Chardonnay


Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.


It took the insight of Argentine winemaker Nicolas Catena to understand that chardonnay vineyards could be planted at high altitudes and produce excellent grapes. From the Andean areas of Lujan de Cuyo and Tupungato, grape-growing regions of Mendoza, and family vineyards at heights ranging from about 3,100 to 4,700 feet, comes the Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, from Bodega Catena Zapata, a wine that spent 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent of which were new. The color is radiant medium gold. Aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit, with a hint of peach and mango, are wreathed with cloves, lime peel, wet stones and a touch of buttered toast; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of jasmine and lilac. This chardonnay is distinguished by its deeply spicy nature and a lovely, seductive texture that perfectly balances the muscle and bone of limestone minerality and bright acidity with an almost cloud-like, talc-y softness. The wine picks up sinew as it goes, with a close to tannic effect, and builds to a conclusion of tremendous presence, tone and character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Winemaker was Alejandro Vigil. Excellent. About $20, a Bargain to Shiver Your Timbers.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

LL made pappardelle with chanterelles; I opened the Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Ka-wham! Synergy. Meeting of true minds. Cosmic twins. Sublime dish with a divine wine. I could probably stop there, but you know I won’t. The wine is made from a high-elevation dry-farmed — that means no irrigation — vineyard planted 39 years ago. What’s remarkable is that the wines went through complete barrel-fermentation and aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, yet it retains no sense of being woody or over-oaked or stridently spicy; those excellent mature grapes soaked up that oak and came out as a supple, subtly spicy and deeply nuanced chardonnay. The color is brilliant medium gold; aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and roasted lemon carry notes of jasmine and camellia, a hint of cloves, a bell-tone of mango. The wine is unusually dense and substantial without being heavy or viscous; it’s quite dry, almost tannic in effect, but it feels permeated with light and grace and elegance. a lithe and resonant construct of stones and bones, which is to say, abandoning metaphor, that it’s thoroughly enlivened by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Smith brothers do it again. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 463 cases. Drink now through 2021 to ’23. Exceptional. About $30, a price more than fair for the quality.

This wine was a sample for review.


The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

Almost 50 years after its founding in 1965, on a property purchased in 1862 by Jacob Schram, it has become a cliche that Schramsberg is one of the leading producers of sparkling wine in California and that Jack and Jamie Davies, both deceased, were pioneering visionaries in the field, especially in Napa Valley. Cliche or not, however, under the leadership of Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh — winemaker along with Keith Hock — the Schramsberg winery continues to produce world-class sparkling wine using the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was a pleasure to taste — nay, drink — these three examples of the Schramsberg line sent to me as review samples. My notes follow. Each of these, or all of them, would make ideal additions to your roster of Yuletide and New Year libations.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2010, North Coast, is made completely from chardonnay grapes — “white from white” — that derive from these North Coast counties: Napa 60 percent, Sonoma 37 percent, Marin 2 percent and Mendocino 1 percent. The color is shimmering pale gold; the effervescence is exuberant and persistent. Notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm are highlighted by quince and ginger, hints of lime peel and grapefruit, freshly baked bread and limestone. This sparkling wine is bright and crisp on the palate, with tingling acidity that buoys a lovely, almost creamy texture that nonetheless is characterized by lithe and lively and slightly angular minerality. The overall effect is of balletic elegance and finely-wrought stones and bones. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The composition of the Schramberg Blanc de Noirs Brut 2009 — “white from black” — is 87 percent pinot noir and 13 percent chardonnay; the North Coast county components are 34 percent Sonoma, 32 percent Napa, 26 percent Mendocino and 8 percent Marin. Pale gold in color, this sparkling wine features a constant stream of tiny silvery shivery bubbles; the initial impression is clean and fresh, with aromas of slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, lightly buttered cinnamon toast with cloves and candied orange rind. These elements persist into the flavor profile, where the wine takes on degrees of earthy, flinty minerality and notably crisp acidity, arrayed in a spare, elegant body for a high-toned character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Last of this trio is my favorite, the Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009, a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, with North Coast contributions of 44 percent Sonoma, 28 percent Napa, 24 percent Mendocino and 4 percent Marin counties. The color is old rose-gold enlivened by an upward surge of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries carry hints of peach, orange rind and a touch of tropical fruit, all enveloped in limestone; a few minutes in the glass add notes of pomegranate and biscuits. This sparkling wine is juicy but very dry, a tissue of delicate nuance, spare and elegant, wrapped in a fleet-footed expression of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; its elegance does not belie a sense of tautness and urgency. A beautifully-wrought brut rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $43.
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The sparkling wine from Italy that most American consumers are familiar with is Prosecco, made in a specific area of the Veneto region from the glera grape in the bulk Charmat process. Prosecco tends to be simple, tasty, with notes of apples and almond blossoms, and often fairly sweet, though the best examples imported to this country are increasingly dry. Another area of Italy produces sparkling wine that deserves attention, however, and that’s Franciacorta, in Lombardy, where the sparkling wines use not only the traditional champagne method but the typical chardonnay and pinot noir grapes of the Champagne region. These are sparkling wines of real character that make Prosecco and other Italian sparklers look like mere bagatelles. Not that there’s anything wrong with mere bagatelles; sometimes they fill a necessary place in life. My recommendation today, Wednesday, is the Satèn Lo Sparviere non-vintage Franciacorta from the producer Gussalli Beretta. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine, which fermented 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in large casks, offers a pale gold color with a gentle surge of tiny glinting silver bubbles. The initial effect is clean, fresh and energetic; aromas of roasted lemon, jasmine, ginger and quince and lightly buttered cinnamon toast are delicate and fine-spun, while the whole package, though enlivened by dynamic acidity, is dry, elegant and high-toned, with great bones and a whip-lash limestone spine. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this delightful Franciacorta over several nights as aperitif with various snacks and appetizers. Excellent. About $22, a Steal, and a terrific addition to restaurant and bar by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Siema Wines, Springfield, Va. A sample for review.

I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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I could have called this post, “The Pinot Noirs of Inman Family Wines,” but since the small winery is a very personal enterprise and since Kathleen Inman’s physical and philosophical fingerprints seem to be on everything regarding the wines and the winery, I went with this title instead. Inman and her husband, attorney Simon Inman, acquired the 10.5 acre Olivet Grange vineyard on Olivet Road in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley in 1999; she produced her first wines from the 2002 vintage. She concentrates on two renditions of pinot noir — a Russian River bottling and what’s now called OGV, for Olivet Grange Vineyard — and also makes small amounts of sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot gris. All of her wines are characterized by elegance, balance and finely-knit structure. Inman favors natural yeasts, no fining and ideally no filtration. Trained as an economist, Inman said that she “tries to derive the best economic use from everything.” The facility, which she calls a “stealth winery,” was constructed almost totally of post-consumer recycled materials. It’s solar powered, producing more energy than it consumes, and it features a privately owned electric vehicle charging station, so drive those toy cars up there with confidence that you can get home! The small group I was visiting the winery with had lunch at the winery, and except for the duck, everything on the plate came from the bounty of her garden. Inman’s style of pinot noir is opposite of the dark, high-extract and powerfully alcoholic examples we see too often in California. Her pinots are delicate, finely-etched, potent with lively acidity and spicy red and black fruit flavors and supported by moderately dense yet resilient tannins. It’s too easy to throw around the term “Burgundian,” but Inman’s pinot noirs remind me of Premier Cru wines from Volnay, with their finesse, breeding and satiny texture.
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The beguilng Inman Family Rose Brut Nature OGV 2009, Russian River Valley, offers a very very pale onion skin hue (faintly tinged with pink) and a diverting bouquet of rose petals, dried strawberries and red currants and back-notes of limestone and shale; bubbles are fine and persistent. This sparkling wine is so light, delicate and elegant that you’re surprised at its lively and persuasive presence and tone, It’s quite dry, packed with limestone and shale-like elements for high-toned austerity yet it’s also quenching in its tingly melon and lime peel flavors and — if I may say so — quite romantic. 12 percent alcohol. 139 cases. Now through 2015 to 2017. Excellent. About $68.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Inman Family Pinot Gris 2012, Russian River Valley, displays a very pale straw-gold color and clean fresh scents of peach and pear, jasmine and lilac, subtle notes of ginger and cloves and a hint of roasted lemon; the wine is very dry, very delicate without being ephemeral or elusive, bound by crisp lithe acidity and a plangent limestone mineral element. The wine had just been bottled when I tasted it in August at the property; it will unfold a bit over the next year. The alcohol is an eminently manageable 11.8 percent. Production was 230 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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The Inman Family Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, was fermented partially in stainless steel tanks and partially in new and one-year-old French oak barrels; Kathleen Inman prefers Vosges oak for its tight grain. Native yeast compels fermentation, and native bacteria ignites malolactic; in other words, no inoculation. The wine is so pale in its pale gold color, so pure and intense in its aura that the elegance is deceptive; yes, it’s deft and light on its feet, but it’s also dense and chewy and packed with elements of chalk and limestone minerality. Spare and lively notes of graham cracker, roasted lemon, verbena, ginger and quince are bolstered by limestone and slate and balanced by the richness of lemongrass and slightly candied grapefruit. A few moments in the glass bring out hints of toasted hazelnuts, jasmine and honeysuckle, while the oak comes up subtly in the finish. 12.9 percent alcohol. Production was 650 cases. Drink now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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The color of the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is limpid medium ruby; hints of red currants and red and black cherries are permeated by notes of rhubarb and cloves, sassafras, and a touch of briers, brambles and leather for the earthy element. This is so clean and fresh, so invigorating that one almost forgets how spare and elegant it is; how the acidity cuts a swath on the palate at no expense to the ripe, dark spicy black and red fruit flavors; how dry, slightly starchy tannins and that fleet acidity give the wine a lithe, supple texture that drapes the tongue like satin. Percentage of alcohol not available. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Going one vintage back, the Inman Family Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, derives from the winery’s Olivet Grange Vineyard and the Thorn Ridge Vineyard several miles to the south in the Sebastopol Hills. There’s that same transparent medium ruby color and a similar fruit profile of cherries and currants, but the ’09 is spicier than the ’10 rendition, with more of the briery-brambly-leather component and certainly a more prominent tannic-graphite feature. Yet the ’09 is also intensely floral, revealing touches of smoke and lilac, pomegranate and violets, and the property’s signature resonant acidity. Again, the texture is light, fleet-footed, elegant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 through 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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The Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, is a supreme example of how Kathleen Inman pushes the use of oak in one direction, that is, by aging in French oak barrels for 23 months, an astonishing span of time for a pinot noir, but being very careful about the percentage of new oak. The wine is incredibly complex and layered, in the ample ranges of fresh and dried red and black fruit with hints of rhubarb and beets, cloves and sassafras; earthy briers and brambles and graphite-like minerality; vivid acidity that plows a furrow on the palate and keeps the wine bright and vivacious; but every element and aspect adhering with delicacy, elegance and subtle tensile strength. Still, this is dry, moderately tannic, a little austere on the finish, and it would profit from a year or two in bottle, drinking then through 2020 to ’22. The alcohol content is 12.5 percent. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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The version for 2009 finds the Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir beautifully unfurling its batteries of cloves, pomegranate and orange rind, cinnamon and sassafras, all, however, subdued to a finely-knit amalgam of briers and brambles, loam and graphite, red and black cherries and a touch of plum. The wine spent 19 months in French oak, a process that gave this pinot noir plenty of spice and suppleness without marring the integrity of the fruit of its overall balance or the sinewy brightness of its vivid acidity. A few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets, rose petals and fruitcake — cloves, cinnamon, dried fruit — while moderately dense tannins provide an essential foil to the wine’s innate richness. It’s a dry, slightly austere pinot noir, with a bit more hauteur than elegance, but perfectly balanced and integrated. Hints of pomegranate and cranberry emerge in the finish. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’23. Excellent. About $68.
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We continue Italian Wine Week on BTYH with a superb food and wine pairing. LL and I made the Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts a couple of nights ago, and to sip with it I opened the Manincor Réserve della Contessa 2010, Terlano Alto Adige, a blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc. I had not heard of this producer or wine, nor had I heard of the wine’s importer, Angels’ Share Wine Imports, nor of Adrian Chalk Selections. The wine came to my threshold courtesy of FedEx or UPS with no letter or technical material included, so I have no idea who actually sent me the wine. A little consultation with my research staff, Miss Google, revealed that the currant release of the wine is the 2012, so why was I sent the 2010? And why does the label use the French Réserve instead of the Italian Riserva? I was provoked almost to a state of existential quandrariness by these imponderables, though whatever qualms and questions weighed my spirit down were eased somewhat by the terrific quality of the wine, which, I think, at not quite three years old is drinking perfectly. The color is medium golden-yellow; super attractive aromas of roasted lemon and jasmine, orange blossom and wild thyme — “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” — yellow plums and orange blossoms are highlighted by a sort of mountain meadow freshness and rosemary/pine resinous quality. The wine is sleek, spare and elegant, savory and saline, woven of citrus and stone-fruit flavors heightened by baking spices and limestone, lilac and flint, all shot through by crystalline acidity. Wonderful personality and presence. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About — close as I can figure — $28.

The pasta dish is from the September issue of Bon Appetit, and my advice is to get the ingredients and cook it right now. Here’s a link to the recipe. It’s from the restaurant Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. The wine was a sample for review.

Of the chardonnays from California that I tasted and reviewed recently — most in my Weekend Wine Notes yesterday — the Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is the one I recommend buying by the case. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is a delicate weaving of lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, quince and ginger, with hints of tangerine, chalk and talc. The Crossbarn Chardonnay ’12, Sonoma Coast, offers gratifying measures of resonance and vibrancy, with lip-smacking acidity whose crispness and liveliness support a lovely, moderately lush texture. The wine is quite lemony in flavor, highlighted by notes of cloves, pineapple and grapefruit and permeated by limestone and flint minerality. The wine was made 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French oak barrels, so the oak influence is subtle and supple. Lots of personality and presence for the price. Winemaker was Molly Bohlman. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

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