Chardonnay


I don’t often use the word “charming” to describe a chardonnay wine, but I’ll unlimber that EQ_Chardonnay_Labelcritical term for the Matetic EQ Chardonnay 2014, from Chile’s San Antonio Valley. The wine region is south of the well-known Casablanca Valley, about 55 miles west of Santiago and in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are certified organic and were fermented with native yeast in French oak barrels of various sizes, only 15 percent new oak; a minimal percentage of malolactic fermentation occurred, while the wine aged in barrels for 11 months. The result is a chardonnay that displays a pale straw-gold hue and lively aromas of green apple, roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit, elevated by subtle notes of cloves, mango and damp flint. It strikes the palate in a clean, fresh and engaging manner, offering bright acidity and a spare, lithe texture that grows more dense as the moments pass; this is a very dry chardonnay, animated by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors that burgeon with quince and ginger, all leading to a finish packed with limestone and chalk. 14 percent alcohol. Drink this enticing chardonnay, lightly shaded by oak, through 2017 or ’18 with seafood risottos, shrimp or chicken salad, grilled or seared fish. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Typically around the middle of April, I and my fellow wine writer/blogger colleagues begin rose brutreceiving marketing messages about brut rosé Champagnes and sparkling wine for Mother’s Day. Not long after, the suggestions about Port for Father’s Day gifts begin to pour in. It’s as if there’s some sacred PR tenet that dictates Pink for Moms and Port for Dads, in some sort of Venus/Mars dichotomy. Now I truly love Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines — and I like Port too — so I don’t mind playing along with the game, though my real inclination is not to limit these products to the days that honor our individual parents but to indulge all year round. Here, then, are six brut rosé examples from a variety of countries and regions, mostly composed of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, but featuring some outliers too. Prices range from $18 to $70. Your mothers will thank you. With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
Image from traveleatlove.com.
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The Vilarnau Brut Rosé Reserva, nv, Cava, is a blend of the indigenous red trepat grape, commonly used for rosé wines in Catalonia, (90 percent) with the remainder pinot noir. It spends 12 months or more in the bottle before disgorgement. A delightful, dry and delicious brut rosé, it offers a very pale copper-salmon color, with a supercharged surge of tiny bubbles, and pert aromas of strawberries and orange zest, somewhat tea-like and floral, and a slightly candied note of orange marmalade. The wine is lively with bright acidity and a keen-edged limestone element. 12 percent alcohol. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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A blend of 75 percent pinor noir and 25 percent chardonnay, the Rotari Brut Rosé 2013, Trento, Italy, offers a very pale onion skin hue and attractive aromas of strawberries, orange rind, apple peel and almond skin. This sparkling wine is very dry, spare, almost elegant, with crystalline acidity and chiming limestone-and-flint minerality, all enlivened by a sort of spanking fresh seashell-sea breeze salinity and savoriness. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.
Imported by Rotari USA,
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The Szigeti Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, nv, Burgenland, Austria, is 100 percent varietal and aged on the yeast 12 months in the bottle. The color is a soft salmon-copper hue, energized by a constant stream of tiny bubbles. This is a very attractive and rather exotic sparkling wine that along with the usual elements of orange zest and strawberries includes notes of cloves and red currants, brambles and rose petals, in a dry, tart package framed by flint and chalk minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York.
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La Valle Brut Rosé 2011, Franciacorta, Italy, sees no oak or malolactic fermentation, the philosophy being to produce a sparkling wine that reflects freshness and purity and the influence of the vineyard. I can’t speak about the last aspect, but as to the first two, yes, this is a wonderfully fresh and pure brut rosé, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue and a fabulous frothing of tiny bubbles. (It’s 100 percent pinot noir and spent 30 months on the lees in the bottle.) It’s a sparking wine that depends on delicacy and elegance for its effects, yet hinges on a display of tensile strength in its crisp, vibrant, austere, stony-steely structure. A lovely nuance of faint raspberry, orange zest and brioche completes the picture. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020. Excellent. About $55.
A Leonardo LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York.
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The current issue of the Champagne Veuve Fourny et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 85 Fourny_Rose_nonvintage(12)_webpercent chardonnay (30 percent of which is reserve wine) and 15 percent pinot noir. It rested on the lees in the bottle two years before release. The wines are primarily 2011, with portions of 2010, ’09 and ’08. The color is an entrancing pale copper-salmon hue, animated by a torrent of glinting bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries and permeated by notes of toasted almonds and almond skin, heather, apple peel and orange rind. This is a juicy, close to delicious but very dry Champagne of ice and snow, bolstered by ample limestone minerality and vibrant acidity that push it toward glacial, Olympian heights and crystalline purity. 12 percent alcohol. Always a favorite in our house. This recent release, disgorged in 2014, should drink well through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65, a local purchase.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
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The color of the Möet et Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2008 is vivid blood-orange-red with a sheen of tarnished silver; blood orange shows up, too, in aromas redolent of that fruit, with notes of raspberry, heather and wildflowers, a touch of orange liqueur and the vibrancy of damp limestone. This Champagne is quite dry, savory and saline, with a depth of clove spiciness, macerated strawberries, seashell minerality and a distinct flint-chalk element; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of apple peel, heather and peach fuzz. It’s taut with acidity yet generous and enveloping, and it finishes slightly briery and with a yin and yang suggestion of orange marmalade, both the faint sweetness and the echo of bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is a blend of 46 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged seven years on the lees in bottle. Now through 2020 to 2025. Wonderful weight, presence and tone. Excellent. About $70.
Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.
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Today’s post is about wine and women, friendship and family. The wines are chardonnay and pinot barbara_0noir from Cambria Vineyards and Winery and WindRacer. The women include Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines (image at right); her daughters, Katie and Julia Jackson; winemakers Denise Shurtleff and Elizabeth Grant-Douglas; and Banke’s longtime friend and business partner, Peggy Furth. Together, they carry on the legacy of Barbara Banke’s husband and Katie and Julia’s father, Jess Jackson (1930-2011), who founded what was known as Kendall-Jackson in 1982. Through fairly aggressive marketing and acquisitions and different manifestations of the company and its name, Kendall-Jackson eventually became Jackson Family Wines.

One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though for the current releases reviewed below those designations became the catch-all “Benchbreak.” Katie and Julia Jackson are described on the winery’s website as “family spokespersons.” Winemaker is Denise Shurtleff.

WindRacer is a chardonnay-and-pinot-noir-only brand born of an on-going discussion between Barbara Banke and her friend Peggy Furth about the merits of those grape varieties in Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley, Banke championing Anderson Valley, Furth advocating for Russian River Valley. Furth is a partner with Banke in WholeVine Products, a company that produces grapeseed oil, gluten-free cookies and grapeseed and skin flours; she is former co-proprietor of Chalk Hill Vineyards. While the conventional view might be that Anderson Valley (in Mendocino County) is cooler, so the wines will be more focused on structure, and Russian River Valley is warmer, so the wines will be riper and richer, I found these chardonnays and pinot noir wines to be more complicated, with more wealth of detail and dimension, than that assessment would dictate. Winemaker is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who also makes excellent pinot noir at Maggy Hawk, another Anderson Valley pinot noir producer contained within Jackson Family Wine’s Spire Collection of top-flight labels.

These wines were samples for review. Image of Barbara Banke from jacksonfamilywines.com..
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, Santa Maria Valley, derives from 15 vineyard blocks cultivated individually. The wine aged six and a half months in 76 percent French oak, 14 percent new barrels; we are not told but I assume the balance aged in stainless steel. The color is pale gold; pert aromas of green apple and spiced pear offer freshness and immediate appeal, while a few moments in the glass bring in deeper notes of pineapple and peach; a clean, earthly line runs through it. The wine is quite dry, riven by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element, while delivering juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, with a bare hint at the tropical; the oak influence remains on the periphery, subtle but persistent. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020. Very Good+. About $22.
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The Cambria “Benchbreak” Pinot Noir 2013, Santa Maria Valley, aged eight months in French oak, 27 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a nearly invisible rim; this is an incredibly attractive pinot noir that opens with notes of black cherry, cranberry and rhubarb, cloves, sandalwood and potpourri, tied off with a tinge of violets; a few moments in the glass add hints of loam, pomegranate and sauteed mushrooms. The lovely texture drapes the palate with satiny grace, while a finger of acidity stirs in the depths; it’s a sleek, suave and delicious wine burnished by a backwash of bristly tannins, smoke and graphite. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.
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The WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 26 percent new ECM187824barrels. It offers a pale straw-gold hue and quickly noticeable aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince, talc and lilac, with a slender hint of mango. It’s a very dry chardonnay, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and limestone-chalk minerality and altogether a wine of beautiful shape, presence and tone. It’s pretty dense on the palate, with a slightly powdery texture that remains crisp and clean and fresh. The oak lends nuance and layering, coming out more prominently on the finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Production was 513 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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So, is the WindRacer Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, a mirror of its Anderson Valley cousin, a simulacrum or its opposite? The color is pale gold, and the aromas of jasmine and mango open to more incisive elements of pineapple and baked grapefruit; the wine is a touch creamy, with notes of baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm. Still, I was pleased with the decisive acidity and limestone minerality that characterize this chardonnay’s structure and keep it from being too rich and lush; in fact, you detect the oak a bit more in this wine than in the previous chardonnay, particularly (but not dominantly) from mid-palate back through the shimmering, slightly sinewy finish. 14.6 percent alcohol. Production was 1,015 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Very Good+. About $40.
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Give the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, a few minutes in the glass and it becomes ECM187824extravagantly floral, displaying winsome notes of rose petals, lilac and lavender. Before that panoply — with its transparent medium ruby hue shading to a pale, delicate rim — the wine offers aromas of smoky black cherries and raspberries, permeated by cloves and pomegranate, sassafras and loam. The texture is dense, passionately satiny, intense and talc-like yet deeply imbued with elements of briers and brambles, graphite-tinged tannin and straight-arrow acidity; there’s a sense of interior rigor and energy that brings ultimate balance to the package. The finish is quite dry, layered with flint, dried blueberries and something dark, rooty and tea-like. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Production was 1,007 cases. A marvel of nuance and expressiveness. Exceptional. About $50.
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And as to that wine’s Russian River Valley counterpart? While the WindRacer Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is, as expected, bolder, denser and more exotic than its Anderson Valley stablemate, it’s also even more rigorous, with a healthy dose of dust and graphite, a woodsy, loamy pinot noir that’s supple and satiny and fairly surprising in its mineral-laden tannins. The wine practically smells velvety — the color is dark ruby with a glowing magenta rim — and it delivers seductive notes of smoky black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and violets and an interesting bit of almond skin. The wine aged 15 months in French oak, 28 percent new barrels; you feel a dollop of that oak through the penetrating, vibrant finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,527 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $50.
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Jordan Winery’s decision, all these years, to maintain a focus on only two wines — chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon — is one that I wish more producers would follow. Often I feel that Jordan-Winery-Russian-River-Valley-Chardonnay-2014-WebDetailwineries try to be all things to all consumers, dividing their attention and efforts into too many products at myriad levels of intent and price. That said, winemaker Rob Davis made a change in how the Jordan Chardonnay 2014, Russian River Valley, was treated in the winery. While the 2013 version, for example, aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels, and only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — this present release was barrel-fermented 60 percent in stainless steel tanks and 40 percent in new French oak, aged five and a half months in all new French oak and went through 30 percent ML. The result is a wine that is moderately richer and more full-bodied than the chardonnays from Jordan that I tasted in the past, while it retains the emphasis on elegance, purity and intensity. The color is brilliant medium straw-gold; classic aromas of slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit open to bare hints of mango, quince and ginger and, after a few minutes airing, to beguiling scents of honeysuckle and lilac. Supple and lithe, staying on the safe side of lushness, the wine displays a structure defined by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone element, resulting in very attractive heft and substance on the palate, all while delivering tasty and spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors; a whiff of gun-flint and lavender emerges, as the finish concludes with a teasing sense of crystalline minerality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with seared salmon or swordfish, grilled trout with capers and brown butter or seafood risottos. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

Here’s a chardonnay that toes the line between richness and elegance with thrilling deftness. The Benovia Winery Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, derives mainly from the winery’s benoviaMartaella Estate Vineyard. It’s barrel-fermented, with indigenous yeasts, and aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Mike Sullivan. The color is a pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; it’s a chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, offering aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and crystallized ginger, with a hint of the tropical, a touch of musk, and notes of lilac and heather. Nothing overblown or strident here, nor creamy or toasty, as in so many chardonnays from Russian River, yet the wine’s balance and integrity hinge on pinpoint focus and steely resolve, taking a risk with the integration of lushness and limestone spareness; the oak is like a whisper along the wine’s arc of bright acidity and mineral structure. On the palate, you feel subtle elements of figs, spiced pear and lemon curd, a bit of dusty leafiness, and then a finish that brings in some rigor of grapefruit pith and flint. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 1,580 cases. We drank this bottle last night as accompaniment to seared salmon with a harissa crust and fingerling potatoes, split, tossed in olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder, browned in a cast-iron skillet, then roasted in a 500-degree oven. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review. The label image is one vintage behind.

If your ideal of chardonnay from California is a wine that’s opulent, bold, brash, rich and spicy, tropical and creamy, tinged, perhaps, with vanilla and butterscotch, stop reading right here. The chardonnay I nominate for Wine of the Day, No. 109, takes the opposite stance from all of those burdensome qualities and maintains a character consistent with the vision that Eleanor and Fred McCrea had when they produced their first bottling from vintage 1952. That is, a chardonnay that sees no new oak and undergoes no malolactic fermentation. Those who possess knowledge of the history of the Golden State’s wine industry know that I’m referring to Stony Hill stony hill chard labelVineyard, a winery perched on Spring Mountain above St. Helena that since its inception refused to follow the standard procedures of winemaking and marketing and went its own way, a model of individuality and authenticity. Fred McCrea died in 1977 and Eleanor in 1991, but the winery’s tradition continues with their son Peter, his wife Willinda and their daughter Sarah. Winemaker Mike Chelini has been at Stony Hill since 1971.

The Stony Hill Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley, fermented in French oak and rested 10 months in barrels that were six to 26 years old. Malolactic is inhibited, so the wine retains a scintillating element of fresh and vibrant acidity. The color is very pale straw-gold; subtle aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and ginger are touched with smoke and a hint of peach and spiced pear. The purity and intensity of this chardonnay, its beautiful balance and integration are incredibly gratifying. On the palate, the texture feels like talc or powdered limestone, while the structure is lithe and supple, flowing across the tongue with vibrancy and mineral-laced resonance. Ripe but not ostentatious citrus and stone-fruit flavors are backed up by the pith and vigor of the wine’s crystalline roots in the earth and the shapely modulation of those old French oak barrels. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,852 cases. Drink now through 2023 to 2028; it has the framework and foundation to last. Exceptional. About $45.

A sample for review.

As if we could forget that tomorrow is the day of Saint Valentine. Which means that today people are rushing around trying to find the exact right gift and the exact right card for their sweetheart or spouse of whatever persuasion, gender or genre. Good luck with that! It’s too late! You should have started back in January! In any gratiencase, here’s a delicious and complex Champagne with which to toast undying love or affection or lust or mere gratuitous acquaintanceship. I mean, whatever floats your boat, n’est-ce pas? The house of Alfred Gratien was founded in 1864, which lends some chops of longevity to the enterprise. A testimony to the loyalty shown the establishment is that the current cellarmaster, Nicolas Jaeger, is the fourth generation of the males in his family to serve in that post. In 2000, a majority of the house was acquired by the German firm Henkell & Co., which also owns the well-known Prosecco producer Mionetto. The Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé, nv, offers an entrancing pale rose-gold hue and a tempest of seething tiny bubbles. The composition is chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir, but the firm’s exceptionally reticent website does not reveal the percentages of the blend nor the amount of time that the wine rests on the lees in the bottle. The bouquet is a beguiling melange of orange blossom and orange rind, toasted almonds, heather, strawberries and raspberries and, in the background, a shelf of damp limestone and flint. A satisfying sense of intensity involves a note that feels like slightly caramelized citrus rind and crystallized orange peel and ginger, evident both in bouquet and on the palate. This is a full-bodied and lively Champagne, though manifestly delicate and elegant, and it concludes in a finish replete with scintillating limestone minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $65, but often found at discount.

MW Imports, White Plains, N.Y. A sample for review.

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Not many chardonnay wines feel as pure and intensely varietal as the Pine Ridge Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013, Stags Leap District. The wine’s name refers, in French, to a small enclosed vineyard, in this case a tiny area, within a larger vineyard, lying in the shadow of the ridge for which the winery is named. While Le Petit Clos Chardonnay 2013 is barrel-fermented, it ages only seven months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels, and malolactic fermentation is inhibited. The result is a chardonnay of shimmering and simmering integrity, lovely as it can be but with a dynamic core of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The color is mild gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm are heightened by notes of pineapple and grapefruit, baked apple and cloves; from the background surges a whiff of gun-flint and shale. The acid and minerality lend sinew to a moderately lush, talc-like texture that cushions a fluid layering of ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, hints of quince and ginger, traces of chalk and flint and a suave, subtle, supple oak influence. 14.9 percent alcohol. A downright beautiful chardonnay, for drinking through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $75.

A sample for review.

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A lot is going on for the price in the Codorníu Anna Blanc de Blancs Brut Reserva. This non-vintage Cava is a blend of 70 percent chardonnay with 15 percent parellada and a combination of 15 percent xarel-lo and macabeo, the last three grapes being traditional whites in Spain’s Penedès region, just southwest of Barcelona. It’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, resting for 15 months or more on the lees. The color is pale straw-gold, and the essential bubbles stream upward in a swirl of glinting silver. Aromas of honey, lemon balm and spiced pear are very attractive and are given more dimension by notes of mango and papaya, limestone and flint. This Cava is quite dry, taut with bracing acidity that bolsters its savory-saline element and its pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors, while the finish is both minerally and meadowy. 11.5 percent alcohol. Charming and unique. The all-white bottle is pretty, and if someone’s wife or girlfriend is named Anna, well, this one’s a no-brainer for Valentine’s. Very Good+. About $15 and often discounted around the country.

A sample for review.

The Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, isn’t all “noirs”; to its 88 percent pinot noir grapes it adds 12 percent chardonnay. It’s clearly North Coast, drawing grapes from Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent),Schramberg-Vineyards-Blanc-de-Noirs-Label Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent) counties. The color is an ethereal pale gold, enlivened by a steady swirling stream of tiny bubbles. The first notes from the glass blossom with freshly baked biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, hints of lemon and pears spiced with ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and touches of mango, melon and orange blossom, clean, high and elegant. This sparkling wine indeed sparkles on the palate with crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element that burgeons through the sleek, chiseled finish; slightly macerated citrus tones dominate the flavor profile but in a spare cool fashion that allows the structure to express itself fully. 11.8 percent alcohol. A superb aperitif but also appropriate with such dishes as duck, pork and rabbit terrines, roasted veal and (more humbly) fried chicken. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.

A sample for review.

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