Tastings and Test Drives

Apr 24, 2006

Two items have risen to the top of today’s to-do list.

No. 1 is work-related -- wrapping up our annual Chardonnay report. It is by far the easier of the two assignments.

Each year, I taste roughly 400 new Chardonnays. This year’s focus is on the 2004 vintage, which is first class, and there are plenty of late-arrival 2003s as well.

Because it grows easily and successfully in many areas of California and because it ripens early, Chardonnay is one California’s steadiest performers.

Rarely does Chardonnay encounter a disastrous vintage, and in most years the vintage differences are more subtle than exaggerated.

One reason is that Chardonnay is a winemaker’s wine. As a grape it is fairly neutral in flavor, and it is often quite manipulated.

When vinified in a Burgundian fashion, employing techniques such as barrel and malolactic fermentations, the wines are richly flavored and textured, and oak, in the way of smoke, vanilla or cedar, is often part of its flavor profile.

My editors in New York are anxious to see the copy, and they’re much easier to deal with than issue No. 2.

No. 2 is a domestic matter. I’m looking for another new used car for my 17-year-old daughter.

Car No. 1, Shelly, a 2000 Beetle I gave her for her birthday, was hit and totaled about a month ago. No one was hurt. The other driver ran a stop. But it was my daughter's first car, and first cars are like first loves. We were both sad to lose Shelly.

In the meantime, my daughter is driving my Dad’s car. It’s a 1992 Oldsmobile, a classic older-person’s car. It runs well, with only 72,000 miles, and boasts a powerful V-6 engine. But it’s not a teen-ager's car, and it’s been dinged and battered over the years. The driver’s side looks OK. But from the passenger’s side, well, it looks like it spent the past six months parked on the streets of Baghdad.

I enjoy tutoring my daughter about what to look for in a used car.

For me, it’s all about safety and economy.

For her, it’s mostly about looks (that is, how she looks in the car and whether the car makes the right statement about who she is), so she lights up when she sees a car with a spoiler, flashy rims or tinted windows. A CD player (with a cool sound system) is more important to her than airbags, a priority for me.

Then there’s the matter of used car dealers. After talking to six on Saturday, and going over the details of various car options and deals with my daughter, the thought of working on the Chardonnay report and negotiating with my editors suddenly seemed far more agreeable than facing the used car salesmen again.

United States California White Wines Chardonnay

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