This posting considers the following offerings: a
L'Ecole No. 41 2007 "Columbia Valley" Chardonnay ($21) and a
Lioco 2007 "Sonoma County" Chardonnay ($18).
Here's the quick bottom line: the L'Ecole 41, which comes from Washington State, is Highly Recommended for consumers who like minerally, slightly citric chardonnays made in the French style. This is an elegant offering and a very good value.
The Lioco is Recommended for consumers looking for a softer, more buttery California style chardonnay, but one that is devoid of flavors associated with oak, such as vanilla or coconut.
Lets start with the L'Ecole No. 41, which our latest panel favored over the Lioco when we blind-tasted these two wines over dinners on two evenings, the partially consumed bottles having been re-sealed in the interim. We agreed, however, that both were good wines.
L'Ecole No. 41 describes its chardonnay as Burgundian in style and I would agree. Rather than oaky and/or buttery, this wine is mildly citric and noticeably mineral -- a very refreshing combination that reminds me of a well-made French Chablis. It has a nice bouquet and on the palate, the wine features an attractive mix of both tropical and apple/pear flavors. The finish is crisp, but lingering.
The grapes come from three vineyards on the Washington side of the Columbia River and the wine is aged mainly in old French oak barrels. L'Ecole No. 41 produced 4,040 cases of its chardonnay, so availability should be reasonably good, and the wine is listed as being 14.3% alcohol by volume.
Overall, this is a really good chardonnay and an excellent food wine.
Lioco, which I have discussed in a number of previous postings, produces only chardonnay that is unoaked and the "Sonoma County" blend is the winery's most widely distributed, "entry level" offering. There were 6,980 cases made of the 2007 vintage.
We previously tried the 2006 "Son0ma County" and the 2007 appears to be an improvement. There is greater complexity of flavors and the wine is a bit less buttery than was the case in 2006, when it definitely leaned a bit too far in that direction.
Buttery chardonnays, if they are not too buttery, often taste good on their own, but when they are entered in a comparative tasting with a chardonnay that isn't buttery, they can come off as a bit cloying, particularly with respect to the finish. That's what happened here: the crisp finish of the un-buttery L'Ecole No. 41 chardonnay consistently came across as more attractive and a lot more refreshing.
Nonetheless, as mentioned above, we liked the Lioco. It is a matter of personal taste: what kind of a chardonnay do you prefer?
For the record, the Lioco is listed as being 14.5% alcohol by volume.
One final note: the Lioco "Sonoma County" Chardonnay isn't "finned" or filtered (clarified, in other words). That results in a more fully flavored wine, but also one that is initially a bit cloudy in the glass when first poured. The cloudy aspect eventually clears up and if it bothers you, pour this wine into glasses well before consumption and let it settle. That will also give it a chance to warm up from refrigerator temperature, which results in more flavor.