Viña William Fèvre, Maipo Valley (Chile) Chardonnay "Gran Cuvée" 2006 ($18, Sommelier Imports, Inc.): I have long been a fan of William Fèvre's Chablis wines. About 20 years ago, before oak returned to its current favor among Chablis producers, Fèvre was one of the few who consistently made Chablis using oak, and his wines excelled in that style. Ten years ago, Fèvre sold his Chablis winery and vineyards to the Henriot family, which continues to make and market the wines as Domaine William Fèvre. Now Fèvre himself makes Chardonnay halfway around the globe, in Chile.
William Fèvre ventured into Chile in 1991 and established a partnership with the Pino-Arrigorriaga family, which owned vineyards there and sold its grapes to several well-known Chilean wineries. Today, Viña William Fèvre makes five varietal wines (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Carmenère) a Rosé, and an elite blended red called 'Antis.' Of the winery's three tiers of wines, which are branded as 'Mison,' 'Reserva La Mision' and 'Gran Cuvée,' the Gran Cuvée is the highest.
Naturally it's fascinating to encounter a Chardonnay wine made by a Chablis master from a terroir other than Chablis. And this wine lives up to the expectations that Fevre's reputation engenders, especially considering its modest $18 price tag.
The wine's aroma leaves no doubt that this is an oaked Chardonnay, but the oak is not excessive; it comes across as smoky and spicy notes which complement the wine's own apple, pear and almond scents. In the mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with crisp acidity, creamy texture and medium-intense flavors that echo the wine's aromas. Although the wine is 14.2% alcohol, according to the label statement, it does not have the hard edges of high alcohol that I would normally perceive in a 14-plus alcohol Chardonnay. The reason is probably that its acidity counterbalances the alcohol so well and keeps the wine light on its feet.
The wine comes from estate vineyards in the Alto Valle del Maipo, the part of the Maipo Valley that is closest to the Andes Mountains and is highest in altitude -- more than two thousand feet above sea level. Because of the mountain influence, this area boasts vast differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures, and it is the source of some of Chile's most prestigious wines (particularly reds).
Although this Chardonnay is priced for everyday, it deserves special occasion glassware. A large, rounded Burgundy glass expands the wine's body and creaminess and sets up an intriguing yin-yang contrast with the wine's crisp acidity. Serve it only slightly chilled, because its flavors are fairly delicate, and pair it with foods that are fairly subtle in flavor, such as roast pork or chicken breast fillets.