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BONN-09CHARD-lbl It used to be that California chardonnays were oak-saturated monsters. Long on alcohol, vanilla and tropical fruit but short on acidity and nuance, they could weigh on the palate like a mouthful of butter. That style seems to be in retreat; every winemaker I talk to insists they are now making chardonnay in a more restrained style—lighter, leaner, and crisp with more citrus flavors, acidity, and less oak, letting the natural flavor of the grape shine through. More often than not these “restrained” wines, while refreshing, are so meager and insipid when it comes to flavor that I find myself longing for the bad old days. Chardonnay is a neutral grape that needs some love and care from an active winemaker who wants to maximize flavor.

Bonneau’s 2009 Chardonnay has a foot in both worlds. Buttered toast dominates but the halo of floral notes is distinctive lending elegance to the vanilla-inflected nose. Grilled pineapple and roasted pear ride an electric, nervy mouthfeel—no shortage of acidity here. Flavors remain vibrant and tangy all the way through the lengthy finish. Complex and nuanced but with plenty of alcoholic power (14.5%), Bonneau seeks both power and elegance and hits the mark.

100% malolactic fermentation, femented and aged sur lie for 10 months in seamlessly integrated French oak (40% new) indicate that this is no let-the-grapes-be experiment.

This is ready to drink now but a couple years in the bottle might produce more integrated acidity.

A big-boned, exhilarating wine.

Good: Intensity of flavors

Bad: The tangy finish can be distracting

Distinctive: Dynamic personality combining power and elegance