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Napkins

Ali Yildirim, left, hosted a gathering at Napkins restaurant for L. Pierce Carson before he headed off to his second home in Prague.

For a time, a number of friends belonged to the ABC Club — anything but chardonnay.

Chardonnay wines got a bad rap for a while when there were so many cookie-cutter versions on market shelves that it was hard to tell them apart.

But there are some producers who consistently offer chardonnay lovers bottlings worthy of the name.

Getting together with a few friends for a glass of wine and a nosh at Napkins in downtown Napa the other day, I decided to ask proprietor Ali Yildirim if I could pop the corks on a few chardonnays that I wanted to check out. Not only did he answer in the affirmative, he decided to pull up a chair and add to the chatter and opinions offered.

The wines opened, and the thoughts on each, are as follows:

There was unanimity with two of the chardonnays — that is, all who tasted enjoyed them, with some giving higher marks to one over the other. The tasters were pretty evenly divided about:

Far Niente 2014 Napa Valley chardonnay — fruit for this silky chardonnay comes from the cool growing Coombsville region where one of the earliest harvests ever began three days before the devastating Napa earthquake. It offers a great tropical nose that’s also evident on the palate. However, we liked the bright acidity, the nice lemony mouthfeel and the attractive citrus that lingers on the palate. This chardonnay was 100 percent barrel fermented but did not undergo malolactic fermentation, although the creamy mouthfeel might make the consumer think to the contrary. Winemaker Nicole Marchesi aged the 2014 chardonnay for 10 months sur lie in both new and one-vintage-used French oak. It’s an elegant wine with a price tag to match — $67.

Clos Pegase 2014 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Carneros chardonnay — also grown in a cool-climate region, fruit for this wine was all barrel fermented. According to the winemaking team — headed by Robin Akhurst who succeeds Richard Sowalsky — after fermentation, this wine was “inoculated with a malolactic bacteria strain , which naturally deacidifies the wine without production of buttery flavors and aromas that can detract from our estate fruit personality.” Aged sur lie for 10 months in nearly one-third new oak, the fruit is more pronounced here, with both nose and flavor profile rife with mango and papaya. The big entry also displays notes of both lemon and lime. An opulent wine at $30 a bottle.

Meiomi 2014 chardonnay — this is the brand that Constellation paid $315 million for a few months ago, a deal that included only the winery’s existing inventory and brand, which was founded by the valley’s Joe Wagner in 2006. Meomi is noted for its pinot noir and chardonnay sourced from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties, growing from 60,000 cases in 2010 to almost 600,000 cases in 2014. Retail sales jumped more than 50 percent last year, fueled by significant growth in demand for its pinot noir. This one divided the tasters — some liked its tropical notes and honeyed edge, others were put off by the residual sugar (6.7 grams per liter). Fruit for this wine came from Monterey County (37 percent), Sonoma County (37 percent) and Santa Barbara County (27 percent). It was aged in a combination of steel tanks and French oak barrels. It retails for $20.99.

New from Mondavi

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of its founding, the Robert Mondavi Winery released a red blend that pays tribute to the man with a vision, Robert Mondavi.

“To celebrate the 2000 opening of our To Kalon Cellar, Robert Mondavi commissioned a special piece of music,” notes Genevieve Janssens, director of winemaking. “At the gala, when the orchestra began to play, he took the baton and began conducting. We realized that Robert Mondavi was the maestro of our lives. His vision and passion guides us. He will always be the maestro of this winery, and our inspiration.”

To that end, the winemaking team has introduced a new wine to the portfolio, called Maestro. Grapes for this 2013 blend — merlot (59 percent), cabernet franc (25 percent), cabernet sauvignon (7 percent), petit verdot (6 percent) and malbec (3 percent) — came from vineyards throughout the valley.

The Robert Mondavi 2013 Maestro is a rich, tasty blend, with lively, fresh red fruit up front and a backbone of blackberries and minerality. There’s also plums and spice lingering on the palate. The tannins are bracing at first but the ripe fruit rises to the challenge on the finish. Maestro retails for $50.

There’s another new release from the Mondavi family of wines, this one from the Central Coast operation.

Robert Mondavi 2013 Private Selection Bourbon Barrel-Aged cabernet sauvignon does indeed impart both smell and taste of bourbon in the bright fruit of the wine. Undoubtedly a novelty intended for the bourbon lovers among us, the blackberry and cherry notes, coupled with a spicy, honey undertone, make this wine ideal for barbecued ribs. The barrels seem to add to the spice profile. The wine retails for $14 to $16, depending on the retailer.

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