Recent Sips of Chardonnay
It is a whole lot easier to make very good to great California Chardonnay than to make noteworthy Pinot Noir.
Whether produced with a combination of stainless steel and oak barrel fermentation, partial or full malolactic
fermentation or full-throttle 100% oak barrel vinfication, the major aromas and flavors of California Chardonnay
come from the winemaking, with differences in regional climates a second important factor.
Chardonnay continues to be the most favored varietal among wine drinkers in this country, so it is not
surprising that it is the most common white wine vinified by Pinot Noir centric wineries. Because so many Pinot
Noir producers send along their Chardonnay for review alongside their Pinot Noir, and since Chardonnay is my
white wine of choice, I began reviewing Chardonnay in early 2010. That is not to say that the PinotFile has
taken on a “bi” proclivity, and Pinot Noir will forever remain the main emphasis.
2012 Aubert CIX Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
15.0% alc.,600 case, $90. This vineyard is
planted with the Reuling selection of Chardonnay in 2007. It is located adjacent Lauren Vineyard.
yellow color and clear in the glass. Wondrous aromas of apple, lemon, pineapple, stone, almond and steel
displaying impressive intensity and penetrating quality over time in the glass. A remarkably flavorful wine with
notes of lemon curd, baked apple, peach, spice, cashew butter, burnt caramel, nutty oak, and honey with
moderate richness. Beautiful oak integration in an unctuous style that is still impeccably balanced. There is no
sense of high alcohol in this wine. A distinguished wine offering a bold expression of California Chardonnay.
This wine has the balance to last upwards of 10 years.
2011 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Galilee Israel Chardonnay
14.5% alc., $20. Grapes grown in
the cool climate, rocky volcanic, high altitude soils of the Northern Golan Heights. Barrel fermented
and aged 7 months with partial MLF. Kosher for Passover.
Mild golden yellow color and clear in the
glass. An array of citrus fruits and pear arrive on the nose, accented by oak-driven notes of toast and
nuts. Good fullness and richness, with flavors of lemon curd, quince, pear and pineapple and a
complimentary touch of oak. Slightly creamy, finishing with modest citrus-driven acidity.
2012 Liquid Farm “White Hill” Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
13.8% alc., 988
cases, $40. Sourced from Bent Rock (63%), Zotovich, Kessler-Haak, Rita’s
Crown, Huber, Radian and Clos Pepe vineyards. Aged 12 months in neutral oak
with 18% stainless steel aging.
Pale golden yellow color and clear in the glass.
Aromas of lemon, pineapple, peach, vanilla cream and ocean air. Highly
pleasurable on the palate, with crisp lemon-driven flavor accented with baking
spice, vanillin, and acid-driven minerality. Modest in weight with a fresh, citrusladen
2012 LIOCO Estero Russian River Valley Chardonnay
13.5% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.65, $35. Harvest
Brix 22º. Grapes are grown in Goldridge soils from cooler Russian River Valley sites and include
clones 4, 17, 95 and 96. Berries broken before whole cluster pressed. Fermented on lees with
battonage for 8 months in large neutral oak barrels. Natural MLF, gentle filtration.
Pale yellow color
and clear in the glass. Shy, clean aromas of lemon curd and mixed nuts. Tasty but lean flavors of
citrus, baked apple, white grape and stony minerality. Juicy and fresh, but not exuberant and lush like
many Russian River Valley Chardonnays. Some may find the wine too delicately flavored while others
may welcome the discreet style.
2012 LIOCO La Marisma Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
13.8% alc., pH 3.46, TA 0.64, $45.
Harvest Brix 23º. The vineyard is near the town of Aptos and is a south facing, hillside site 6 miles from the
Pacific Ocean. Soils are sand and calcerous marine deposits with ideal drainage. Diurnal temperature
fluctuation is 40+º.After intense hand sorting, the berries were broken before whole cluster pressed. Wild yeast
fermentation in neutral oak, natural MLF, aged 10 months on lees in barrel and 5 months in tank.
golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Really nice array of aromas including fresh banana, baked pear,
exotic honey, and fermented melon. Some richness and slightly creamy, with flavors of lemon curd, baked
pear, roasted nuts, burnt caramel, pastry cream and lees. This wine is very unique and presents some flavors
that defy description. I like it for its uniqueness and composure.
2012 The Wonderland Project “La Reine Blance” (The White Queen) Sonoma County Chardonnay
13.2% alc., residual sugar 0.02 mg, 1,400 cases, $24. Released June 2013. Clone 76
and Robert Young selection. Staggered picks at 21º to 23.5º Brix to control acid. Native yeast
fermentation in stainless steel, 100% MLF, aged 8 months in 1/3 new French oak, 1/3 neutral French
oak and 1/3 stainless steel. Primarily a restaurant wine meant to be a refined wine at accessible cost
but also sold on the winery’s website. Winemaker is former sommelier Matthew Ahern (also of
Light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Clean aromas of lemon curd, honey, spiced peach,
papaya, honeysuckle and vanilla bean. Easy to drink with enough acidity to add juiciness, featuring flavors of
peach, marzipan, and spice. Slightly creamy and soft in the mouth, with the faintest compliment of oak. A
highly enjoyable, nicely balanced, no-nonsense, casual wine that doesn’t weigh you down with alcohol and
oak. The ideal proverbial back porch wine.
Thomas Fogarty Single Vineyard Chardonnays
The 2011 Thomas Fogarty Single Vineyard, Estate, Chardonnay collection consists of four wines that hail from
the original vines planted at the Fogarty Estate in the late 1970s and early 1980s high in the Santa Cruz
Mountains only 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. These vineyards are clustered around the winery and
are separated by only a few feet, yet the variability in soil and exposure is reflected in the subtle, but noticeable
differences between the wines.
The winemaking is nearly identical for each wine so the variations in flavor and texture are mainly site driven.
Grapes are harvest in the early morning hours, whole cluster pressed, and undergo a cool, native barrel
fermentation. The wines are aged 16-18 months in 50% new French oak, except the Albutom which is aged in
100% used French oak. Planned release date is April 2014. The winemaking team is Michael Martella and
As the vines have entered maturity, the winery’s energies have been focused on renewing and invigorating the
soil with cover crops, compost, compost tea, and the encouragement of ecological diversity in the vineyards.
The vines are dry farmed.
The Albutom Vineyard Chardonnay comes from the smallest (.33 acres) parcel. Lambert Shale soils are heavily
fractured and feature quarter to basketball size pieces of fractured sandstone throughout the vineyard. Planted in
1981 to clone 4 on A x R1 at an elevation of 1,930 feet with 6’ x 10’ spacing.
The Damiana Vineyard is the most protected site on the eastern flank of the ridge line. Clone 4 planted on A x
R1 with 6’ x 11’ spacing at 1,890 feet elevation. The fractured shale here features classic Santa Cruz Mountains
mudstone that is very fine when weathered, well-drained and mineral rich. The was the original vineyard planted
in 1978 at the Estate and usually shows the most opulence and richness of all the wines.
The Langley Hill Vineyard is the winery’s largest Chardonnay planting at just over 5 acres. Clone 4 was planted
on A x R1 in 1980 with 6’ x 10’ spacing at 1,925 feet elevation. The undulating hillside has a multitude of
exposures and varying soils. Heavily fractured shale with scattered colluvium yield wines with minerality and
Portola Springs Vineyard (2 acres) is the most unique of the four vineyards in that it is intensely mineral infused
with bright acidity and energy. Clone 4 was planted on A x R1 in 1982 with 6’ x 10’ spacing at an elevation of
1,920 feet. The fractured shale here is overlain with silica-rich basalt. This volcanic material was likely flow from
nearby Mt. Melville. This wine shows undeniable intensity and tension. A map of the vineyards is below.
2011 was a record late harvest, even exceeding 2010, and amazingly cool. Harvest did not end until November
3. Yields were the smallest ever in most vineyards. Yields averaged around 1 ton per acre. Resulting alcohols
were low and acidities high.
2011 Thomas Fogarty Estate Grown Albutom Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
pH 3.17, TA 0.80, 50 cases, $75. Yields 0.46 tons per acre.
Moderate golden straw color and clear in the
glass. The nose is challenging to describe as there are many nuances that surface over time in the glass. Scents of pear, yuzu, dried herbs, white pepper and floral accents. A delicate, Chablis-style wine, with flavors
of lemon and tart green apple, backed by bracing acidity which chases the saliva on the finish. An echo of
lemon persists on the finish for several seconds. Best with acid-loving food like oysters.
2011 Thomas Fogarty Estate Grown Damiana Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
pH 3.21, TA 0.76, 96 cases, $60.
Moderate golden straw color and clear in the glass. Delicate aromas of
Gravenstein apple, white peach and modest toasty oak do not prepare one for the sensory onslaught to follow.
Wow! Amazing attack of lemon, pear, and apple fruits with accents of honey, burnt caramel and cardamom
spice. The most intensity of flavor of the four 2011 wines tasted and sporting a long, generous, and juicy,
lemon-infused finish. A little less prominent acid themed minerality in this wine.
2011 Thomas Fogarty Estate Grown Langley Hill Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
13.8% alc., pH 3.13, TA 0.87, 96 cases, $60.
Moderate golden straw color and clear in the glass.
Highly aromatic, with bright aromas of croissant, roasted nuts, baked apple and lemon. Plenty of
intensity showing lemon curd, baked pear, apple and almond flavors backed by a lively, but integrated,
cut of acidity. Very smooth in the mouth with an incredibly bombastic finish that offers waves of lemony
goodness returning for what seems like a minute. I have rarely met with a finish like this in
Chardonnay. On top of that, the wine is very harmonious with just the right amount of contribution from
2011 Thomas Fogarty Estate Grown Portola Springs Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
12.3% alc., pH 3.162, TA 0.80, 96 cases, $60.
Moderate golden straw color and clear in the glass. The nose is
very bright and clean, with aromas of lemon pie filling, grilled pineapple, seasoned oak and ocean air. The
most austere wine so the acid is more evident, but the wine is quite charming. Delicate flavors of citrus fruits
and tart green apple have a hint of nutty brittle in the background. Tightly wound, becoming more appealing
over time in the glass. This wine will reward cellaring for another few years.