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Chardonnay: No Wonder that it is the Most Popular White Varietal

Californians owe their Chardonnay to Ernest Wente, who took cuttings from the University of Montpellier viticultural nursery in the south of France over 100 years ago and planted them at Wente Vineyards in Livermore. Today, over 80 percent of Chardonnay produced in California comes from some version of the Wente clone.

UC Davis FPS clone 4 is referred to as “Wente” or “heat treated Wente. Non-certified budwood is referred to as “Old Wente.”

There are few plantings of Wente clone in the Northern Willamette Valley as they were displaced with the introduction of the Dijon clones of Chardonnay, mainly 96 and 95, both traced to Meursault, France, and 76, traced to the Stone et loire region of France. Oregonians prefer Dijon clones of Chardonnay because they give better yields there than the Wente clone, and they ripen earlier. There remains Oregon winemakers such as Jay Christopher and Josh Bergstrom who profess a love for Wente selections.

2014 Aether Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay

13.2% alc., pH 3.26, $36. Clone 17 from Robert Young Vineyard in Alexander Valley. Often called the Robert Young clone but is a selection of budwood brought from the Wente Vineyard in Livermore in the 1960s. It first appeared on the FPS registered list in 1987 after heat treatment.. Harvest Brix 21.8º. An heirloom vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley first established in 1971. A very cool and windy site due to proximity to ocean. Barrel fermented, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged 27 months in French oak barrels, 25% new. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon, pineapple, yellow cake and brioche hold court over time in the glass. Energetic and crisp in the mouth, with great purity of flavor and restrained richness. Flavors of lemon, pineapple, Golden Delicious apple and tropical notes combine in harmony, finishing with lemony goodness. The wine shows very little barrel imposition and the slightest tannins enrich the body. Score: 94

2015 Aubert Sugar Shack Napa Chardonnay

15.0% alc., $140 (secondary market). Mark Aubert’s only vineyard in Napa. Barrel fermented and aged in 100% new French oak barrels. · Moderate golden yellow color with the slightest haze in the glass. A bold, ripe fruited wine with a gorgeous blend of lemon, pineapple citrus and tropical fruit flavors, yet there is the proper amount of acid-driven vibrancy to hold the power in check. There is no hint of alcohol, and just the slightest hint of caramelized oak. The resultant harmony and slight viscous mouth feel allows the wine to go down so easily that one is prone to consume too much. If you aren’t lucky enough to be on the mailing list, splurge on a bottle in the secondary market to see why so many wine critics are “ga-ga” over Aubert Chardonnays. Score: 97

2016 Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay

13.9% alc., $38. Best White Wine Sweepstakes Award at the 2017 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Sourced from the Estate Soul Patch Vineyard. Farming is organic and biodynamic. Whole cluster pressed. 70% of grapes go to French oak barrels to undergo full malolactic fermentation. 30% is placed into stainless steel barrels. Aged one year and just before bottling the oak and stainless steel barrels are blended. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Lovely aromas of fresh-cut apple, lemon and pineapple. Sleek, crisp and satisfying, with flavors of lemon, pineapple, yellow apple and nutty oak that wow. Bright, clean acidity keeps the fruit in balance. The wine walks the line between fruit exuberance and vibrancy and can easily steal your heart. Score: 94

2014 Donelan Nancie Sonoma County Chardonnay

14.0% alc., 1,947 cases, $48. A blend of four vineyards located in Sonoma Mountain, Russian River Valley and Green Valley. Fermented and aged 10 months in FRench oak barrels , 20% new.. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. A rich, ripe offering featuring aromas of stony lemon, white orchard fruits and honeyed oak. Well-endowed with citrus and kiwi fruit flavors along with notes of caramel, toast, and baking spice. Slightly viscous in texture, with a richly-appointed, highly fruited and slightly oak-infused finish. Score: 92

2015 Smith-Madrone Napa Valley Chardonnay

14.4% alc., pH 3.29, TA 0.803, 512 cases, $34. Vineyard founded in 1971 at the top of Spring Mountain at 1,800 feet elevation. Winery is run by Charles, Sam and Stuart Smith. Steep, dry farmed vineyard with red and rocky volcanic soil. Estate grown and bottled. For 47 years, Smith- Madrone wines have been sourced from the same vineyards, pruned, cultivated and harvested in the same manner. 100% barrel fermented, aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 80% new. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of lemon oil, slate, toast, stony earth and matchstick. Intense citrus core with a bright and crisp demeanor. Flavors of lemon, pineapple, caramel and a hint of graphite. A refreshing drink with an amazing finish spearheaded by highly aromatic citrus that seems to build in intensity over time at the end. I rarely encounter a finish of this grandeur in Chardonnay. Score: 94

2016 Sojourn Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.62, 800 cases, $38. Old Went clone from Sangiacomo Vella and Green Acres ranches, clone 95 from Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard, Old Wente clone from Durell Vineyard, and clone 95 from Gap’s Crown Vineyard. Whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented, native yeast, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged 10 months on lees with regular stirring during the first three months of fermentation and aging in French oak barrels, 30% new. Bottled unfined. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Heady aromas of fresh-cut apple, pear, nectarine and citrus blossom. Offers both richness and eloquence, featuring flavors of lemon, pineapple, honey and crème brûlée. Slightly creamy, with integrated acidity and some finishing length. Score: 91

2016 Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.44, TA 0.69, 400 cases, $45. Clone 95 from Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard, planted in 1998, and Old Wente clone from Sangiacomo Vella Ranch and Green Acres. Whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented, native yeast, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 30% new. Bottled unfined. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Eye-opening aromas of apple, lemon, sea shell and cold steel. Discrete richness with a gracious attitude, featuring fresh apple and citrus flavors lifted by spirited acidity and complimented by a deft touch of oak. This sleek wine has a delightful spring in its step. Score: 93

2016 Sojourn Reuling Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.2% alc., pH 3.48, TA 0.56, 150 cases, $69. Vineyard planted in 2000 under direction of Mark Aubert and Peter Michael Winery. 12.2 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.2 acres of Chardonnay. The Chardonnay originated from the famed Montrachet Vineyard in Burgundy. Sandy Goldridge soils. Whole cluster pressed, native yeast, barrel fermented, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged in French oak barrels, 50% new. Bottled unfined. · Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Rather austere nose initially, opening in the glass over time to offer aromas of lemon rind, fresh peach and. Rich and creamy on the palate with delicious flavors of golden apple, lemon, pear, honey and nut oil. This wine is eager to send a message of pleasure and easily seduces the senses. Dreamy balance makes for effortless drinking. The quenching finish is lively and spirited. Even better when tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more nuances emerging. Score: 95

2015 Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.63, 398 cases, $55. Released August 15, 2017. Old Wente and 76 clones. The Old Wente grapes come from one of the oldest, coldest and windiest sections of Durell Vineyard. Clone 76 comes from the rocky flatland on the northeastern side of the vineyard. 100% malolactic conversion. Barrel fermented and aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 33% new. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Breezy aromas of nut oil, lemon, grapefruit, pineapple and apple. Ripe flavors of pineapple and tropical fruits with a touch of caramel and pistachio. A hedonistic style, yet possessing lifted acidity that leads to a bright, spicy conclusion. Score: 95

2015 Three Sticks Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.4% alc., pH 3.38, TA 0.61, 145 cases, $55. Released August 17, 2017. Dijon clones 76 and 124. Barrel fermented, 100% malolactic fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. Terrific perfume of lemon peel, cut green apple, ocean air, flint and the slightest barrel note. A spirited wine with serious extract of lemon, pineapple and green apple in step with bracing acidity resulting in welcome congeniality. The vivid fruit flavors are accented with subtle tastes of caramel and vanilla creme. This wine offers both redeeming features of great Chardonnay: a mineral-inflected, acid-driven character and a deep well of fruit. Score: 96

2015 Tyee Wine Cellars Estate Willamette Valley Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 300 cases, $20. Released June 2017. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of white peach, pear, lemon curd, fresh straw and a faint hint of band-aid. Full richness in the mouth with flavors of lemon, pear, pineapple and nut oil. Nicely integrated acidity with a bright stream of citrus on the finish. Score: 89

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