It's such a staple of mid-range wine lists around Tampa Bay that customers and waiters alike just say KJ when ordering Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, a steadfast example of the big oak and vanilla California style. Now the winemaker has added a new chard to cater to the growing preference among wine drinkers for a lighter, fresher style. KJ Avant Chardonnay (we tasted the 2009) delivers on that promise for anywhere from $10 to $15 retail and is widely available at supermarkets and liquor stores.
This wine is fermented in both stainless steel and older oak barrels, leaving a trace of oak and almost pushing vanilla entirely out of the picture. The difference is clear at first sniff, with white peaches and lemon predominating on the nose. On the tongue, white peaches are prominent, ably abetted by sunny lemon, a smidge of honeydew and a speck of ginger, with just enough oak to let you know this chard spent some time in barrels before bottling. The slightly floral finish is clean and refreshing, leaving the palate ready for the next bite of, say, hot or cold herb-roasted chicken or maybe snapper sautéed with lemon butter, fresh herbs and plenty of capers.
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.