Fine Wine for ≤ $9.99 – The County Fair Chardonnay

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the cliché warns us.  This little slice of wisdom is doubly true when it comes to wine labels.  Judging strictly on the strength of the label, I’ve bought bottles which contained liquid that was undrinkable.  I’ve bought bottles with hideous, tasteless, design-free labels that turned out to be delicious. Unfortunately, the label and design are the first contact one has with the wine within. Still, no matter how many times I’ve learned the lesson the hard way, when it comes to buying wine, I’m always partial to (or perhaps a sucker for) good design.  Or failing that, whimsy.

The County Fair I Have Seen The Elephant Chardonnay - 2010 Mendocino County

After my trip to Wine House last week, I walked out with four Spanish and Italian reds.  I needed something cool and refreshing, but had no white wine on hand.  I popped off to Trader Joes and quickly spotted this new arrival.  A Chardonnay from Mendocino County for $6.99.  The elephant walking on wine bottles and the mustachioed gentleman on the label caught my eye and, alas,  I fell for the whimsy.

I’m fairly new to Chardonnays.  It seemed there was a time about 10 years ago when every single Chardonnay I tried had an unpleasant, cheesy smell and flavor to it.  So I gave it up in favor of Pinots Gris & Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.  However, I recently discovered quite a few wonderful and delicious California Chardonnays and have begun exploring the varietal again.

The bouquet here is vague and unimpressive.  There’s a slight suggestion of green apples, but you really have to bury your nose in the glass to get at it.  It’s not unpleasant, it’s just weak.

It’s brighter than an average Chardonnay on the palate.  And since I usually like the brighter flavors of Pinot Grigio, you might think this would be a plus.  But the flavor is as unremarkable as the bouquet.  It’s not bad.  It’s just not good.

I take that back.  It’s good for one thing.  This wine is good as a baseline for what is acceptable in the under $10 wine market today.  With little effort, I could find a better bottle for a buck or two less.  If it were any more bland, however, it would be the Bud Lite of wines.  I suppose there is a market for that– something so inoffensive that it could be served at a tailgate party and be drunk without raising too many eyebrows or inspiring anyone to ask what it is they’re drinking.  But I’m not that market.  And, I suspect, neither are you.

3/5 stars.  Not bad.  Serviceable.

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