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California Chardonnay

An excellent article appeared in Wine Business Monthly (January 2012) written by Lance Cutler, one of a number of varietal reviews that focus on a single grape variety through interviews with distinguished winemakers. He notes in the article that Chardonnay is a cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grape varieties. There are 34 different clonal varieties of Chardonnay identified in France and these Dijon clones have been exported around the world. In California, Karl Wente developed a clone of Chardonnay that is revered and widely planted.

Cutler, who has been a winemaker for over 30 years, points out the following. “Chardonnay has a wide range of styles and while it is definitely influenced by terroir, winemaking decisions seem to play an equal part stylistically in the finished product. Winemakers make the call on whether to put the wine through malolactic fermentation and whether to use oak in the aging process. Malolactic fermentation, especially in conjunction with newer oak barrels, tends to create richer, bigger wines with a definite creamy character.” As you read the reviews below, it is clear the use of malolactic fermentation in at least a portion of the wine is extremely popular in California.

Cutler also notes, “Winemakers are also split on whether to follow oxidative or reductive regimens in their production cycles, which affect whether they leave the wines on lees and how often they might stir the lees.” The vast majority of California Chardonnay is left on the lees with some lees stirring.


2010 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.7% alc., $40. · Light straw color in the glass. Very nice aromatic expression showing scents of white peach, lemon curd, and bear claw pastry. Fresh tasting flavors of green apple and brioche with a lemon peel driven and lively finish. Seamless and a solid food wine. Good (+).

2010 Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $70. An estate vineyard situated at 1200 to 1400 feet elevation, planted to Hyde, Old Wente and Dijon 95 clones. Yields of 1.25 tons per acre. Barrel fermented in 64% new French oak barrels for 14 months. · Moderate straw color in the glass. Alluring aromas of baked pear, roasted nuts, crème brûlée and milk chocolate. Plenty of flavor intensity including juicy lemon and apple with hints of buttered brioche and sweet oak. An exceptional wine with very slight dry tannins, lively acidity, and an appealing lemon drop finish.

2010 Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., pH 3.32, TA 0.66. $32. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, crème brûlée, and toasted oak. Lean flavors of honeyed pear, vanilla wafer and lemon. High acidity, lagging a bit in flavor interest and nuance. Good (-).

2010 Hook & Ladder Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.69, 5,800 cases, $19. Released winter 2011. Fruit crushed, de-stemmed and immediately sent to press, aged in French oak barrels. 75% malolactic fermentation. Lees stirring in barrel once a month. Aged 9 months on the lees. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of fresh pear, honeycrisp apple, and apple sauce. Light and crisp, with flavors of baked pear, apple and citrus with the slightest hint of oak. A basic, back porch Chardonnay. Decent.

2010 J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Vineyard Series Arroyo Seco Chardonnay

14.9% alc., pH 3.54, TA 0.67, 5,426 cases, $25. Sourced from prime Monterey vineyard acreage. Native fermentation, weekly stirring of each barrel from November 2010 to March 2011 (during MLF and five months after). Barrel-aged sur lie for 18 months in 42% new French oak barrels (mostly Francois Frères). · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of caramel apple, citrus, mossy rock, brioche and redwood. Delicious and classy, with flavors of white nectarine, lemony brioche, and pastry cream, accented with minerality. Soft in the mouth without evident tannins. A quality drink. Very good.

2009 Knez Winery Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay

14.0% alc., $30. · Light straw in color. Aromas of buttered toast and toasted oak overshadow aromas of pear, apple and petrichor. Flavorful, featuring baked apples, pear, toffee, and an appealing mineral character. Slightly creamy with a steely finish. A restrained and delicate, acid-driven style. Very good.

2010 La Crema Monterey Chardonnay

13.9% alc., $18. A variety of clones including 4, Dijon and Rued. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of baked pear, butter, toast and hazelnuts. Light and simple, with noticeable oak, citrus and mineral flavors. Goes down easy, but not distinguished. Decent.

2010 La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.3% alc., pH 3.33, TA 0.584, 100 cases, $38. Crafted in a classic California style from old Russian River Valley vines. The vineyard was planted in 1974 by John Bazzano who named it after his Italian grandfather. The 10-acre site enjoys cooling fog in the mornings and evenings during the growing season. Fruit pressed whole cluster with juice sent directly to barrel. Stirred bi-weekly through January and them monthly until July. Composed of a heritage Chardonnay clone. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Reserved scent of golden apple, pear, lemon, chalk dust and oak. Flavorful core of citrus, baked pear, and spiced apple, with complimentary oak notes of brioche and toast. Somewhat rich, slightly creamy in texture, finishing with a bright cut of lemony flavor on the finish. Very good.

2010 La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.2% alc., pH 3.57, TA 0.63, 560 cases, $38. From the cold climate Petaluma Gap. Planted in 1998, the Roberts Road block is rooted in the alluvial soils of Copeland Creek with tracks of gravel. Predominantly Old Wente selection. Made in a Burgundian reductive style with native yeasts. Aged 10 months sur lie with gentle stirring of the barrels. · Light straw color in the glass. Complex perfume of lemon curd, petrichor, Asian pear, ripe pineapple, roasted hazelnuts, and subtle oak. Delicious flavors of baked pear, citrus, and green apple, with perfectly integrated and supportive oak. Juicy and spirited, making you reach for another sip. La Follette is a master of Chardonnay.

2010 La Rochelle Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay

14.9% alc., 90 cases, $65. Released April 21, 2012. · Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of lemon curd, golden apple, pastry cream and roasted nuts. Delicious array of flavors including baked pears, roasted hazelnuts, buttered brioche, baked apples and grilled peaches with a slight petrol note. Slight creamy in texture, with a citrus-driven acidity in the background, and a hint of heat on the finish. Definite oak influence but it is complimentary. A buttery style of Chardonnay made popular in California by Kistler and Aubert and others that will appeal to those who welcome this genre. Very good (+).

2010 La Rochelle Ferrington Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay

14.6% alc., 120 cases, $65. Released April 21, 2012. · Pale straw color with slight haze in the glass (unfiltered). Aromas of golden apples, pastry cream, butter brickle and roasted nuts. Tasty array of white fruit flavors including apple, pear and citrus with a subtle underpinning of toffee and toast from oak, finishing with an hi-strung lemony zing. Very good.

2010 McIntyre Estate Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay

14.3% alc., pH 3.40, TA 0.69, 290 cases, $28. Released winter 2010. Winemakers Steve McIntyre and Byron Kosuge. From the Home Estate, the oldest Chardonnay plantings in the Santa Lucia Highlands. 100% MLF, aged 8 months in barrel. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Very muted nose, offering demure aromas of baked apple, citrus peel, peach and fresh brioche. More expressive on the palate, with flavors of baked pears, honey, lemon and toffee. Light and reserved in style with zippy acidity. Decent.

2010 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Block K-1 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay

14.4% alc., pH 3.43, TA 0.69, 100 cases, $38. Released winter 2010. From the oldest Chardonnay plantings in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Dijon clones 96 and 76. Native yeast fermentation. Aged 8 months in new Siruge French oak barrels, 100% MLF, Winemaker is Byron Kosuge. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Reserved aromas of lemon curd, white peach and marzipan. Tasty, with modest flavors of lemon, toast and roasted nuts, finishing with reasonable intensity and offering refreshing acidity. A little more body and interest than the Estate bottling. Good (+).

2009 Paradise View Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.1% alc., 350 cases, $24. · Light straw color in the glass. Subdued, but pleasing aromas of lemon, golden apple and chestnut, with a slight cheesy note (diacetyl). Flavors of lemon pudding, golden apples and spice with a brisk acid backbone. Decent.

2010 Sonoma-Loeb Carneros Private Reserve Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.62, $23. Sourced from one small block of Sangiacomo’s famed “Home” Ranch. Fermented in French oak barrels, aged on the lees for 8 months, and underwent full malolactic fermentation during the aging process. 75% new French oak barrels. · Light straw color and clear in the glass. Fresh fruity aromas of pears and peach cobbler along with scents of pastry cream and buttered brioche. Creamy and soft on the palate without perceptible tannin, featuring flavors of crème brûlée, honeyed pear, and gentle toasty oak. Discreet richness with well-integrated acidity, finishing with some persistence. Very good.

2010 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.5% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.56, $40. Sourced from plantings of Rued clone and Robert Young clone at Dutton Ranch. 80% malolactic fermentation, aged in 50% new French oak barrels. · Light straw color and clear. Demure but very pleasant aromas of lemon curd, Asian pear, and citrus peel leading to flavors of baked pear, pineapple, brioche, toast and baking spice. Slightly creamy on the palate and impeccably balanced. A little richer than the Carneros bottling with slightly more length on the finish. Like this wine for its polish and exuberance.

Note: Sonoma-Loeb was acquired by Chappellet Vineyard & Winery in 2011. Phillip Corallo-Titus has been the winemaker for both Sonoma-Loeb and Chappellet since 1990. Sonoma-Loeb has always been a small winery dedicated to producing Sonoma County and Carneros Chardonnays, and more recently, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The two wineries have shared the same winemaking facility on Pritchard Hill for over 20 years. In 1990, Phillip crafted Sonoma-Loeb’s debut Private Reserve Chardonnay and in 1999 introduced Envoy Chardonnay. The Private Reserve is a Carneros wine, featuring three clones of mature vine Chardonnay grown at Sangiacomo Vineyard. The clones are Wente, Robert young and Catarina. The Envoy Chardonnay is the “pinnacle” of the Sonoma-Loeb portfolio. All the grapes are sourced from the Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley. 80% is from the vineyard’s original Rued clone block planted in 1968. The very low yielding old vines produce a special wine as evidenced by my notes above.

2009 Thirty-Seven Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

14.0% alc., 150 cases, $36. Label logo shows 37 interlocking circles that create the Flower of Life. · Very light straw color in the glass. Slight reduction upon opening, improving over time in the glass to reveal aromas of pear, citrus peel, and petrichor. A light, reserved style (no butter or oak here), with green apple and pear flavors, lively acidity and a steely finish. Good.

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