A dozen chardonnays from California, some of which exhibit the too-common stylistic pitfall of heavy reliance on French oak barrels to shape a wine and malolactic fermentation to give it a rich “character.” A few others are excellent models of purity and intensity and fidelity to the grape, a concept that must rule paramount above all other considerations in making wine. As usual in these “Friday Wine Sips,” I eschew most technical and historical information for direct, fairly spontaneous jottings adapted from my original notes.
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Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Disappointing from this generally consistent producer (and a chardonnay ubiquitous in restaurants). Big flush of vanilla that dominates, lots of cloves, buttery and emphatic, over-oaked finish; the balance is way off. Que pasa? Not recommended. About $13.50.
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Butternut Chardonnay 2010, California. 13.9% alc. Though this chardonnay ages in 100% new French oak and undergoes complete malolactic fermentation (aka, the kiss of death), it’s surprisingly well-balanced and integrated; pineapple and grapefruit, spiced peach; bright acidity, keen limestone element; dense and chewy without being viscous or heavy; actually very attractive, though not quite in the style I favor. Still … Very Good+. About $18.
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MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. 13.9% alc. Pretty standard but picks up lots of oak and woody spice on the finish; a bit over the top but not too bad if you like the style, I mean at least it’s not super-tropical or wallowing in cloying dessert notes. Very Good. About $20.
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St. Supery Oak Free Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 13.6% alc. Who needs oak? Not this incredibly attractive chardonnay. Fresh and zesty, slightly floral (honeysuckle); lemon and pear, lime peel and quince with a hint of a tropical melon element; leafy and a bit herbal, a sort of greengage quality; quite lively but with a lovely silken texture and a grapefruit-tinged finish. Excellent. About $20, Good Value.
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Heller Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carmel Valley, 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; a brash, bright, bold chardonnay; dry, quite vibrant, flashy, fleshy stone-fruit and pineapple; rather too spicy for my palate. Very Good. About $22.
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Hess Collection Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Clean, pure and intense; smoke, roasted lemons, touch of honeysuckle; tasty pineapple-grapefruit flavors; transparent structure, pleasing lightness of being; very nicely balanced. Very Good+. About $22.
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Roth Estate Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Way too much oak here and possibly malolactic; burnt match, the brûlée of crème brûlée, brown sugar, butterscotch, pineapple upside-down cake; sweet and strident at the same time. Not Recommended. About $22.
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Mount Eden Chardonnay 2009, Edna Valley. 13.4% alc. & Mount Eden Saratoga Cuvée Chardonnay 2008, Santa Cruz Mountains. 14% alc. Beyond the pale; both are determinedly oaky, woody, flagrantly spicy; the “Saratoga” particularly too big, too dry, unbalanced, parched with wood. I have seen the “Saratoga” compared favorably to Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru; let’s hope these comments were made in jest, because Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru would never be made like this. Not recommended. The first is $20, the second $26, but neither represents good value.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Practically a lesson in deftness and lovely balance; pale but radiant straw-gold color; lemon balm and pineapple, ginger and quince; rich and flavorful but pared to elegance, vivid acidity and a resonant limestone element. Classic shape, structure and poise. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $29.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Graceful, indeed, and elegant, sleek and suave, with a deceptive inner simplicity; this is crystalline, plangent, buoyant with spiced stone-fruit and green apple and its peel, ginger and cloves and a back-note of pear, a hint of smoke, a touch of limestone; all understated, fresh, appealing. An exemplar of Napa Valley chardonnay. Excellent. About $35.
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Oakville Ranch Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Major disappointment from a producer I greatly admire; very very spicy, very dense, I mean obtrusively so; very dry yet imbued with the dessert-like effects of roasted lemons, baked pears and apples, spiced quince, brown sugar and toffee; the palate is overwhelmed and wearied. Que pasa? Not recommended. 178 cases. About $45.
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