I'M, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay, 2004 ($17): I discovered this fantastic-value Chardonnay on a day when value was far from my mind. My mission was to taste Michael Mondavi's brand new, elite Cabernet Sauvignon, 'M' by Michael Mondavi, which hadn't yet been released. I previously was fortunate enough to have an early taste of 'Continuum,' the impressive new wine made by Michael's brother, Tim, and I was eager to know how 'M' would stack up. It did not disappoint in the least. But the opening act was, in its own way, also remarkable: a dry rosé and this Chardonnay from Michael's wife, Isabel.
I'M Chardonnay is part of the California portfolio of Folio Fine Wine Partners, the wine import and marketing company founded by Michael Mondavi in 2004, when he left the Robert Mondavi Corporation. Folio imports wines from Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Austria, and includes the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi wines of Tuscany and Frescobaldi's renowned property, Ornellaia. The California wines in the Folio portfolio are made by Rob Mondavi, son of Michael and grandson of the late Robert Mondavi. (His sister, Dina, is also involved in the company, as creative director.) Besides I'M, the California brands include Hangtime, Hunterdon, Mayro-Murdick, Medusa, Oberon, Rocinante and Spellbound. I'M is named for Isabel who directed the style of the wine. I'd describe that style as unpretentious, flavorful, and genuine.
I'M Chardonnay is an oaked Chardonnay that has fairly pronounced fruit-derived flavors to balance the flavor of oak, and rich, smooth texture to balance the oak phenolics. When you smell the wine, you're likely to perceive ripe apple and a faint tropical fruit note with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon -- contributions of the oak, most likely -- and a firm mineral character. In the mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with crisp acidity and yet substantial, rich texture. Its flavors are mainly ripe apple and mineral, with spicy accents of oak that are not obtrusive. As I hold the wine in my mouth, my mind tries on for size the competing descriptors 'lush' and 'compact,' back and forth from one to the other: improbably, they both seem to apply.
What first impressed me about this wine was what it is not: not candied-fruity, not intensely flavorful, not sweet, not short. In other words, it does not pander to mass-market tastes, even though at $17 a bottle it is close to mass-market affordable. The wine's taste and quality are understandable in view of the classic Chardonnay winemaking: grapes pressed and sent directly into barrels for fermentation; aging of the wine on the lees with stirring; and full malolactic fermentation. The grapes come from three regions of Sonoma County, cool Russian River Valley (crispness and compactness) and the warmer Knights Valley and Alexander Valley (ripe fruit flavor, minerality and lushness).
Enjoy this wine with whatever you enjoy Chardonnay with. In addition to the usual suspects, spicy foods go well, thanks to the wine's textural richness.