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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. · Light golden 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. Score: 95

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. Score: 88

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 finish. Score: 91

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. Score: 88

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. · Medium 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. Score: 91

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 Scribe). · 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. Score: 90

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 Nathan Kandler.

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 citric fruit.

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

13.4% alc., 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. Score: 91

2011 Thomas Fogarty Estate Grown Damiana Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.4% alc., 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. Score: 92

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 oak. Score: 94

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. Score: 90

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