Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay 2011, California

Cost: $10-11

What: This Chardonnay marks a departure for Big House wines. Until a couple of years ago they shied away from the iconic California wines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

The Usual Suspect Cabernet was first (and very good), and now Unchained has been released. I hope it’s a clean get-away and they never get the chains back on this one.

It’s a beautiful, crisp, refreshing alternative to heavily-oaked Chardonnays that used to be so popular. There’s some floral and citrus notes on the nose with smooth tastes of apple and pear.

Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay

It’s fruit-forward but nicely balanced with good acidity and only 13% alcohol. It’s dry, but not so dry as to make your lips pucker. It has a medium finish, pleasant and smooth.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and neutral oak barrels to preserve the fruit flavors. There is no secondary fermentation.

The winery takes its light-hearted theme from a state prison located nearby in Soledad. The labels and website all play on that theme. The back label on Unchained reads, “… Last seen confined in stainless steel fermenters, this buster is criminally crisp and bright with green apples on the schnozzle and a hinky hint of pear.”

I would chill the wine well and then take it out on the porch and drink it on a lazy, sunny Saturday listening to jazz or just watching the world go by.

Winery: Big House Wines doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it does take its wine seriously. Most of the eight wines are blends of traditional Mediterranean grapes made in a New World style.

Starting with Big House Red and Big House White the wines have been made in an easy-to-approach style. They deliver good wine at a great price.

The labels and the storyline on their website ( all focus on the prison theme in a joking manner. All their wines come in screwcap bottles and all but The Slammer Sweet Shiraz also come in a 3-liter box, which keeps wine fresh for up to six weeks.

The winemaker (aka the Warden) is Georgetta Dane, who comes from Suceava, Romania, where she developed her palate among thousands of varieties and styles of wine. Since 2006 she has artistically blended the Big House wines by aroma and taste, looking at how they will complement each other in the final wine.

The website says, “Big House wines unshackle consumers from ball and chain wine choices and rules, creating criminally exhilarating everyday wines.”

Don’t overlook the 3-liter packages. They sell for about $22 and contain the equivalent of four bottles of wine. One of those would be great for a tailgate party before and after a football game. And if you don’t finish the box, it will stay fresh for up to six weeks because no light or air reaches the wine.

Goes with: We had the Unchained as an aperitif, with cheese. It was especially good with two of my favorite cheeses, Fol Epi and Jarlsberg Swiss. It was light and crisp and didn’t fill us up before our dinner.

It would go well with roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, braised scallops or fresh pasta with olive oil and basil. The winery says it is perfect with goat cheese or poultry.

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