Its modern history, though, is more concrete. The varietal gained a reputation for excellence in Burgundy, where it became among the few wines often sent to bottle unblended, so balanced is its acid-alcohol profile. Winemakers took to Chardonnay, too, for its willingness to grow almost anywhere, its early ripening, and its high yields. In time, the grape would come to rule the world's vineyards. In California, Chardonnay's 91,000-plus acres make up 20 percent of the state's vineyards. Nearly every California winery makes a Chardonnay, and this often soft and balanced wine has become the most ubiquitous and popular in the world. Indeed, Chardonnay is the undisputed king of vines.But it's also safe to say that many, if not most, Chardonnays taste roughly the same. They carry strong flavors of oak and butter and hints of pineapple and peach, some citrus, and a gentle bite of acid. Boring? Maybe -- but they're delicious. Admit it.
For years, Big House Wine Company has resisted making a Chardonnay, preferring to bottle (and bag) more unusual varieties and creative blends. In 2009, though, the winery caved to the irresistible appeal -- but marketed its Chardonnay as a change of pace from the classic treatment. The Big House Unchained Naked 2009 Chardonnay was fermented in steel and aged in used, neutral oak -- methods intended to minimize the clichéd character of butter and toasty wood and to instead allow the fruit to carry the conversation.
Sure enough, it is a fruit-dominated wine, with distinct notes of melon and grapefruit. Apple and strawberry are obvious, too, with the savory aromas of herbs on the nose. But a Chardonnay without oak, vanilla, and butter might as well be a Sauvignon Blanc. Whether because of the winemaker's influence or the natural beauty of Chardonnay, we found just enough creamy butter and toasty wood in the mix to leave us satisfied that we had downed a bottle of the most-loved wine on the planet.
Big House Unchained Naked 2009 Chardonnay: $9.99 at New Potrero Market, 1301 18th St. (at Texas), 282-2225.