Back before wine mavens were sure that '04 was gonna be the year for Napa grapes and a good year for California wines altogether, we acquired several cases of "Chateau Souverain" Chardonnay. Although personally I find the use for Chardonnays limited, I was compelled to invest in the wine that Wine Spectator magazine awarded a 91 score and, of course, their "Best Buy" designation because this Chard was, at the time, about $12 a bottle retail and substantially lower wholesale.

When the '04 Souverain Chard was put up for sale, Estancia Vineyards "ruled the world;" of Chardonnays, at least. Suffice it to say that the '04 Estancia was a popular wine. However, if one wants to drink what I deem to be "flat Champagne" with one's meal, then I'd recommend the Estancia Vineyards.

Now, the '04 Souverain Chardonnay mates perfectly with precious few foods. We like ours with a bacon-wrapped grilled Filet Mignon with a balsamic vinegar-based Bearnaise sauce.

I know you're saying "Ick. bacon and an emulsified butter sauce. Believe me that this becomes a decadent guilty pleasure when cut with the delectable oakey smooth refreshment of this wine. Since Souverain did not include malolactic fermentation in their process (opting instead for zingy oak from French barrels) the wine cries out for rich foods. Indeed, this wine is the archetypal "white that thinks it's a red" if only for its complexity. Add to that the necessity to drink this wine young (although I'd hazard a guess that chilled bottles would last for at least four more years) and you've a perfect marriage.

For cocktail drinking, the Souverain rules; it's best served over-chilled at about 40 degrees fahrenheit, in small portions. The complexity of the delightful yet never-cloying fruit flavors expose themselves to the drinker as the wine gets warm.

In summation, the flavor comes through all over one's palate but stops abruptly. This would not be acceptable in a Chard four times the price. However, in the delightfully refreshing yet complex Chard from Souverain's '04 harvest, it's just what you want.

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