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ELEVEN BUCK
AMADOR ZIN

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CHARDONNAY

wpe3B.jpg (7376 bytes)The word "Chardonnay" has become synonymous with "white wine" here in California.  People seem to buy virtually anything labeled "Chardonnay", whether the wines actually taste like Chardonnay or not.

In fact, I often wonder whether the average bear can identify the character of Chardonnay.  This is because many wines produced in California are subjected to so much oak, either in the form of real barrel aging or some sort of oak "flavoring" (new staves being introduced into a barrel or tank or oak chips or sawdust being added  --  the laws don't require a winery to disclose this on the label) that an unwooded Chardonnay doesn't "taste" like Chardonnay to Yogi or Boo-Boo.  Similarly, I have noticed that many tasters describe other white wines as being "Chardonnay-like" when these are dominated by wood. 

The Chardonnay grape was not treated like royalty until a few years ago.  Old-timers such as Inglenook, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu Vineyards and Charles Krug made simple dry white wines of Chardonnay grapes.  The Wente Brothers winery was thought to be at the vanguard of Chardonnay production, making a fresh, non-oaked dry white wine. In those days, Chardonnay was thought to be a relative of Pinot Noir and was routinely called "Pinot Chardonnay."  It is, as it turns out, not related, so it's now called "just" Chardonnay.

The first really important work in marrying oak with Chardonnay in the traditional style of France's Burgundian winemakers started with the Hanzell winery in Sonoma.  This was back in 1957, when James Zellerbach imported French oak barrels for the aging and maturation of his Hanzell wines.  Wonder of wonders!  Oak!!!

It's taken many years for winemakers to learn how to use oak in making wine.  Some of them use oak as a crutch, propping up weak, thin wines and overloading them with wood.   Others employ a combination of wood and residual sugar to give character to wines which are malnourished, wimpy wines.  Many of these are quite popular, even "scoring" highly with those who claim expertise in judging wine.   McDonald's hamburgers are quite popular, too, but few would say those are the best examples of beef on the planet.

We enjoy a nicely oaked Chardonnay---don't get me wrong.  I have been accused of liking the most woody tasting wines.  I cite Napa Valley eno-scribe Bob Thompson who once wrote something like  "My parents marveled that, as a boy, I ate the fruit and not the tree."  He was poking fun at those who prefer Chardonnays with so much wood that determining if the beverage was actually made from grapes is impossible. 



The Chardonnay grape finds its home in France's Burgundy region, though it also is cultivated in Champagne.  In Burgundy's Cote d'Or, the major appellations of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault account for the top wines, but other villages turn out good wines, too.  The best Cote d'Or producers barrel ferment the juice, using, at least, a percentage of new oak cooperage.  The wines are often aged on the spent yeast and this sediment is stirred in barrel, contributing a toasty, smoky element to the wines.  As the juice tends to be rather high in acidity, most winemakers induce a secondary fermentation (called a malolactic fermentation).  This reduces the acidity and makes the wine rounder, creamier and somewhat buttery in character. 

California vintners make a full range of Chardonnays.  At the low end you'll find wines from the "hotter-than-hell" Central Valley where tonnage is high and the intensity of character is low.  On the higher end, you'll find wines from cooler, coastal climes, from low-yielding vineyards which can be sublime.  Some wineries make light, crisp, "simple" Chardonnay, while others attempt to emulate the top wines of Burgundy.  

Some winemakers liken Chardonnay to a blank canvas. The character of the Chardonnay grape is dependant upon its origins, clonal selection, soil type, exposure, etc.  The "seasonings" bestowed upon it during its maturation (oak, secondary fermentation, etc.) further determine the character of the wine.  Some old clones of Chardonnay display a mildly appley note.  Newer ones seem to have a more tropically-fruity quality.   

Diversity and individuality are what make winetasting fun and challenging.  Don't fall into a rut!   Be adventuresome and experiment with Chardonnays from different regions and unknown producers. 

 

 

Current BEST BUYS


THE FORAGER
Wow.
This is a top-notch Chardonnay by any measure.

But if you're measuring wine by its price tag and you buy into the notion of "you get what you pay for," then please read about some of our more costly bottlings of Chardonnay elsewhere on the Weimax web site.

If you're simply looking for a bottle of showy Chardonnay and don't want to part with a fifty dollar bill, then do come pick up a bottle of The Forager.

It's made by our friends Jon and Susan Pey.  Jon once told us "We make wine for the 99%, not the 1%."

And how!

The grapes came from two Sonoma Coast vineyards.  Something like 40% of the juice was fermented in new French oak.  The wine displays a classic apple/pear fragrance of Chardonnay, framed by nice oak and it has a creamy, "plush" texture on the palate.  Ellen said she thought it was sweet, but using our sugar-testing lab kit, this registers as bone dry!  

If you like something along the lines of a Burgundian-styled Chardonnay and want to "drink local," treat yourself to a bottle of the 2013 The Forager.

Currently in stock:  2013 THE FORAGER Sonoma Coast CHARDONNAY  (List $22) SALE $18.99

 


WELLINGTON
This family-operated winery flies well below the radar of most wine drinkers.  They don't make the flashiest wines and they're not a source of push-the-envelope, over-the-top kind of grape growing.  Over the life span of this winery, we've had a half a dozen wines...

Their 2011 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay is a delight.  They have incorporated a number of clones of Chardonnay into this wine with the idea of making a more complex wine.  It's entirely barrel-fermented and has undergone a full malolactic fermentation.  There's nice oak here, but it's not woody.  We like the aromas and flavors of this mildly toasty, lightly buttery and dry white.  Stellar.

It's $20 at the winery.


Currently in stock:  2011 WELLINGTON Sonoma Valley CHARDONNAY  $13.99








PEDRONCELLI WINERY

We've long been fans of Pedroncelli's single vineyard bottling from the Frank Johnson vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley.   This vineyard is actually along the border of Dry Creek and Russian River appellations.

The Pedroncelli's have usually made a terrific wine from this fruit and each vintage is seems to improve.  We've noticed they're using less American oak for the wine and they've increased the proportion of French barrels.

The 2012 is delicious...lots of ripe apple notes with a touch of a spice note.  Dry, of course.

Currently in stock:  2012 PEDRONCELLI Dry Creek Valley "Frank Johnson Vineyard" CHARDONNAY  $12.99



 


FRITZ
The late Jay Fritz was in the shipping business, once upon a time, and he started a little winemaking enterprise in the late 1970s.

They began with much fanfare and made some really good wines back in the early days.  Over the years they had some challenges and changes in winemakers which didn't "help."

The past few years we've seen them get their sea legs back and a number of their wines are quite impressive and they have attractive price tags.

The current Chardonnay is fairly big, with ripe fruit heading towards a hint of pineapple, melon, ripe pear and then having plenty of oak so there's a nicely oaky aspect.  

We're able to offer the wine at a really nice price, too...
 
Currently in stock:  2011 FRITZ Russian River Valley CHARDONNAY  Sale $15.99

 

 



VIU MANENT Gran Reserva CHARDONNAY $9.99
This Chilean producer makes some remarkably good wines and as they don't have a national marketing agent in the middle, their wines arrive here at sensible prices.

California simply does not make this quality of Chardonnay for ten bucks.  The wines produced by large California "factories" are typically made to the specifications of marketing gurus who ask for sweet, fruity, low acid, etc.

This is dry, moderately acidic and it has a feature few inexpensive California wines can match:  It smells and tastes like Chardonnay! 

Currently in stock:  2013 VIU MANENT Gran Reserva CHARDONNAY $9.99

 

GRAYSON CELLARS

Grayson Cellars is a smallish project featuring "value-priced" wines.

We find some $30 bottles to be "good value," while at the same time finding some ten-buck bottles to be over-priced.

Simply because a wine carries a small price tag does not make it a good value.  

We had a nice ten-buck bottling from a producer who suddenly  escalated ("jacked up" being the technical term) its price to nearly $15!  So we went on a hunt for a replacement and tasted a bunch of plonk before uncovering this one.

And, truth be told, this is a really attractive dry white wine, but it won't remind you of an expensive Chassagne-Montrachet, nor will you find this to be a suitable replacement for Sonoma's Kistler Chardonnay.

It's got a mildly citrusy note which, frankly, reminds us a bit of some Sauvignon Blanc wines.  The winery tech sheet claims it's 100% Chardonnay.  We did not see a signed, notarized affidavit, though.

Appley notes along with that mildly lemony/grapefruity character make for a perfectly pleasant wine with a fair bit of charm, even if it's not classically-styled White Burgundy.

Currently in stock:  2013 GRAYSON CELLARS California CHARDONNAY  $9.99 (case discounts, too)

 

 

 

 

 

Also:  The Macon-Charnay of Manciat-Poncet is just $14.99.  This is a delicious bottle of wine.  No oak to speak of, but there's really nice apple-like fruit.   

Talmard's Macon is just $10.99...no oak...just good, simple dry white.

And from the Chablis producer Lamblin, we have a Bourgogne Blanc for $12.50 which is made in the style of crisp, dry, lightly flinty, stony Chablis.


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WE TYPICALLY OFFER 5 or 6 CHARDONNAYS FOR SAMPLING IN OUR TASTING ROOM!

Wine Tasting Daily.

MORE "Heavy-Hitter" CHARDONNAYS

 

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