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The quest for good cheap wine is one of life’s necessities, so we can afford the high quality stuff.

Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay California 2010      $8-$12 cycles gladiator

Standard Chardonnay flavors of apple and pear, medium intensity, with some tropical notes and a seam of minerality that becomes more evident over time. On the palate, hints of buttered popcorn, medium body, a pleasing texture and medium length finish. For an inexpensive wine this has some nicely integrated acidity providing some tang that make this a good food wine. Oak is almost indiscernible.  Alcohol 13.5. Owned by Hahn Family Estates with grapes sourced from Santa Lucia Highlands.

This is a good value especially at the lower end of the price range.

Mad Housewife Chardonnay California Non-vintage   $6-$9       madhousewife chard

Green apple and pear with pleasant floral notes on the nose. On the palate, the fruit becomes more tropical and there is evident residual sugar. Muted spice notes and modest,well-done oak round out the flavors. Medium body but lacks acidity making this wine a bit flabby. 13% alcohol

Sutter Home Chardonnay California 2011 $5-$7    sutter home chard

Some minerality and unripe pear on the nose but aromas lack intensity. Medium minus body with medium acidity and a pleasant texture but the lack of fruit makes this wine seem unbalanced, a bit tart. Not flawed or offensive, drinkable, but there isn’t much here to savor or enjoy. 13% alcohol and modest oak well in the background.  Owned by the Trinchero Family Estates.

Conclusion:

These wines were tasted single blind and the quality levels were apparent. You get what you pay for here. Cycles Gladiator is the best to pair with foods. If you enjoy sweeter wines, clever labeling, and find acidity unpleasant you might like the Mad Housewife. But it will do less for your food than CG. As for the Sutter Home, I wouldn’t seek it out.