The 2009 Hayes Ranch "Best Foot Forward" chardonnay is a light, fruit-forward example of the varietal, with just a kiss of vanilla and oak. This product of the Wente Family Estates of Livermore, Calif., is available in big box stores and some wine shops for about $10.
Most of the vanilla in this saucy white is in its bouquet, where it blends harmoniously with lemon and melon. The trio carries through to first sip with the fruit on top and the vanilla, paired with light oak, subordinated. Ginger and clementine join the party at mid palate and the whole melange persists through a bright off-dry finish.
Its ample fruit and a hint of sweetness make this chard a good choice as a social sipper on its own or with light hors d'oeuvres, but it also will pair nicely with chicken (we sampled it with thighs and legs roasted over root veggies), main course salads and cheeses like aged white cheddar or nutty robusto from the Netherlands.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.