Spellbound Chardonnay 2011 California

spellbound Nostalgia has a bad rap. Waxing nostalgic makes you look like a has-been, uncomfortable in the present, afraid of the future, prone to an edited past that was never as good as the memories.

As Proust wrote, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”

But there is nothing wrong with a little nostalgic yearning on occasion just to discourage complacency in the present, even if it is a lie.

Drinking this Chardonnay from Robert Mondavi, Jr.’s Spellbound project is like finding an old mixtape while rummaging around the attic. The nose has just enough pineapple and buttered toast to remind you of an earlier self. For fat, buttery Chardonnays dripping with tropical fruit used to be the norm in California. Today, CA winemakers have dialed back the ripe fruit and excessive oak, looking for a leaner, more refreshing experience showing citrus and minerality. I can’t say I’m entirely down with the change. The older style could be overdone and unbalanced at times, but when they were right they were extraordinary.

In fact, the Spellbound is not nearly as blowsy as the standard Chardonnays from the early 2000s. It has plenty of acidity to give it structure, a crisp, citrus-dominant, medium weight palate, and long lemony finish. But what sets this wine apart is the layer of gorgeous ginger that keeps the tropical fruit and butter in check. It was fermented and aged in barriques, except for 10% in stainless steel. Is seriously oaked Chardonnay coming back in style?

The trend toward lean and mean has gone too far. Too many California Chardonnays are ordinary. They risk nothing and fail to show what this grape can do. The Spellbound Chardonnay is a hybrid with roots in California’s past but perhaps a glimpse of its future. A bargain at this price.

The spiciness makes it a versatile food wine. I served it with a Thai-style pork larb (with lime and fish sauce in the dressing) and the pairing was quite successful.

Alcohol: 13.5%

Score: 87/100

Price: $12


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