Friday, November 21, 2008

**+ $ Inglenook Chablis, Inglenook Vineyards and Winery, CA - Review and Rating

Review: Inglenook Chablis is one of the five most-widely-selling wines in U.S. restaurants, according to Restaurant Wine. How bad could it be then, right? Few of the best-selling wines in America are subjected to the kind of rigorous wine tasting and formal assessment that more expensive - but less popular - wines are. At Spirit of Wine, we will selectively sample and review some of these most-popular wines as part of our "practically free" series (otherwise known as "take one for the team").

So, let's investigate Inglenook Chablis. The first thing we notice is that the wine is non-vintage - in fact it is a marriage of young and select older vintage wines. In Spain, this might be called a solera, though in the case of Inglenook Chablis the percentage of new wine is much greater than it would be in a solera.

Inglenook was founded in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, a sea-captain in Rutherford, CA, part of the Napa Valley. Most of the prime Napa Inglenook vineyard area became part of the Francis Ford Coppola operation in 1975, with Heublein, Inc., acquiring brand rights and making high-volume wine under the Inglenook label. Coppola's operations on the original estate now go by the name Rubicon Estate Winery. The Inglenook brand has moved across several owners, being most recently acquired by the privately-held Wine Group, Inc.

Let's explore the Inglenook Chablis wine itself: In the glass, color is almost transparent, with subtle glints of yellow and golden and green. Aroma is shy, but has hints of a mineral-crisp slate. Appealing if not bold.

On the palate, first sense is of dry lemonade, touching the upper reaches of your palate and gums with a slightly sweet, sprightly acidity. Little hints of chardonnay-style fruit and slate in the background, but only hints. The finish comes back to the lemon - it lingers just a bit.

I can't say I'm drawn back to this somewhat tart style - I can only award two stars out of five on the Spirit of Wine scale. But I will award a plus for the subtle yet beguiling aroma.

If you're seeking a low-cost chablis, for my money I would instead recommend the Taylor California Cellars Chablis, which comes in around the same price range and for which I awarded three full stars based on its solid mid-palate apple/pear characteristics. By the way, the Taylor Chablis is the 16th-most-widely-sold restaurant wine in the United States.

Still, I can't begrude Inglenook its remarkable fifth place on the bestseller list.

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