What a wonderful turnout we had at The Wine Country for our first Chardonnay & Chicken Fest! For those of you who missed it, we had a great assortment of cheese, Asiago crackers and, the highlight--rottisserie chicken--to pair with eleven amazing California Chardonnays.
With many Chardonnays at the store having such great historical importance, (Hanzell’s first Chardonnay vintage was 1957), many of these wines were probably familiar to you, but I hope some were a new experience that opened your mind to what the current crop of Chardonnays can offer.
When choosing a Chardonnay, I think it’s important to ask these main questions: did the wine see new oak, neutral barrels or stainless-steel tanks? And how little or much did it go through malolactic fermentation, the secondary fermentation that adds creaminess to Chardonnay's texture and flavor?
Of course, there are other criteria, but these choices in the wine cellar can have a huge impact on the final product. It was a real treat to see which wines people’s favorites were, as we took consideration to highlight all the ways Chardonnay is made to add flavor, texture and most important, enjoyment to your glass.
To start off, wines with a more pronounced acidity and minerality profile were chosen to showcase their refreshing bright fruit flavors of lemon blossom and green pear. To enhance these flavors a Chardonnay will usually see little to no oak and in the case of the Neyers 304 Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($23.99), only stainless-steel tanks.
Some of the Chardonnays at this tasting used large amounts of neutral oak, (Talley, Liquid Farm, Failla) and you might be wondering why a winemaker would choose to do that. A wine barrel will only be considered new for around one to three vintages because after each use, flavors lessen until they are considered “neutral.” These neutral barrels still allow oxygen to reach the wine in small amounts helping form soft pleasant tannins, a deeper color and greater aromas. All that plus the winemaker won’t have to pay around a thousand dollars for a new French Oak barrel!
A few Chardonnays saw high amounts of new oak, (Rombauer, Far Niente, Pahlmeyer) which imparted the wines with various flavors of clove, nutmeg and anise spice. The Pahlmeyer had as much as 95% new French Oak, and I enjoyed seeing people’s reaction to this rich, unctuous deep beast of a wine.
Some at the tasting asked me what my favorite wines were, and I must admit I try to keep an open mind to all the various styles Chardonnay can find itself it. From the lean apple citrus notes in the Neyers 304, the combination of creamy and cool coastal fruit present in the Failla, to the baked apple, butterscotch and campfire of the Pahlmeyer I think this Chardonnay Fest had a little something for all of us.
This winery is a living legend, with vineyards that stretch back to 1953, a time when fewer than 200 acres of Chardonnay could be found within California. The goal then was to make a new world wine that would compare favorably to crisp white Burgundy, which they have excelled at making for more than six decades. Don’t expect this wine to be dripping with butter like a lot of Chardonnay in California as it does not go through malolactic fermentation. There is a richness present though due to aging in neutral French oak barrels that work nicely alongside the green pear and crisp minerality in the wine. An elegant style Chardonnay well suited to similarly elegant meals.
$22.99 per bottle
Founded by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach and his wife Hana, (which put together gives you Hanzell) with the goal of creating a California wine that would be able to stand next to a Grand Cru Burgundy. Hanzell was an early pioneer of new winemaking techniques and if you take the winery tour, you’ll find some of the first ever temperature controlled malolactic steel fermentation tanks. The wine sees a combination of stainless-steel, barrel and 25% malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring adds to the richness in flavor as well as increasing a creamy texture to the wine. Golden apple and pear are found in harmony with baking spices and subtle hazelnut.
$55.99 per bottle
2015 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Sometimes wine is more than the liquid trapped behind the glass. Pahlmeyer is an event waiting to be uncorked, a luxury brand that spares no expense in its quest for opulence. Harvesting grapes at peak ripeness, using some of the most sought-after Francois Freres French oak barrels, 95% new with no fining or filtration are to be expected with a wine overfilling with such grandeur. The ever-present tart green apple in most Chardonnay has been roasted over a campfire and basted with rich creamy butter until it develops a velvet butterscotch intensity. A lengthy finish for sure as you will continue tasting it hours after the last drop has been poured. (Only a few bottles remain)
$86.99 per bottle
With Sonoma Coast on the label you might expect this wine to be all lean tangy green apple fruit but don’t be fooled, there is a rich intensity present from not filtering or finning and native yeast fermentation. With full malolactic conversion this wine has a creamy weighty power that mixes wonderfully with its cool coastal fruit. This wine is expressive, rich, and robust on the palate, with minimal new oak that adds complexity but not aggressive spice notes. Alongside the nice citrus notes, expect ripe pear and apricot enveloped in vanilla and smooth butter.
$34.99 per bottle
Inspired by the bright crisp high mineral wines of Chablis, Brue Neyers set out to make a Chardonnay with no oak contact. From rocky gravel soil in the cool Carneros region, these grapes showcase a lean green apple flavor with strong minerality, very attractive to French Chablis-style Chardonnay lovers. This wine will also see a small amount of concrete tank, which due to the evaporation that occurs inside will add to the depth and concentration of flavor. Since this wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, don’t expect five pounds of popcorn butter that will mask the delicate crisp layers found here. Try this wine with a light pasta with spring vegetables or crab and thank me later.
$23.99 per bottle
Sourced entirely from estate grapes at Talley which ensures that the wine will be a pure expression of their cool climate along with the perfect amount of ripeness due to their limiting of yields. This wine undergoes barrel fermentation with native yeasts giving it a richer texture and a lengthy finish that complements the fruit of these vineyards well. Aged alongside lees contact for 16 months in French oak barrels, 25% of which will be new, will combine new and old-world flavors of yellow apple skin, pear and lemon alongside a crisp minerality.
$25.99 per bottle
New North American Wine Arrivals
2017 Hart Arneis, Temecula Valley, California
This grape has come a long way from its traditional home in Piedmont, Italy where it has been grown as far back as the 1440’s. Now grown in sunny Temecula alongside other Italian varietals, this grape’s fragrant aromas of apricot and white flowers have a tendency to lure lips to wine glasses. Once you’re able to move past it’s wonderful perfume and taste, a crisp freshness will revive your palate as layers of ripe peach and pear coat your mouth. This grape is named after the local Italian expression of being a rascal or mischievous type. Buy a bottle today and find out much Arneis is in you.
$19.99 per bottle
This hot dry desert region bordered by the Columbia River to the south provides some of the sunniest conditions to grow grapes in the state of Washington. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in this area due to the abundant sunshine and moderate winters that see some of the least number of freezes in eastern Washington. Farmer Butch Milbrandt saw the potential of this land for viticulture and changed his primary crop of potatoes into grapes and is now producing 40,000 cases of wine. Expect this full-bodied Cabernet to give you aromas and flavors of plum, black cherry and black licorice. 20 months in 25% new French oak + 10% American
$22.99 per bottle
Inspired by early vintages of Heitz Winery in Napa, Gary Figgins owner, set out to make wine in his hometown of the cool frost prone Walla Walla Valley. Despite much doubting from people he pushed on and pursued his dream and when his 1978 vintage was released to incredible acclaim he fulfilled his aspiration and brought new found regard for Washington state wines. This wine is dense and tannic as to be expected but small additions of Merlot and Petit Verdot add a silky lingering ripeness of currant and blackberry. 22 months combination of new, once filled French oak and neutral oak.
$112.99 per bottle
2015 Daou Soul of a Lion Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles
This is Daou winery’s top expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and it does not disappoint with elegant violet aromas and black currant fruit sourced from 2,200 ft elevation. 22 months in 100% new French oak imparts a smooth silkiness and beautiful integration of vanilla and pencil shavings. Small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot add herbal complexity. Daou winery likes to proudly state that their yields were down slightly more than 50% for this vintage, a fact that would panic a less quality driven producer, but their philosophy is always toward a more concentrated and flavor intense profile. Even if that happens to come at the expense of much less of it.
$139.99 per bottle