Summer! The season of al fresco dining with grilled meats, pasta, potato salads, and all manner of BBQ. And, of course, chardonnay, the white wine of choice for so many Americans. A perennial favorite, chardonnay can be crisp and floral or buttery and brazen; it should be an adventure to find the type that appeals to you.

A good place to begin is with a brace of J. Lohr chardonnays, as different from one another as they are each perfect in their expression of the grape. I must confess that I am not a chard lover—my white wine preferences run toward riesling and sauvignon blanc—but I can confidently report on these two dynamic chards from the J. Lohr vineyard series.

Kristen Barnhisel

I first tasted the Arroyo Vista in its 2014 iteration and was impressed by its balance of fruit to tannin.The wine was pungent yet polished, with a complex bouquet of aromas and pleasing palate weight.The trick here is to support the richness of oak curing with crisp acidity, a feat accomplished by Lohr’s wine maker, white wines, Kristen Barnhisel.

Most chard is fickle: the florals vanish by day two and what remains is an uninspired tannic toughness. I like to test chardonnay by vaccu-sealing the bottle, then tasting  every day to see how long it takes for the contents to lose their spark. The the best chards hold their grip and their grace: the Arroyo Vista kept its florals intact for five days!

Lohr is now releasing its 2015 and, while good to drink now, I recommend that you cellar it for at least a year, when it’s sure to reveal the lusty likeability of the 2104. In the mean time, if you do opt to drink it now, you should open the bottle and wait ten minutes before pouring. That small amount of oxygen will mellow the wine’s austerity and allow the delicate vanilla and white peach notes to push through. Or, you can simply practice “glass aging,” letting the wine acclimate and integrate once poured.

By contrast, the 2015 October Night chardonnay is more fruit forward with greater floral concentration: gardenia and rose over orange zest and lime, with baking spices rounding out the finish. Although also aged in oak, the October Night is lighter and fruitier but with a wisp of smoke and a hint of cassis. The wine manages to be both delicate on the nose yet robust on the palate…an entirely winning combination!

Both of these $27 chardonnays deserve a turn on your taste buds. You can visit the J.Lohr tasting rooms–Wine Centers–in Paso Robles or San Jose or buy online at Wine club members receive a generous 25% discount, so if you become a fan, this Club is worth it!

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