Hold the Oak 

The ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club has lost its clout. Even at its height, it maintained minority status, with chardonnay being the preferred white for the majority of American wine drinkers. What some were rebelling against wasn't chardonnay per se, but the over-oaked, in-your-face expression of the variety. Take away the wood, and all the appeal of one of the world's great wine grapes comes through. We tasted unoaked chards from around the world, and wines from three separate regions made the grade, each decidedly different stylistically. They range from mean and lean to rich and wild, but one thing they have in common is the same reasonable price. Here are the panel's three favorites:

2006 Alois Lageder Chardonnay, $12.99

Situated at the foot of the Alps in Italy's northernmost wine region, where Alpine and Mediterranean climates converge, Alois Lageder produces uniquely refreshing wines. Clean aromas of clover, garden greens, melon and lime tantalize the senses. A medley of flavors dance on the palate with quince, lime and green-apple fruit up front. Crisp acidity with a hint of orange comes through on the finish. A lovely and lively wine.

2006 Elderton Chardonnay, $12.99

Located in South Australia's highly regarded Barossa Valley, Elderton is best-known for their old vine shiraz and cabernet, but this wine seems the perfect fit for the laid-back Aussie lifestyle. The aromas are surprisingly rich and seductive, shifting from lean citrus to supple honeydew melon and ripe pear with a floral touch. Bright citrus and tropical fruit dominate the palate in this exceptionally well-balanced wine. The finish lingers on and on with sweet lemon and hints of spice.

2005 Sonoma Vineyards Chardonnay, $12.99

Quintessential California chardonnay, but without the oak—I promise you won't miss it. Opens with big, bold aromas of ripe pear and honeyed melon backed by violet and spice. It's just as rich in the mouth with sweet peach and apricot fruit balanced by crisp and citrusy acidity. The finish is smooth and supple with touches of creamy orange and spice. If you're a fan of the California style of chardonnay, this wine is a must-try—as refreshing as it is rich.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing.

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