Hess Chardonnay triggers Pavlovian-like response

Hess Chardonnay triggers Pavlovian-like response

>DRINK IT

Who: Hess Family Estates
What: 2012 Hess Select Chardonnay
Where: Monterey County, California
Why: An inexpensive wine of good quality
How much: $10

Anyone who lives within two blocks in any direction of my home knows our cat Baxter. He's a wonderfully intelligent gray Chartreux who has a natural smile. I like to say the smile is because we rescued him from the Kansas Humane Society 15 years ago (but it's really a trait of the breed). Baxter is one of those cats that act more like a dog. He knows his name, will come when we call or whistle and knows how to convey what he wants. On occasion we have met new neighbors who say, "Oh, you're Baxter's owners." Somehow Baxter managed to meet the neighbors first and obviously told them about us. Hopefully he shared only the good stuff.

I mentioned that Baxter's good about letting me know what he wants. He has signals he uses, and will often sit in front of his milk saucer and meow, knowing this will alert me that something needs to be put in his dish immediately. As I pull the milk container from the refrigerator, Baxter smacks his mouth and licks his lips (yes, every time). He knows what's coming and he knows it's going to taste good. It's a Pavlovian response, I guess.

Truth be told, humans are guilty of this, as well. Ok, I'm a major offender, and hearing that cork being pulled from a bottle of wine or the wine poured into a glass immediately heightens my senses. Detecting these "wine sounds" flips a switch, letting me know my day is winding down and it's time to relax with some enjoyment in a glass.

Opening this bottle of Hess Select Chardonnay does exactly that. The aroma is the same as cutting the first juicy pear of the season and having the scent splash me in the face. Then I take a sip and taste pungent pineapple and realize spring is here. The apple flavor reminds me of harvesting fruit in an orchard and the oakiness takes me back to vineyard tours and the smell of actual oak barrels. The imagery continues with each sip.

For this price range, this is a lovely wine, having everything a Chardonnay should have: light acidity, a fruit-forward nose and a clean flavor. The winemaker concludes this is due to being created in the ideal climate with Pacific Coast breezes. Moderate temperatures in Napa Valley lengthen the growing season, which allows the fruit to remain longer on the vine and develop a deeper, more pronounced flavor.

The Chardonnay grape is a winemaker's dream, being prolific enough to make a good quality inexpensive wine or one that is high quality and complex. The more expensive Chardonnays are those from precise growing areas and are generally aged in oak barrels. Both of these factors will drive up the price of bottle.

So, Baxter can sit next to his milk saucer and I will sit next to the wine bar. We both know what we want and aren't afraid to ask for it. I'll do my best to keep the lip smacking to a minimum.