Saved by the Bunny 

Rabbit Ridge comes through when other Chardonnays disappoint.

Last summer, soon after the judges of the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition named Charles Shaw's 2005 Chardonnay the best in the state, we put Two-Buck Chuck to the test against three boxed wines. We'd transferred the boxed wines to bottles for a blind tasting and were delighted when two of them bested Chuck, with Peter Vella Family Reserve nonvintage Chardonnay ($9.49 for a five-liter box) as the breakout winner.

So this summer, it was with great confidence that I pulled Trinchero Family Estates' 2006 California Chardonnay Wine Cube ($11.99 for the equivalent of two bottles) off the shelf at Target. I pitted the Wine Cube against A.G. Ferrari's 2006 Il Bianco Di Annibale white Tuscan wine ($9.99) and the 2006 Smoking Loon California Chardonnay ($6.99). Unfortunately, all three wines were profoundly lacking.

Smoking Loon is one of several bargain brands produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons, and I've been disappointed before by the wines bearing their labels. The Smoking Loon Chard had a tinny, cardboard aroma, almost but not quite redeemed by its richer flavor on the palate. "Toasted green vegetables and nasty fake oak," were our Token Winemaker's observations.

I purchased the Il Bianco Di Annibale — a blend of Chardonnay and less commonly known grapes Vermentino and Trebbiano — because I'd enjoyed the small sample I tried at A.G. Ferrari, the Italian-themed gourmet food chain that produces and sells it. But at home, tasting the Annibale blind, I was struck by a total absence of aroma and sour citrus qualities on the palate. Too bad — Vermentino is known in Europe for a lovely aroma and lively flavors that partner well with seafood, so there was the potential for something interesting here.

Of the three Chards in this tasting, our Token Winemaker and I both would choose Trinchero's Wine Cube if pressed — faint praise, given the competition. Its rotten-fruit qualities were at least more "organic" than the artificial notes dominating the Smoking Loon and Annibale.

Desperate to give you something good to drink this week, I opened my "recommendations" file and stumbled upon Rabbit Ridge, a Paso Robles winery producing Chards about which Indy Editor has raved. I bought the Rabbit Ridge Central Coast Barrel Cuvee Chardonnay ($8.48), and I concur: its distinctive fruity aroma, dryness, and medium body make a white wine that this red-wine lover would gladly try again.

Finally, while confidence in the state fair competition is still a bit shaky after last year's results, we were pleased to see the East Bay's own Concannon Vineyard clean up at the awards. Among other honors, it earned Best of Region and Best of Class in the Greater Bay Area appellation for its 2006 Reserve Chardonnay ($20).

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