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Sips of Recently Tasted Chardonnay

People ask me why I review Chardonnay when I am so devoted to Pinot Noir. There are three reasons: (1) Many Pinot Noir producers also bottle Chardonnay - the two go hand in hand as they do in Burgundy, (2) I like to drink Chardonnay, and (3) My spouse, Patti, adores Chardonnay.

NV Chateau La Paws California Chardonnay

13.0% alc., $12.99. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of apple, lemon peel and vanilla are echoed on the palate with added tastes of pineapple and pastry creme. Slightly creamy with balanced acidity, finishing with a slight medicinal note. Score: 86

2013 Dutton Goldfield Dutton Ranch-Walker Hill Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay

13.9% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.70, 311 cases, $50. The Old Wente vines at this vineyard have been used since 2006 for the Dutton Ranch Chardonnay, but a designated bottling had to be done in this vintage. Primarily indigenous fermented barrels, extended malolactic fermentation, and aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. A bright, crisp and suave wine that offers aromas of lemon water, apple, oregano and toast, and flavors of citrus, apple butter, baking spices and cashew butter. A subtle hint of oak chimes in. Smooth in the mouth with bright lemon-lime acidity in the background. Score: 92

2013 Dutton Goldfield Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

13.8% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.68, 815 cases, $50. This vineyard was planted by Warren Dutton in 1969. Intended to be budded as Old Wente selection, it turned out that half of the wood he received was a so called “Chardonnay musqué” selection. The selection has since been propagated across California and is referred to as the Rued clone. It is not truly a clone, but a selection propagated from preferred vineyard cuttings. Vines are planted in sandy Goldridge series soil and are dry farmed. 100% barrel fermented with mostly native yeasts, full malolactic fermentation, and aged 17 months with lees stirring in French oak barrels, 50% new. Unfiltered. · Moderately light golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Aromas of iron, lemon oil, and tropical fruits. Creamy on the palate, with discretely rich flavors of lemon creme, creme brulee flavors and nutty oak, framed by just the right amount of cut. A serene wine with plenty of white-fleshed fruit on the uptown finish. Score: 92

2013 Hagafen Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Chardonnay

14.6% alc., $30. Sourced from Hall Vineyard. Aged in partial neutral American oak for 6 months. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. A solid offering from the first kosher winery in Napa Valley featuring aromas of buttery citrus, peach, yellow apple and vanilla. Highly flavorful on the palate with tastes of lemon cake, pear and green apple that persist through a satisfying finish sporting cleansing acidity. Slightly viscous in the mouth, with a hint of dry tannin. Score: 90

2012 Kesner Rockbreak Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.3% alc., $60. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. The nose leads with scents of green apple, carrot cake and bake shop. Silky and satisfying on the palate, with flavors of lemon creme, pear, spice, caramel and toast. The wine finishes with a good grip of palate cleansing acidity. Score: 89

2013 Kesner Rockbreak Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.7% alc., $60. Sourced from Idell Vineyard exposed to cool Pacific Ocean winds and fog. Native fermentation in barrel, natural acidity, aged in 20% newer French oak barrels. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. A bit of matchstick reduction upon opening which dissipates, leading to aromas of grilled lemon, stone fruit and smoky, toasty oak. Lovely fruit flavors including lemon, yellow peach, brioche, spice and light caramel with an appealing flinty note. Noticeable length on the finish which offers a refreshing cut of acidity. Score: 90

2013 Kesner Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.2% alc., $60. The proximity to the coast and the cool microclimate of the site make this the last harvested fruit of the year as time was needed for the acids to calm in the cool coastal evenings leading up to the picking. Native fermentation in barrel, natural acids, aged in 20% newer French oak barrels. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. A tightly wound wine with aromas of lemon oil, lees and peeled bark along with flavors of lemon, grapefruit and white peach. Acid-driven on the palate, with a refreshing hi-pitched finish. Score: 90

2013 MacPhail Pratt Vineyard Vine Hill Road Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.4% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.57, RS .13 gms/100 ml, 289 cases, $45. Released fall 2015. This vineyard is located on the edge of Green Valley near Forestville in the Laguna Hills region. Goldridge soil. Harvest Brix 23.3º. Mt. Eden, Robert Young and Dijon 96 clones. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. The nose offers pleasing aromas of citrus, apple and brioche. The palate is rich and lush, filled with grilled lemon, poached pear, baked apple, tropical fruit and caramel flavors. Slightly viscous, this ripe styled wine finishes long and clean. Score: 89

2013 Ponzi Reserve Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.4% alc., pH 3.46, 1,350 cases, $35. Released July 2015. A blend of LIVE Certified Sustainable fruit from Ponzi’s Aurora and Avellana vineyards, as well as fruit from Sunset View and Thistle vineyards. Whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented using partial wild yeast. 100% malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring once a week for 6 months and racked after 12 months to neutral oak. After 20 months of barrel age, blended and bottled. Aged in bottle 3 months before release. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Appealing aromas of lemon-lime soda, lemon curd, brioche and saline. Slightly viscous on the palate and very suave and clean, with flavors of lemon, yellow apple, spice and vanilla wafer. Gorgeous balance with a bright, citrus driven finish of uncommon length for a Chardonnay. Score: 92

2013 Red Car Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.4% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.75, $38. A blend of grapes from five vineyards with Weeks (42%) and Ritchie (28%) making up the highest percentage. Old Wente clone. Harvest Brix 21.9º. Aged in French oak barrels, 3% new and 97% neutral. · Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Nicely appointed aromas of lemon oil, buttery brioche, tarte tartin and nutty oak. Good richness of flavor featuring tastes of lemon creme pie, brown butter and vanilla backed by racy acidity. The intense mid palate attack builds to a focused and bright lemony, slightly tart, lip-smacking finish. Score: 91

2013 Red Car Hagan Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.6% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.59, 75 cases, $58. Grapes harvested from a 1.5-acre section of the organically farmed vineyard planted to Old Wente clone. Yields were half of what was harvested in 2012. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 33% new and 67% neutral. · Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Inviting aromas of golden apple, nutty oak and stony minerality. Slightly viscous and very harmonious on the palate, with flavors of lemon, golden apple tart and caramel. Perfectly integrated acidity with a satiny finish filled with yellow fruit goodness. Score: 91

2013 Red Car Zephyr Farms Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.8% alc., pH 3.20, TA 0.84,100 cases, $58. Grapes picked at naturally high acid levels in this vintage. Prosser clone planted in Goldridge sandy loam. Harvest Brix 22.6º. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 25% new and 75% neutral. · Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Lovely aromas of lemon peel, cut apple and pastry cream arrive slowly over time in the glass. Instantly giving on the palate, with delicious flavors of lemon, grapefruit, green apple and toffee complimented by the faintest oak. The racy finish is incredibly focused, long and intense. Vivid, vibrant and refreshing. Score: 94

2013 Red Car Ritchie Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.6% alc., pH 3.45, TA 0.66, $58. Old Wente clone planted in Goldridge sandy loam. Harvest Brix 22.3º. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 28% new, 72% neutral. · Moderate golden yellow color and clear in the glass. The aromas are captivating, featuring lemon oil, white peach, butter oak, creme fraiche and flint. Soft on the palate with perfectly integrated acidity enhancing the flavors of lemon, apple, baking spices, and buttered toast. The fruit really stands out for its class, and is on full display on the soprano finish. Score: 94

Rhys Vineyards Chardonnay

Rhys Vineyards is known for their Pinot Noir and rightfully so, but I have found their Chardonnays particularly appealing over the years. I have believed for some time that the potential for Chardonnay in the Santa Cruz Mountains exceeds that of all other wine regions of California except maybe the Sonoma Coast.

Chardonnay plantings at Rhys Vineyards have increased steadily since a single acre was planted at Alpine Vineyard in 2000. Currently, there are 2.75 acres at Alpine Vineyard and 4 acres at Horseshoe Vineyard, both in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and 8 acres at Bearwallow Vineyard in the Anderson Valley. The Chardonnay vines have been planted in some of the best soils and enjoy some of the best exposures found at each site. The vines are tightly spaced with low vigor rootstock onto which they have grafted a massale (field mixture) of four heritage selections of Chardonnay (including Wente, Hyde and Mt. Eden). The tight spacing forces the vines to fully explore the soil profile and the 18!-24! of rocky topsoil over Monterey Shale forces the vine to concentrate its efforts on very small berries, while the mixture of Chardonnay selections contributes to an orchestration of expression.

The Chardonnays are gently whole cluster pressed, the must is settled overnight, and the barrels filled by gravity the following morning. The wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels, 20%-25% new where it is left undisturbed without batonnage in a temperature-controlled white barrel room, completing a native yeast fermentation that can sometimes take an entire year.

According to a recent Rhys Vineyards! newsletter, 2015 is Alpine Vineyard!s 15th birthday and clearly the vineyard “has been going from strength to strength as the vines have aged.” The mature vines have better balance and more resilience to extreme weather. The vines are essentially dry farmed now even in the extreme drought conditions of recent vintages.

Sometimes while tasting wine, I come across a wine that is clearly better than even many other superb wines. This was the case when I tasted the 2013 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay. The wine was so striking and emotive, I felt challenged to give the wine a proper description.

2013 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $69. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Gorgeous and intoxicating aromas of lemon, pineapple, yellow peach and crushed chalk. Equally sensational on the palate with a perfect marriage of luscious lemon cake, pineapple and pear flavors with uplifting acidity. A hint of complimentary nutty, vanillin oak adds to the appeal of this laser focused wine. The finish is incredibly long and refreshingly racy. I was so taken by this wine, that I stopped tasting other wines on this day and had a generous glass with lunch. A delicious, edgy wine without rival. (BTW, I did not see the glowing reviews of this wine by other notable wine critics before tasting this wine) Score: 99

2012 small + tall Clos Pepe Vineyard “Liquid Joy” Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay

$30. Dijon 76 and Wente clones. Pressed to neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel barrels and cool fermented with native yeast. Aged 16 months on the lees. Oak and stainless steel lots blended before bottling. Whole cluster pressed to barrel, native and proprietary yeast fermentation (50/50), 100% malolactic fermentation, aged sur lie for 17 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 13.5% alc., $. · Light golden yellow color in the glass with a slight haze. The aromatic profile was unusual and hard to describe but included aromas of lemongrass and nutty granola. Flavors of lemon cake, apple, marzipan and toast are framed by a vibrant acidity. An unpretentious, every day style. Score: 87

2012 and 2013 Scherrer Helfer Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay See feature on Scherrer Winery in this issue for these two reviews.

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