrying long (medium-plus finish) with its strong aromatic presence.

While we tasted many nice examples of Chardonnay, globetrotting from New to Old World benchmarks, I was astounded, again, by the quality and liveliness of Luigi Buadana’s Chardonnay. Best yet, was that it was in the blind tasting setting, free from influence of label or region, that the wine conveyed its merit. Hands down my favorite Chardonnay of the night.

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