Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Versatile Chardonnay - Part 3

With each week’s tastings we continue to appreciate Chardonnay for its versatility and ability to add enjoyment to a meal. We recently savored a flight of exemplary wines with Dungeness crab cakes and Remoulade sauce. This mayonnaise or aioli based sauce features herbs and spices that work well with many Chardonnays.

Something I have noticed again this year is that many wines improve with aeration. Before you render a judgment on a wine as being lifeless and closed in, give it some air by swirling in your glass or even decanting the bottle with aeration.

Penfolds 2017 Chardonnay, Bin 311, TumbaRumba, SE Australia - $40

With the 2017 vintage, Penfolds changed fruit sourcing for this popular Chardonnay to a multi-regional blend. The high-altitude, cool-climate TumbaRumba vineyard is in New South Wales, about 250 miles southwest of Sydney. Also in the blend are wines from Tasmania and a majority from Adelaide Hills. Look for aromas and flavors of pear, white flowers and earthy mineral with hints of apple and yeasty barrel character.

Januik 2016 Chardonnay, Cold Creek
Vineyard, CV - $30

Mike Januik was winemaker for many years at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and he brought along his fondness for their Cold Creek Vineyard when he founded his own eponymous brand. His 2016 Chardonnay continues to be made in the New World style featuring ripe aromas and flavors of citrus, pear and honey crisp apple with notes of toasty oak and lemon curd on the finish – an elegant and flavorful wine for sipping or savoring with food.

Cambria Winery 2016 Chardonnay, Santa Maria - $22

This wine comes from one of California’s truly unique vineyards on the Santa Maria bench in Santa Barbara County.  Each of 15 different blocks of Chardonnay are farmed individually allowing nuances of fruit to emerge.  Lots are blended to create this inviting wine featuring citrus, earthy mineral and apple with notes of vanilla and spicy oak.

Novelty Hill 2016 Chardonnay, Stillwater Creek Vineyard - $23

Winemaker Mike Januik crafts the wines for Novelty Hill Winery from grapes grown at their estate vineyard on the Royal Slope of Washington’s Frenchman Hills.  This Chardonnay opens with aromas of stone fruits, honeysuckle and baking spice that lead to a creamy palate of baked apple with vanilla and hints of toasty oak and mineral – great for sipping or with lighter meals.

Harbinger Winery 2016 Chardonnay, Pipers Vineyard - $25

Energetic winemaker/owner Sara Gagnon continues to produce excellent wines at her facility on Highway 101 in Port Angeles, Washington.  She sources her Chardonnay from Piper Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope.  Her Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of ripe apple, spicy lavender honey and toasty vanilla.  Good acidity and moderate alcohol make it a superb food wine.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2017 Chardonnay, Reserve,        Horse Heaven Hills - $20

The name of this value brand from Precept Wines was inspired by the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805, who thought the ridge above the Columbia River (now the Horse Heaven Hills AVA) resembled an overturned canoe. The wine offers reserve qualities of pear and melon wrapped in toasty notes of butterscotch, vanilla and hints of coconut.

Spellbound 2017 Chardonnay, California, 4-pack cans - $20/4 pack 250ml

Spellbound Chardonnay features bright and lush tropical fruit flavors of pineapple, banana, guava and kiwi. These bright flavors are balanced with notes of vanilla and classic creme brulee. These convenient cans are great for picnics or trips to the beach, and the wine is fresh and delicious.

Hedges Family Estate 2018 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley - $17

The Hedges family was one of the pioneers of Red Mountain in Washington State and were the driving force to get the AVA international exposure. Family members run the winery including daughter Sarah Hedges Goedhart who is the winemaker. Tiny amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Marsanne were blended into this Chardonnay cuvee to qualify it to wear the CMS moniker – a hallmark of Hedges blended wines. Tasters enjoy aromas and flavors of caramel apple, citrus, baking spice and earthy mineral.

Waterbrook 2017 Chardonnay, Reserve, Columbia Valley - $18

Waterbrook traces its history back to the mid-1980s when the winery was founded in the western Walla Walla Valley. Today, an expansive visitor center and winery are right along Highway 12 offering elegant grounds and a great tasting room welcome. Enjoy the value-priced 2015 Chardonnay for aromas and flavors of pear and white peach with vanilla and baking spice.

Stoller Family Estate 2018 Chardonnay, Dundee Hills - $25

This unoaked Chardonnay is a mix of all the Chardonnay clones grown on the Stoller estate in the Dundee Hills AVA of western Oregon. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed to mitigate phenolics resulting in a delicate wine with complex aromas and flavors. Look for ripe pear, lemon drop, spicy jasmine and notes of baked apple and ginger cookie.

Chehalem 2018 INOX Chardonnay, Willamette Valley - $20

This unoaked Chardonnay has been a favorite with my tasters for over a decade, originally as a seafood or oyster wine, and for many years an all-around crisp, dry white for any lighter cuisine. INOX is the French term for stainless steel, and the wine is indeed produced solely in stainless steel tanks. Look for aromas and flavors of bright stone fruits, floral notes and tropical citrus with hints at exotic fruits and crisp minerality.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Versatile Chardonnays - Part 2

I begin today’s review column with some information I share each year relating to clones of Chardonnay and the history of such in the U.S.

The pursuit of complex, enjoyable Chardonnay at an affordable price has been a major enterprise of the American wine industry for at least six decades.  UC Davis originally classified and propagated Chardonnay clones suited for the warm California growing season, recommending the Wente Clone (2A), Clone 4 (Martini clone), Davis (UCD) 108 and others.  These clones are mid to late-ripening and are not especially suited to cool climates like Oregon or the coastal valleys of California.

In 1974, David Adelsheim went to Burgundy to discover the secrets of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production there and came away realizing that Oregon needed new Chardonnay clones more suited to the cool, western Oregon growing season.  In 1977, clones selected by Raymond Bernard of the Dijon office of the French Ministry of Agriculture were imported to Oregon for evaluation under quarantine.  It would not be until the early 1990s that these “Dijon” clones were accepted as a distinct improvement and widespread planting begun.

J. Christopher Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Chehalem Mountains AVA - $45

Winemaker/owner Jay Somers offers several small lot Chardonnays – each with distinctive
Jay Somers and Ernst Loosen
character and style. This bottling was the favorite of my most recent tasting panel. The fruit came from Olenik Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, originally planted to the Wente clone of Chardonnay in 1989, but added with three Dijon clones at a later date. Enjoy aromas and flavors of complex tropical fruits, pear and apple with spicy vanilla on the finish – excellent structure and acidity. Jay is partners with Ernst Loosen of the famed Dr. Loosen winery in Germany.

Domaine Jolly et Fils 2017 Petit Chablis, France - $18

With four generations of experience, Domaine Jolly et Fils is known for producing traditional, mineral-driven Chablis wines. This Petit Chablis offers citrus aromas and favors with a backbone of mineral and hints of spice. An excellent food wine and an affordable introduction to Chablis style wines.

 Willamette Valley Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay, Bernau Block - $45

Winery founder Jim Bernau planted Dijon clone Chardonnay vines over 20 years ago and thus became one of the pioneers that has boosted premium Oregon Chardonnay into the upper tiers of American Chardonnay. The wine was barrel fermented and aged in French oak, 30% new. Aromas and flavors of green apple, tangerine and orchard blossom weave through notes of honey and baking spice – great with seafoods of all types.

Ruby Vineyard 2016 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley - $29

This is classic Northwest Chardonnay showing apple and pear with notes of stone fruits, citrus and spice. The wine finishes with just a hint of spicy vanilla marshmallow giving a sipping dimension to the crisp acidity on the palate.

L’Ecole No 41 2017 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley - $20

Winemakers from pioneering winery L’Ecole No 41 sourced Chardonnay fruit from cooler site vineyards in the Yakima and northern Columbia Valley AVAs. Schmitt and Oasis Vineyards in the Yakima Valley provide tropical fruit character while the Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay contributes crisp acidity and minerality. Look for toasty notes of baked apple and vanilla on the nose with round flavors of apple, pear, lemon and creamy brioche enticing the palate to another sip.

Mercer Estates 2016 Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills – $14

The Mercer family has been farming in Eastern Washington for well over 100 years with recent efforts in grape growing and wine making going back to the 1980s. This luscious Chardonnay from select vineyards on the Horse Heaven Hills offers ripe apple and pear along with honeydew melon, vanilla cream and toasted marshmallow. Crisp, natural acidity gives the wine a food friendly finish.

Beringer Winery 2016 Chardonnay, Private Reserve, Napa Valley - $48

Beringer’s Gamble Ranch Vineyard near Yountville is the source of fruit for their Reserve Chardonnay. Cooling breezes help the grapes preserve natural acidity that keep the wine in balance and add to a fresh, crisp mouthfeel.  Look for aromas of ripe stone fruits, tropical peach and pineapple, and creamy vanilla with flavors of toasty oak, buttery vanilla and barrel spice corral the ripe fruit on the palate.


Noviello Winery 2016 Chardonnay, French Creek Vineyard, Yakima Valley - $18

Dr. Frederic Stern is a well-known cosmetic surgeon in the Seattle area who has turned his passion for fine wine into Noviello Vineyards Winery with a location near Lake Chelan under development. Winemaker for Noviello is Charlie Hoppes, longtime Washington craftsman of excellent vintages. This light Chardonnay from French Creek Vineyard offers aromas and flavors of lemon, pear and vanilla to accompany your lighter meals of summer. 

Qupé 2016 Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County - $22

Fruit for this Santa Barbara Chardonnay came from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, primarily from the Y Block – a 15 acre block planted exclusively for Qupé in 2005. The block is planted to Chardonnay clone 4 (Wente) and two Dijon clones: 76 and 96.
Enjoy aromas and flavors of ripe apple, pear and citrus nicely framed with beautiful French oak.

Rolling Bay Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Upland Vineyards - $36

Grapes for Rolling Bay Chardonnay come from the Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the central Yakima Valley.  Grapes were first planted here in 1917 and are the oldest wine grape vines in Washington State.  Winemaker Alphonse deKlerk aged this vintage for 10 months sur lie, crafting a favorite Chardonnay of my tasters offering apple, pear, citrus and notes of vanilla and baking spices.

Steele Wines 2017 Chardonnay, Parmelee Hill Vineyard - $30

All of Jed Steele’s vineyard-designated Chardonnays are barrel fermented in French oak. Each vintage they use 30% new barrels and age the wine in barrel for 10 to 12 months. These super premium Chardonnays offer balance and character that includes food-friendly acidity to match your best poultry, fish and shellfish.  Look for tropical aromas and flavors of mango, melon and peach with finishing notes of creamy apple, butterscotch and toasty oak.

Hope Estate 2016 Chardonnay, Hunter Valley, Australia – $14

My wine tasters happily said “G’Day” to this value-priced and flavorful Chardonnay from Australia’s Hunter Valley region. Michael Hope’s Mountain Wash Vineyard lies directly under the Wollemi range taking advantage of millions of years of nutrients washing down into the site on which the vineyard was planted.  Enjoy ripe peach and pear within a corral of tangy citrus fruits and pleasant accents of vanilla and toasty oak.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Versatile Chardonnays

Chardonnay is the queen of white grapes.  It makes the famous earthy white Burgundies of France, crisp and citrusy Northwest versions, and the toasty vanilla cream and oak Chardonnays that began in California and spread throughout the wine world.  The best Chardonnay wines have components from all three categories: earthiness and light “forest floor” notes, hints of lemon and grapefruit in the middle and finish, and a complex oak character that shows itself as spice, smoke and caramel.  Inexpensive Chardonnays often have a small amount of barrel-fermented wine blended in for smoothness.  While light in body they make excellent everyday sipping wines and are often very nice food wines.

Chardonnay is revered for both sipping and serving with food. I once served toasty oaky, vanilla flavored Chardonnay with Twinkies to the staff at The Hogue Cellars to demonstrate why Americans might have developed a taste for the style. Other attributes of the Chardonnay variety are more mainstream: smooth citrus with Asian foods; notes of anise and butter with broiled salmon; crisp and mineral flavored wines with light meats and many seafood selections.  It is indeed a versatile and (therefore) popular wine.

Herewith are the first suggestions for this multi-part series: 

Mount Hood Winery 2017 Chardonnay, Estate, Columbia Gorge - $34

This was my favorite wine at our recent tasting. It is not the most powerful wine, nor the most complex, but it speaks of the Pacific Northwest and is very food friendly featuring pear, apple, citrus and mineral with hints of oak and vanilla. Visit the winery by following Highway 35 south from Hood River, Oregon into the beautiful rolling orchard lands of the Hood River Valley.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyard, Sonoma Coast - $60

This wine has been the favorite of my tasters many times before, and it is certainly at the top of the heap this year, though also at the top price point. Several years ago Chef Ted and I agreed that it was the finest American Chardonnay we had ever tasted. This vintage offers lots of richness with a profile of citrus and tropical fruits on the nose and palate. Complex toast and vanilla frame this picture perfect Chardonnay for enjoyment with fine seafood or lighter meats.

Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Chardonnay, Napa Valley - $43

Mike Grgich established his eminence for Chardonnay in California when his 1973 bottling from Chateau Montelena beat the best of France at the “Judgment of Paris” tasting in 1976. Establishing his own eponymous winery in 1977, Grgich has continued to be a leader in California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I found this 2015 Chardonnay to be rich and powerful, but with greater complexity of spice, mineral, fennel, floral notes and tropical fruits. This is perhaps the most sophisticated Chardonnay for food discussed in this column.

King Estate 2017 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley - $22

I have followed King Estate Winery near Eugene, Oregon practically since their founding in the early 1990s. The grape growing and winemaking here are impeccable and wine quality is correspondingly consistent.  This latest Chardonnay release offers bright aromas of citrus, melon and stone fruits with notes of vanilla, tropical fruits and French oak. It is a delightfully versatile food wine.

La Crema 2017 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley - $30

La Crema continues to impress my tasters with a decidedly Old World style derived from cool climate Russian River Valley fruit combined with modern winemaking techniques and judicious use of oak barrel aging. This opulent-yet-complex wine offers tropical aromas and flavors including tangerine, Meyer lemon and nectarine, while a creamy palate edged with vanilla and toasty oak has just enough finishing acidity to make this an excellent food wine.

Woodward Canyon Winery 2017 Chardonnay, WA - $43

Winemaker Rick Small has a long relationship with Celilo Vineyard on Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge where he gets Wente clone Chardonnay each year to blend with his estate Walla Walla fruit, which is UC Davis clone 108.  Experience makes the difference in crafting this tempting wine showing peach, pear and spicy apple mingling with toasty oak, mineral and vanilla.

Elk Cove Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay, Goodrich Vineyard - $45

Pioneer Oregon winery Elk Cove purchased the nearby Goodrich Vineyard in 2014 and has had good success crafting this single vineyard Chardonnay for several years. The 2016 vintage offers a complex citrus profile of lemon curd, zest and hints of lime with following tropical notes and hints of toasted almond cookie and vanilla. The finish offers notes of chalky mineral, spice and toasted coconut.

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay, Tualatin Estate - $45

California winemaker Bill Fuller came north to the Willamette Valley in the late 1960s and founded Tualatin Vineyards southwest of Portland. He planted his Chardonnay with the same Draper clone that David Lett had brought from California a few years before. This vineyard is now part of Willamette Valley Vineyards and is known as Tualatin Estate. Enjoy this spicy, complex Chardonnay for its ripe apple and pear fruit and balanced acidity.

Youngberg Hill  2016 Chardonnay, Aspen, Willamette Valley - $41

Wayne and Nicolette Bailey are celebrating the 15th anniversary of their purchase of Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn near McMinnville, Oregon.  This destination for wine country weddings and other elegant affairs has been theirs to renovate and improve since 2003, and the vineyards and winemaking have kept pace with the posh country inn. The Aspen Block of the estate vineyard produced this lush and complex Chardonnay featuring tropical fruits, peach and vanilla on the nose with baking spice, pear and citrus on the palate – great with lighter foods and even better for savoring alone!

Three Rivers Winery 2017 Steel Chardonnay, Columbia Valley – $15

This lighter shade of Chardonnay is extremely versatile at the table with crisp acidity from early harvesting and cool fermentation.  Aromas of wet stone, green apple, grapefruit and hints of baking spice lead to a crisp palate of citrus, melon and mineral that caresses your seafood selection to perfection.

Los Vascos 2018 Chardonnay, Chile - $13

Wine grapes were planted in the Colchagua Valley of Chile beginning in the 16th century by (among others) the Echenique family of Basque origins in Spain. Over the centuries production increased, and in 1988 Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite) purchased the Los Vascos estate, beginning an era of modernization and improvement. Today’s modern Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of grapefruit, banana, melon and notes of vanilla and toasted almonds.

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