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Recently Tasted Chardonnay

A recent commentary by noted wine critic, Charles Olken, in Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, November 18, 2016, caught my interest. He was writing about the demise of the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) movement and made several salient points about the good and bad of this organization. It was concerning Chardonnay that his message was so relevant: “It is in the making of Chardonnay that we see the greatest and most lasting influence of IPOB. Whether one likes, or used to like, the big, buttery side of Chardonnay (we do), we see changes for the better in that style and a willingness across the board to make brighter, more lively versions.” You will find examples in the reviews to follow.

Brighter, crisp versions of Chardonnay

2015 Copain Tous Ensemble Mendocino County Chardonnay

13.8% alc., 2,500 cases, $28. Now owned by Jackson Family Wines, but still crafted by Wells Guthrie. Tous Ensemble is French for “Put Together.” An appellation blend sourced from DuPratt, Ferrington and Hein vineyards. Aged in both neutral French oak barrels and stainless steel. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Very clean aromas of lemon, pineapple, vanilla creme and a hint of caramelized oak. Crisp on the palate and finish and easy to like, with flavors of white peach, pear and coconut. Score: 89

2014 DION Vineyard Estate Limited Release Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay

12.8% alc., 94 cases, $25. Harvest Brix 21.1º, harvest pH 3.20. Clone 76 picked early to preserve acidity. A blend of French oak barrel (20% new) and stainless steel tank ferments. · Very light golden yellow color in the glass. Reduction on the nose (struck match) that persists over time. Crisp and bright on the palate, with very delicate flavors of green apple, lemon and pear, ending with a lean, soprano finish. Score: 85

2013 Keller Estate Oro De Plata Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.57, TA 0.63, 811 cases, $33. The name Oro De Plata translates to “Gold from Silver.” Backbone of this wine is Block 6 planted to Wente clone in 1998. Some Block 5 Wente 4 clone and another block planted to Robert Young clone add to the mix. Fermented in stainless steel and aged 8 months in neutral French oak barrels. No malolactic fermentation. · Light lemon yellow color in the glass. Reserved aromas of lemon, nori, tropical fruits and nutty oak. Smooth and slightly creamy on the palate in a button-up yet pleasing style with flavors of citrus and pear fruits. Refined and polished, with oak unplugged. A food magnet wine. Score: 92

2014 Talley Vineyards Rosemary’s Vineyard Arroyo Grande Chardonnay

14.1% alc., 425 cases, $45. SIP Certified Sustainable vineyard. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon zest, lemongrass, vanilla and blond caramel lead off. Somewhat lean and streamlined, with an array of citrus fruit flavors and very little oak seasoning. Sophisticated, with appealing restraint and refinement, offering bright acidity, and finishing with a delightful burst of citrus. Score: 92

2014 Windy Oaks Old Vine Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.8% alc., pH 3.41, TA 0.63, 71 cases, $55. Sourced from Miller Family Vineyard consisting of 1 acre planted in the early 1960s on a ridge 900 feet above Monterey Bay. Windy Oaks Estate manages the vineyard. Barrel fermented and aged 18 months with lees stirring through malolactic fermentation in once and twice-used French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. The nose is a bit atypical yet offers some traditional aromas of lemon, apple and straw. More enjoyable on the slightly creamy palate, with intricate flavors of lemon, pineapple, grapefruit, apple, burnt caramel and petrol, shepherded by brisk acidity. Score: 87

Big, more buttery, yet lively versions of Chardonnay

2015 Domaine Della Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.20, TA0.66, 120 cases, $70. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 30% new. · Light golden yellow color with a slight haze in the glass (unfiltered). Engaging aromas of lemon, pineapple, white peach and brioche. The flavors echo the aromas with added tropical fruit, slate and salinity accents. Barrel treatment is unobtrusive, the wine has very enviable vibrancy, and finishes with excellent cut fueled by lemon-citrus goodness. A regal wine from a vineyard that is California Chardonnay royalty. Worth the investment in pleasure. Score: 94

2013 Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.59, TA 0.607, 818 cases, $38. The winery’s flagship Chardonnay. Barrel fermented with native yeasts and aged on the lees. 100% malolactic fermentation. Wente and Robert young clones. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Light lemon yellow color in the glass. A lot to discover in the nose, with aromas of tropical fruits and flowers, buttery brioche, lemon oil, coconut water and seashell. Fruit flavors of pineapple, guava, lemon are mixed with butterscotch and graham in this well-composed wine with integrated acidity and a clean, uplifting finish. Score: 91

2013 Keller Estate Precioso Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.58, TA 0.607, 69 cases, $75. A barrel selection from the excellent growing season in the Petaluma Gap. 100% malolactic fermentation. Aged in French oak barrels, 35% new. · Light lemon yellow color in the glass. The nose reminds me of a day at the beach with aromas of sand and fresh salt air. There is also fruit notes of lemon and pineapple, and even a hint of plumeria. Impeccably crafted, fresh and clean like the ocean in Maui, with flavors of citrus, tropical pineapple, white peach and a hint of oak in the background. The genteel texture is a very captivating feature as well. Mahalo. Score: 95

2014 la pitchoune Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.2% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.59, 225 cases, $48. Sourced from Pratt, Chenoweth and Dutton-Sullivan vineyards. Clones are selections of Wente, Wente-Hyde, Robert Young and Mt. Eden. Harvest Brix 23.4º-23,9º. Aged 16 months in French oak barrels, 10% new, 90% twice used or older. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Enticing aromas of lemon, pineapple, blond caramel, and caramelized banana. Vivacious on the palate, with flavors of lemon, pineapple and tropical fruits. Plenty of fruit to relish, yet energetic acidity brings an uplifting tone to this marvelous wine with impeccable balance. Very easy to like on its own or paired with richly sauced white fish dishes. Score: 94

2014 MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.5% alc., 1,080 cases, $46, screwcap. Vineyard owned by Steve MacRostie and his partners Nancy and Tony Lilly. Clone 76, 95 and 17. Whole cluster pressed, cold settled, cool fermentation, aged 10 months in French oak barrels on the lees with stirring throughout the aging process. The best barrels from each lot were selected for the Wildcat Mountain blend. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. A polished, refreshing wine with clean aromas of lemon, pineapple and brioche leading to flavors of lemon, vanilla and toasty, buttery oak. Easy to drink, with uplifting energy, generous fruit flavors and admirable balance. Score: 91

2014 Mignanelli Nelson Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

13.4% alc., $28. Vineyard planted in 1999 at 1,700 feet elevation in ancient marine sedimentary soil. Mt. Eden and Old Wente selections. Native fermentation, French oak barrel fermented (20% new), 100% malolactic fermentation. Mt. Eden and Old Wente selections. · Light lemon yellow color in the glass. Exuberant perfume of lemon cream, tropical fruits, buttery brioche, caramel and floral bouquet. Crisp, vivid and bright on the palate, with fruit flavors of lemon and pineapple and a hint of salinity. Harmonious, clean and fresh, with plenty of fruit goodness, and a vibrant disposition. Score: 92

2014 Peake Ranch Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., 327 cases, $40. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Shy perfume of citrus, tropical fruits, paraffin and oak. Slightly creamy on the palate with flavors of buttery oak, pineapple, yellow apple, guava and grilled lemon framed by integrated acidity. A solid wine that will find advocates, but not exceptional. Score: 89

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