My plan is to hang on to summer as long as we can. So, this week, I am highlighting sunshine in a bottle: Mer Soleil Chardonnay, hails from the Central Coast of Monterey County in sunny California. The "Mer" stands for the sea, which in this case refers to the Pacific Ocean that brings fog and cool breezes to the vineyards. "Soleil" is the sunshine that brightly cajoles the grapes to maturity.

Chardonnay is not typically a favorite varietal of mine, but this wine demands attention. If you are looking for a reason to splurge, this is the wine for just such an occasion. Its rich and luscious flavors are reminiscent of a hailed white Burgundy, mingling beautifully with all the generous, sun-ripened flavors of California.

Winemakers Charles J. Wagner and his son, Charles F. Wagner II, who founded Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, one of California's most lauded wines, are in their 22nd year producing Mer Soleil Chardonnay. The vineyards are located in the Santa Lucia Highlands, where the grapes are often awakened by the cool morning fog and then rest in the warm California sun. The afternoon winds that blow in from the Pacific Ocean ensure they don't get too hot. Once the grapes grow and reach a golden caramel, almost amber color, they are harvested between September and November, barrel fermented, and then aged in both new and old French oak.

This wine is big, with beautiful aromas of honeysuckle, mango, citrus, clove and nutmeg. Elegant flavors of mango, lemon butter, pineapple, pear, marmalade, and crème brûlée create a soft, creamy, mouth-filling texture. Fresh acidity balances out the fullness of the wine, while the lingering flavors of ripe peaches, honey, green apples and exotic spices come together to form a long, lingering finish.

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If you are bored with all the over-oaked Chardonnays on the shelf, than Mer Soleil is the way to go. It is always riper in style and a nice departure from your usual everyday Chardonnay. Be sure to pair this wine with something special, as it is no ordinary wine. An interesting cheese trio for this wine might include Chèvre, Gruyere and Provolone. Or pair it with a fresh corn soufflé with bacon and Comté cheese, sea scallops with truffle butter and mushrooms, poached salmon with caper butter sauce or my “go-to” lemon-mascarpone lobster risotto.

You can get this wine for around $30 and can be ordered through your favorite local wine store or grocer and is definitely worth seeking out. Rest assured that in the sea of California Chardonnays available to us, Mer Soleil stands out from the crowd.

Here’s to sunshine in a bottle and the last dog days of summer. Cheers.

Kate Murphy is the wine writer for the Quad City Times. She can be reached at