God, I’d hate to be a Chardonnay maker. You’re guilty until proven innocent.
The problem: Chardonnay became the gateway drug for wine appreciation. Classier than white zinfandel (actually, Manischewitz is classier than white zinfandel), it was available in inexpensive and mass-quantity formats. The grape, left to its own devices, is fairly innocent and unassuming, but many of these wines were manipulated to be sweet, flavored with oak dust and otherwise nasty.
Worse: As people upgraded to more-expensive Chardonnays, some reputable winemakers met these palate expectations halfway. The result was wine that tasted like its terroir was a lumberyard with a side business in butterscotch candy.
Never mind that there were more classic producers (judicious use of oak barrels, flinty flavors — if you’ve never tried Stony Hill, please do); everyone was tarred with the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) brush. My favorite wine list in LA, Lou, has never contained a Chardonnay that I’ve seen.
All of this goes to explain why a good wine has a goofy name. The Calistoga-based Summers Estate Wines has released a limited-production, no-oaked Chardonnay that goes by a Pepe Le Pew moniker: "LeNude."
To be fair, I get it. LeNude tells the ABCers: NO OAK HERE! NOT EVEN A LITTLE! BUY THIS CHARDONNAY WITH YOUR HEAD HELD HIGH! And a screwtop bottle labeled LeNude shouldn’t intimidate anyone.
That said, the message isn’t going to be heard inside Costco. Summers only made 1,050 cases of LeNude; the winery also produces two Cabernet Sauvignons, one rose’ made from same, a cuvee, Merlot, Zinfandel, Muscat Canelli and the Barberaesque Charbono, all of which add up to about 15,000 cases a year.
Delicious, Chablis-ish, nice acid — my kind of Chardonnay. Not my kind of name.