Oregon “Tweener” Style Chardonnay Rising
I recently came across an interesting article on Chardonnay titled, “Most Wine Drinkers Don’t Really
Understand Chardonnay,” written by Courtney Schiessl for Forbes website:
Schiessl correctly points out that Chardonnay is neutral in character and doesn’t really fit the perception that it
is a full-bodied, fruit-forward wine with buttery, rich flavors, the so-called New World (think California)
interpretation. The truth is, as she notes, is that most of the aromas and flavors commonly associated with
Chardonnay actually come from the vinification process and not the grape itself. Malolactic fermentation adds
buttery character and oak aging adds notes of brioche, nuts, caramel and spice.
If one is seeking Chardonnay that is less adorned and acid-driven. Schiessl points to Chablis and the Côte d’Or
for sources. Of course, the Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Cruz Mountains, and Sonoma Coast offer very cool climates
ideal for more restrained or unplugged versions of Chardonnay.
Schiessl says, and rightly so, “Look to Oregon, especially the Willamette Valley, for a great balance of rich
texture and fine acidity.” I agree, and the reviews to follow of Willamette Valley Chardonnay may be just the
right compromise between the “New World” and “Old World” style of Chardonnay, a “tweener” style that you
have been seeking.
2016 Big Table Farm Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.3% alc., 910 cases, $45. Released March 5, 2018.
Barrel fermented in French oak barrels (10% new) with ambient yeast and bottled after 11 months of aging.
Unfined and unfiltered.
Light golden yellow color in the glass with a slight haze. Aromas of lemon, cold steel
and sawdust lead to a spirited wine with flavors of lemon creme, honey and yellow apple. There is noticeable
oak input, but in a good way. The finish has some persistence and is highly refreshing.
2015 Lundeen Articulate Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.0% alc., pH 3.25, 105 cases, $30. Released
February 1, 2018. Sourced from Bunker Hill Vineyard. 5-week primary fermentation, followed by full malolactic
fermentation. Lees stirred weekly for the first six weeks. Aged in one new and three neutral French oak barrels.
Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. The nose offers aromas of lemon creme, pineapple, pastry creme
and nutty oak. Flavors of green apple, lime and white peach with a herbal note. Very grippy acidity, with a
2014 Lundeen Bunker Hill Vineyard Willamette Valley Chardonnay
12.6% alc., pH 3.22, 102
cases, $30. Released September 1, 2016. Grapes are from a 5-acre vineyard located in the south
Salem hills and planted exclusively to Chardonnay. Soils are volcanic Nekia in type. 4-5 week
fermentation, lees stirred weekly for the first three months, full malolactic fermentation. Aged in one
new and four neutral French oak barrels.
Moderate golden yellow color in the glass. Aromas of
green apple, citrus, yeast and nut butter. Spirited flavors of lemon-lime, and Honeycrisp apple.
Somewhat austere, yet bright and appealing, with a round, silken mouthfeel, powdery tannins and
a refreshingly crisp finish.
2016 Youngberg Hill Aspen McMinnville Willamette Valley Chardonnay
12.9% alc., RS 0, 336
cases, $40, screw cap. Release July 18, 2018. Clones 75, 76, 95 and 548 planted in uplifted
marine sedimentary soil (Willakenzie). Vine age 10 years. Harvest Brix 21.1º. Barrel fermented in
once-used French oak barrels for 6 months. Full malolactic fermentation.
Light golden yellow color
in the glass. The nose arrives over time in the glass, offering uplifting aromas of green apple,
straw, wax, per and buttery brioche. Clean and crisp with enviable vibrancy in the glass, displaying
flavors of green apple, lemon, yellow grapefruit and poached pear. An acid-driven style, yet quite
flavorful with a bright and steely finish.
2016 Walter Scott Cuvée Anne Willamette Valley Chardonnay
13.1% alc., 390 cases, $40. A
blend of the winery’s best vineyard sites, including Freedom Hill, X Novo, Sojourner and Vojtilla
vineyards. It is a reserve blend that reflects the winemaker’s vision of a Willamette Valley
Chardonnay. Fermented with ambient yeast with minimal lees stirring and aging in a mix of new
and neutral 500L and 350L French oak barrels for 12 months. The wine was racked and blended
to stainless steel for an additional 3 months prior to bottling.
Light golden yellow color in the glass.
A complex nose proves interesting over time, offering aromas of lemon peel, grilled peach, honey, toasty
brioche, vanillin, nutty oak and a little reductive flint. The flavors replicate the aromas, with added notes of
yellow grapefruit, yellow peach, pear and yeast with a subtle backdrop of toasty oak. The wine improves as it
warms in the glass. The sleek, seamless texture appeals, as does the juicy, flinty finish.
2016 Walter Scott Freedom Hill Vineyard Willamette Valley Chardonnay
176 cases, $55. The vineyard
owners have been growing Chardonnay here since 1981. Vineyard is farmed sustainably and moving toward
organic options. Fermented with ambient yeast and minimal lees stirring. Aged in one new 500L puncheon, a
once-filled puncheon and a neutral puncheon for 12 months. The was racked and blended to stainless steel for
an additional 3 months before bottling.
Light golden yellow color in the glass. A social wine with lingering
aromas of lemon, poached pear, and toasted bread. The flavors of lemon-lime, green apple, honey, pear and
field greens are bright and clear and married with sensible oak. The wine’s notable “minerality” gives the wine a
crystalline character. Slightly creamy in the mouth, with a hint of tannin, and a very dry and mouthwatering
finish of some length.
2016 Walter Scott X Novo Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay
cases, $65. Craig and Robin Williams began planting this vineyard in 2010. Remarkably, the
vineyard contains a plethora of different clones, and the block that Walter Scott works with has at
least fifteen clones planted. It is a very unique site farmed impeccably by Stirling Fox. Fermented
with ambient yeast and minimal lees stirring. Aged in a mix of new and neutral 500L and 350L
French oak barrels for 12 months. Finally, the wine is racked and blended to stainless steel for an
additional 3 months prior to bottling.
Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. This wine
offers most everything you could want in a Chardonnay. Bright aromas of green apple, lemon,
baking spice, bread in the oven and waffle. There is a little more body here, a little more creaminess in the
texture, and a little more seductive flavors of lemon, pear, spice, and toast. The sprightliness of the fruit, the
impeccably integrated acidity, the viscous palate feel, and the remarkable finish that hangs around for encores
combine to produce a sensual wine that demands contemplation.
Other Oregon producers of exceptional Chardonnay to consider: The Eyrie Vineyards, LUMOS, Lingua Franca,
Evening Land, and Bergström.
Read more about Oregon Chardonnay: www.sevenfifty.com/willamette-chardonnays-find-a-new-niche/.