Bonterra Vineyards nonvintage Mendocino County chardonnay (about $12 at grocery stores and most wine shops) is a balanced and palate-pleasing example of the hugely popular varietal that just happens to be made from organically grown grapes.
Some of the organic farming techniques used at Bonterra Ranch make for a vision of the agricultural life straight out of a back-to-the-land wish book. Birdhouses attract species that prey on insects that prey on wine grapes. Free-ranging chickens eat more insects and cutworms. A commitment to biodiversity makes of the vineyards a patchwork of olive and avocado groves, stands of native oak and Italian cypress and meadows of California wildflowers.
Without a talented winemaker's finesse the benefit of organic grapes would be more environmentally sound than gustatory, but this wine scores on both points. It is aged in French and American oak but the result is nuanced and understated; the vanilla does not overwhelm the grape's natural citrus and apple character. The result is a clean, fresh, elegant wine that pairs beautifully with all the usual suspects. That rotisserie chicken you picked up at the supermarket on the way home? Certainly. A white pizza with mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes? Perfect. Your favorite pasta served al fresco? Just the ticket.
By Colette and John Bancroft. Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor. John Bancroft is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.