Subscribe to our mailing list

 

HOURS
Normal Hours:
Mon 9-7
Tues-Sat: 9-7:30

 

AMAZING ALBARIÑO

CAB DRIVER'S CARmenere

SOULFUL RED RHÔNE

SURPRISINGLY GOOD TEN BUCK MERLOT

BIGFOOT CABERNET

COOL PORTUGUESE WHITE WINE

2007 VINTAGE CHAMPAGNE 

CIRO' BIANCO!

GOOD RIESLING KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES

CHAMPAGNE DE
MERFY

A FIESTA OF A TEMPRANILLO

OBSCURE ITALIAN RED

CIÙ CIÙ
PECORINO

COOL VERDEJO

FLASHY RED BORDEAUX

NEW STONY SANCERRE

MAN, OH MAN, WHAT A WINE!

ELEVEN BUCK
AMADOR ZIN

HARD-TO-BELIEVE PASO ROBLES CABERNET

STYLISH WASHINGTON MERLOT

SLEEPER of A CHARDONNAY

SUSSUDIO ???

FLORAL ALBARIÑO

SARDINIAN WHITE

NEW SONOMA RHONE-ISTE OF NOTE

REMARKABLE PINOT

LAKE COUNTY ZIN

STELLAR NEW ARTISAN RIOJA

NICE LITTLE PINOT $9.99

STONY RIESLING

DRY MUSCAT
FROM AOSTA

FORAGING FOR PINOT NOIR

MARSELAN...A HYBRID OF CABERNET & GRENACHE

BEST BUYS
Good Wines for $5-$15

CASTELÃO BARGAIN

STELLAR BLAUFRÄNKISCH ESTATE

CAMPANIAN DELIGHTS

COLORFUL ZIN

DOURO DYNAMITE

PORTUGUESE RED BARGAIN

GRAND SYRAH FROM AN UNUSUAL PLACE

WHITE BURGUNDIES OF NOTE

MARSANNE BARGAIN

CHERRYISH TUSCAN RED SALE $12.99

PROSECCO FOR ADULTS

BILLIONAIRE'S WINES UNDER $30!

BARGAIN WHITE BORDEAUX

PIERCINGLY GOOD
WHITE

TOP OF THE LINE
CREMANT

ANOTHER RULLY GOOD WHITE

RESERVE QUALITY RIOJA

BARBERA OF NOTE

SUPER VERONESE SALE $12.99

PIEMONTE'S GRAND VIN BIANCO?

DELICIOUS, FRESH ROSÉS

GREAT GRUNER VELTLINER

GOOD ELEVEN-BUCK CHIANTI

FLOWERY, CURIOUS RED

OLD FAVORITE KIWI SAUVIGNON IS BACK

OLD PATCH RED
ZIN BLEND

MONCUIT'S GRAND CRU CHAMPAGNE

HONEYED MUSCAT

SPICY 
GEWÜRZTRAMINER

Napa Valley Grape Info
2002

2010

Amazing FRENCH CIDERS

FIZZY LAMBRUSCO

 

 

HOME PAGE

AMERICAN WINES

CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS

RHONE WANNABEES

ZINFANDELS

SAUVIGNON BLANCS

MERLOTS

OREGON WINES

CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAYS

CALIFORNIA CABERNETS

RIESLING & GEWURZ

WASHINGTON STATE

CANADIAN WINES

Adventuresome  Wines

ROSÉS !!

FRENCH WINES
ALSACE
BEAUJOLAIS
RED BORDEAUX
WHITE BORDEAUX
RED BURGUNDY
WHITE BURGUNDY
RHÔNE VALLEY
THE FRENCH ALPS
SOUTH OF FRANCE

LOIRE


CHAMPAGNE

 

ITALIAN WINES
PIEMONTE

VALLE D'AOSTA

NORTHERN ITALY

CENTRAL ITALIA

TUSCANY

SOUTHERN ITALIA


SPANISH WINES
Spanish Sherry
& Other Delights


PORTUGUESE WINES

SWISS WINES

GERMAN WINES

AUSTRIAN WINES

ARGENTINA

CHILE

AUSTRALIA

NEW ZEALAND

SOUTH AFRICA

OBSCURE WINES

DESSERT WINES

CHAMPAGNES

HALF-BOTTLES

SPIRITS

CIDERS

BEER
Even Real "Bud"!

OTHER STUFF

WINE TASTING

WHAT'S OPEN


UPCOMING TASTINGS

TASTING RESULTS
  
NEWSLETTER

SHIPPING INFO

ETC.

 

TASTING REPORTS

HOW TO ORGANIZE A BLIND-TASTING

BLIND TASTING ARCHIVE

MY 2013 EURO WINE ADVENTURE BOOK

CHATEAU MONTELENA
VERTICAL


ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2007

ALBA WINES EXHIBITION 2008

SCHRAMSBERG vs THE FAMOUS FRENCH

German Wine "Master Class" Tasting

S & M FOR WINETASTING GEEKS

TEAR-WAH
TASTING

2016 SF
INTERNATIONAL
WINE COMPETITON

2015 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2014 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2013 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2012 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2011 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2010 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2009 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION

2008 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
Periodically Amazing

2007 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
The Nose Knows!

2006 SF INTERNATIONAL  WINE COMPETITION.
SPIT HAPPENS

2005 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION.

2004 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING

The 2003 SF WINE COMPETITION

2002 SF WINE COMPETITION TASTING 

A Vertical Tasting of Nalle Zinfandels

 

 

ETC.

RANTINGS & RAVINGS

WINE ROADS of EUROPE

Food/Wine/Friends
A Photo Gallery

MASTER OF WINE ESSAY TOPICS

Old Bottles: A TASTE OF HISTORY

Bob's Venetian Diary

Bob's Paris Notes Updated Spring 2007

Wine Writer's Confession

NEW "CULT" WINERY

Some Restaurant Reviews

HOW TO SELL WINE.
Info For Brokers and
Wine Distributors.

HOW TO HOLD A TRADE TASTING

$100,000 WORTH OF WINE MARKETING ADVICE:  FREE!
Mainly for Foreign Vintners

MOLDY CORKS

Study Reveals Experts Taste More Than What's In the Glass!

OKANAGAN VALLEY WINE TOUR-2010

BRIAN'S 2005 SUMMER VACATION WITH UNCLE

Gerald's Tour de France 2006

GERALD'S TOUR DE FRANCE 2008

A TOUR OF PORTUGAL-2009

HOW TO SPEAK BETTER ITALIAN

PONZI'S 40th
ANNIVERSARY

ROOSEVELT'S 2005 CHILI COOK-OFF

ROOSEVELT'S 2007 CHILI COOK-OFF

Grape Goddess

Ross Bruce Birthday

ALESSIA DALL'U

CCIV

FAQs

BURLINGAME

Links

MORE CHARDONNAYS

SOLITUDE WINES
The Solitude label has been around for nearly three decades, yet these days it's well under the radar.

Back in the 1990s it was a "gotta have" Chardonnay as winemaker Richard Litsch made a wine considered amongst the elite in California at that time.  He worked for Rombauer after his studies at U.C. Davis and then traveled to Australia and New Zealand to do some espionage there.  Returning to California he landed at job at Chalone when it was a super-serious, dedicated-to-quality brand. 

In 1986 he struck out on his own, launching the Solitude brand.  This was a reliably good bottle of Chardonnay for many years and it's still good today.

Litsch sold it to our friends Walt & Tina Dreyer, who along with their son Jonathan, own Solitude and a few other labels.  I believe they got their start when they purchased Grand Cru Vineyards, a once-prominent little winery in Sonoma's town of Glen Ellen.  Winemaker Richard Litsch is still making the Solitude wine.

We had lost track of the brand at one point and Walt stopped by to show us his latest vintage.  We liked the fragrance and flavors, but found the wine to be a bit sweet. 

"How can this wine be in a portfolio called "Dreyer" when it's not "dry"?" we wondered.  Well, we skipped that vintage but a year later Walt brought by the new vintage and it was, in fact, dry.

Upon release the Solitude Chardonnay, from the Sangiacomo Vineyards in Carneros, is typically a bit tightly wound.  But with a bit of time in the bottle, this develops handsomely.  We like the creamy, vanillin notes on the nose and palate.  There's ample toasty oak without the wine being just a wood bomb.  Add to the mix some apple and pear-like fruit and a touch of wood spice and you've got a rather showy bottle of wine.

We have the 2013 in stock presently and it's closing in on its peak.







SONOMA CUTRER
This winery was created specifically to focus on Chardonnay.  The project was started by Brice Jones in the 1970s, planting Chardonnay vineyards in the Windsor area of Sonoma, as well as in Sonoma Valley.

We were amongst the first people to see this amazing facility with its various state-of-the-art innovations.  Winemaker Bill Bonetti had been part of the design team and his input was heard by the architects.   I recall seeing a conveyor belt for "sorting" many years before this sort of thing was common here in California.  They also chose to pick into specially-designed boxes which could be quickly chilled to allow the fruit to start its journey towards being wine at a low temperature.

Bonetti was amongst the early winemakers to "whole cluster press" his Chardonnay.  Now you hear radio ads for Chardonnays from huge wineries which routinely "whole cluster press" their wine, or at least, they say they do.

While the wines have been nice and sometimes very fine, this firm has had its ups and downs in terms of marketing.  

Five Chardonnays are currently produced, but sales of these are restricted until someone determines they're not selling quickly enough.  It's really a quirky system.  

The basic Chardonnay is a twenty-buck bottle called "Russian River Ranches."  This is their "entry level" wine, being a nice, mildly appley, lightly citrusy dry white.  
Russian River Ranches is no longer offered to wine stores...this is to allow restaurants to ask a small fortune and have a wine that's "exclusive" since it cannot be found in retail stores.  
You see, consumers feel violated or ripped-off when they find a wine in a store for $18-$20 after they paid $40-$60 in a restaurant.
It currently costs restaurants less than $15 per bottle.

Replacing the Russian River Ranches in the retail market is a wine called "Sonoma Coast" Chardonnay.  We passed on early vintages and only recently tasted the current bottlings of both, side-by-side. 
I was able to taste this, totally blind, at a wine judging in 2013...we had no idea what the wine was, apart from its vintage and that it was labeled Chardonnay.  The three judges at my table unanimously voted to not award this even a modest Bronze Medal, meaning this was as dreary as dreary gets.

The Cutrer Vineyard wine is a Russian River Valley wine.  I find notes of ripe pear and a touch of wood...dry...medium-bodied.  Very nice, actually.

Les Pierres comes from a rocky vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.  It's a marvelous wine for those who are in tune with the wine.  For the rest of the world, it's a simple, light, dry white wine.  Too bad, because it's actually rather nice.
 
*****
Some years ago some marketing genius determined it would be best to focus sales of the Russian River Ranches wine to restaurants and "allow" stores such as ours to buy The Cutrer and Les Pierres from time to time.  Many customers, of course, don't hear the whole Sonoma Cutrer story when dining out, so they amble into the shop, see the $30-$40 bottles of the single vineyard wines and think we must be gouging customers since they paid "only" $30-something for the wine they had in a restaurant.  
 
*****


One year, ages ago, we were told there was no Russian River Ranches for our shop and I sent the founder, Brice Jones, a nice letter asking him to kindly send us a list of wines he'd suggest as substitutes for Sonoma Cutrer.  This would alert customers to the fact the winery was still in business and give them a tip on an alternative.  Two cases of wine arrived the following week, though I never did hear from Brice.

*****

The original shareholders grew interested in cashing out on their investment and the these shares were eventually purchased by the Kentucky liquor company of Brown-Forman.  This is the same firm which now owns brands such as Fetzer, Jekel and imports Bolla wines, sells Jack Daniels, as well as Lenox China and Hartmann luggage.    The firm finally fired "poor" Brice Jones and today you won't find a mention of his name on the winery web site.  Not even on the "history" page.  Winemaker Bill Bonetti is still mentioned, however.

*****

A high-end bottling of Chardonnay was released for the first time maybe a decade ago.  It's called Founder's Reserve.  Someone from the winery even came by the shop to show us a fact sheet of this wine.  It's apparently "too precious" to allow us to actually taste the wine since production is small and the price is high.  
"You sell it on the reputation of Sonoma Cutrer." we were told by the sales rep (who didn't even leave a card, not wanting us to pester him asking for cases of Russian River Ranches).
"Not on my reputation." I replied.

The distributor's representative and the winery rep departed, in search of more important customers, restaurant wine buyers.  
I was later told by the distributor rep that I was the only person who understood the quality of the wine and had an interest in buying them.  The restaurant buyers found the wines too simple or not rich enough (big, flabby or even slightly sweet) to offer them to their guests.  But of course, we are but a mere "retailer" and not as high a profile place as Barney's Beanery down the street.


 

Currently in stock:  Russian River Ranches No Longer available at Retail

2013 The Cutrer Vineyard  SALE $31.99
2010 Les Pierres (list $41) SALE $37.99





 





STONY HILL VINEYARD

This winery was the model for dozens of Napa Valley cellars in terms of its "cult following" back in the 1960s and 1970s...the fact that they sold wine exclusively to friends on their mailing list and a handful of dining establishments...and that they were, once-upon-a-time, widely regarded as the best Chardonnay in California.

The Stony Hill story begins in the 1940s when Fred and Eleanor McCrea, who lived, I believe, in Hillsborough, purchased an old piece of a hillside where someone kept goats, had a few fruit trees and grew a bit of wheat.  It was their "weekend getaway" home, except getting away during World War II, with gasoline rationing, was a bit difficult.


Fred worked for an advertising agency in San Francisco and was in love with the place.  The wine business was tiny in Napa in the 1940s and yet they had some friends who encouraged them to plant grapes.  U.C. Davis experts suggested Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but McCrea was enthralled with the notion of Chardonnay.  The university gurus didn't think Chardonnay would ripen (and/or that it might be subjected to frost damage, take your pick), but McCrea stuck to his guns and planted some anyway, adding a small parcel to the state total of 225 acres.  ((Today there are more than 90,000 acres of Chardonnay.))

Riesling is still made and I can tell you, we opened a bottle of a 15 year old Stony Hill in 2008 and this was amazing with a capital "A."  They used to sell those grapes to Lee Stewart who had a small, boutique winery across the valley called Souverain.  He was the leading Riesling-meister.  A former BV associate named Joe Heitz bought Chardonnay grapes when the fellows at the Christian Brothers Winery refused to pay a premium price for these higher-than-usual-quality grapes.  The going rate was $40 a ton and not a penny less!

McCrea knew he had good fruit and was a bit sad to see it blended away into anonymity at Christian Brothers, so he started making his own.  They built a small winery in 1951 and a few years later entered their wine in the state fair, winning a gold medal.  Word spread about this lovely and exclusive wine and by the 1970s you had to be on the mailing list to buy Stony Hill wines.

I went to visit them and have a taste in the early 1970s...Fred and Eleanor were sweet people and enjoyed reminiscing about their days in the Burlingame and Hillsborough communities.

Fred had a bit of help with the winemaking from a fellow who'd worked at Beaulieu, though this guy was mostly a vineyard expert.  He could tap friends such as Stewart and Heitz for help if he needed guidance.  They used to have high school kids in Napa come help during the harvest and later it dawned on them that they could get a UC Davis enology student to come work the harvest since school didn't begin until well into October.  

The roster of "kids" who worked for the Mcreas is impressive...Jed Steele who now owns Steele winery was a Stony Hill staffer.  So was Ric Forman who has Forman winery.  Hank Wetzel, whose family owns Alexander Valley Vineyards worked at Stony Hill.  So did chocolate-meister John Scharffenberger and John Konsgaard (he's a famous winemaker who produces over-the-top, high-octane wines.  His Grandpa owned a rock quarry in Napa and his dad was a Superior Court Judge for the county of Napa)!  

But the fellow who worked the vineyards after a stint at Sterling (in its early days) was Mike Chelini.  He's still the winemaker and has more than 30-something vintages under his belt.

Stony Hill still makes wine using their old, classic recipe.  They've not changed to be more fashionable and make wines for today's Chardonnay drinker.   The juice comes from estate-grown grapes.  It's fermented in old, rather neutral French oak barrels and they do not allow the wine to undergo a malolactic fermentation.  In fact, they filter the wine to be sure it's stable and doesn't undergo a secondary fermentation.  

The idea at Stony Hill is to make Chardonnay that tastes like it came from the Stony Hill vineyard.  And these wines, typically below 14% alcohol, manage to age beautifully.  In an era when the world demands "instant gratification" and when so many people are so terribly self-centered, it's nice to have a taste of wine from a time when the world was a much simpler place.

This sort of wine will not please the legions of Kendall-Jackson fans or those who find Rombauer's wine to be the height of sophistication.  And the wine, while it's perfectly nice in its youth, seems to blossom handsomely with a bit of a very scare commodity:  patience.

The 2007 vintage is in stock presently. Yes, it's got some bottle age.   This is a wine which tastes "stony" as in Stony Hill.  There's a flinty, minerally tone to the wine along with the apple/pear notes of the Chardonnay.  As I write this, I've read an article by some "experts" who claim that the notion of terroir and tasting the soil or vineyard is a bunch of bunk.   Maybe those people ought to try a glass of this Stony Hill wine...it might make them change their tune.

 
Currently in stock:  2007 STONY HILL Napa CHARDONNAY $35.99



 






TALLEY VINEYARDS
2013 "Estate" Chardonnay $25.99
The Talley family story begins after World War II when Oliver Talley took up life as a farmer.  He planted various crops of vegetables in the Arroyo Grande area, south of San Luis Obispo and not far from Pismo Beach.    His son Don noticed people planting grapevines to the north and south and he lobbied for planting some vineyards on the Talley estate.

In 1982 Don planted some vines, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  In 1986 they made their first vintage of Talley Chardonnay with total production tallying 450 cases.  

We here at Weimax were early fans and we recall when young Brian Talley stopped by the shop to show us his wine.  We snapped up enough cases to fill a floor stack and we have had the wine there almost ever since.  

Brian poked around the shop in the early years and would pick up a bottle of some French white Burgundy, wanting to see what it was people were willing to pay a premium price for.  

The wine continues to be quite good and well-liked by our customers.  

The 2013 "Estate" is a wonderful example of Talley Chardonnay.  The fruit comes from their Rincon vineyard with a bit of fruit from the slightly younger Rosemary's vineyard along with a small percentage from their Monte Sereno Vineyard.  This vintage saw a rather small crop and Talley whole-cluster pressed the juice out of the grapes.  The juice is then fermented in oak.  This used to have some Burgundian yeast for the fermentation.  These days, though, they use solely indigenous yeast.  

Fifteen percent new oak was employed, giving the wine a nice vanillin, toasty note.  Full malolactic gives the creamy texture to the palate.  Rich, without being heavy, the new Talley is very fine.  And it's dry.  No sugar, so if you're a big fan of Rombauer's Chardonnay, you'll probably not find this to be to your taste.
Very drinkable now!  

 
 
 
 



 




TESTAROSSA
 Central Coast Chardonnays  -- 
The name of this winery has nothing to do with Italian automobiles, but for the red hair of co-owner Rob Jensen.  The Jensens purchased the old Novitiate Winery in Los Gatos near San Jose.  I'm certain the old Jesuits would be stunned to taste the wines being made by the Testarossa crew!   Here these old guys made very standard table wines and some mildly-interesting fortified wines (Black Muscat, especially).  

Here's an old ad the Brothers used to promote their wines:



"Nothing Less Than A Miracle Could Create A Finer Wine."

These guys needed divine intervention to make wines of exceptional quality.  

Nothing in stock presently...
 


WOODSIDE VINEYARDS

Bob Mullen planted some vines in 1960 and a few years later he was vinifying small lots of Cabernet and Chardonnay from vineyards in and around Woodside, just a few miles south of our wine shop.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bob's wines had a cult following and were amongst the most sought-after in California.  These days people seem surprised to learn there are vineyards in Woodside, but at one point in time there were more acres of vines there than in Napa.

And some of the most impressive Cabernets came from the old La Questa Vineyard, planted by Emmett H. Rixford in the 1880s.  Rixford was a San Francisco lawyer who enjoyed French Bordeaux.  He even traveled to France to visit Chateau Margaux and it's there he took vine cuttings to plant in Woodside.  By the early 1900s his Cabernet was winning awards and in 1915 his wine took a gold medal at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  

Rixford's wine cost around 60-cents a bottle and that was considered a high-priced wine in those days.  (You could, we're told, buy a gallon of table wine for about 25-Cents.)  

Of course, over the years the town of Woodside has grown and there are more houses there today than ever before.  But many have, instead of a front lawn, a small vineyard.   And Woodside Vineyards does purchase the grapes from many of these suburban "farmers."

Bob Mullen sold a controlling interest of the winery to Louis Giurlani.  I remember the Giurlani name from ages ago...Giurlani Brothers, if I recall correctly.  They had some sort of distribution company.  And the Giurlani name was important in the local business of olive oil.  

Giurlani moved the winery operations to Menlo Park and the facility is in a warehouse area just south of Marsh Road.  He's got some kind of car museum along the lines of Burlingame's Candy Store which shows vintage autos and vintage wines.

We tasted a really good Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Mountain fruit.  It's mildly creamy, with nice pear-like fruit and vanillin note from the oak.  It's dry, medium bodied and thoroughly delicious.  

 




Other Distinctive Chardonnays



CAKEBREAD CELLARS
2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay List Price $47
SALE $39.99
 
Jack Cakebread was a photographer and was working on shooting pictures for a book about American wineries being written, sort of, by a Los Angeles attorney who was a wine fancier.  

The photos of Nathan Chroman's "Treasury of American Wines" was a delightful book and we still have a copy in our tasting room here at Weimax.
Chroman actually had sent out questionnaires to his favorite vintners asking them for background information for the book.  Jack Cakebread then visited these wineries around the country and took pictures.  Along the way, he and Mrs. Cakebread saw a cool little ranch in Rutherford owned by the Sturdivant Family.  They made an offer and next thing they knew, they were living in the Napa Valley and were soon to embark on a wine adventure of major proportions.

They vinified a few barrels of Chardonnay in 1973 and released these in 1974.  

The winery has been joined by Cakebread's son, Dennis and Bruce.  

From such a small start they today own 1100 acres of land, with more than half of it planted to vineyards.  We're told they make 75,000 cases of wine annually which suggests their vineyard yields are rather low.  We wonder if these statistics are accurate.

Most of the grapes for their Chardonnay come from the Carneros region.  They ferment perhaps 4% in stainless steel tanks and the rest goes into French oak for its fermentation.  Maybe one quarter of the wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation and they employ some lees-stirring while the wine remains in oak.  It is typically a bit over 14% alcohol and the wine is weighty and a bit warm on the palate.

This is one of those brands that has a measure of cachet amongst a segment of the local wine-drinking community.  Prices have been a bit high, in our view, given what you can buy from other California wineries (not to mention wines from Europe, New Zealand and Australia).  

But this has been one key to the success of the Cakebread brand.  It's a label which is often appreciated more for its branding than for the wine in the bottle.  So we'd say the wine marketing team at Cakebread does a pretty good job.





FAR NIENTE WINERY
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay  reg. $65 
SALE $54.99  (Magnums in stock now, too...$99.99)
The Far Niente Winery was established back in the 1880s and is located just south of Oakville in the shadows of the Mayacamas Mountains.  It's ironic that the wines cost so many dollars when the place has been owned by someone named Nickel.  Mr. Nickel, by the way,  died in 2003, after an illness.  

His family members did not see eye to eye and the winery was sold to the GI Partners investment group which owned, at the time of the sale, Duckhorn Vineyards and its various wineries and brands.  Shortly after GI bought Far Niente, they sold Duckhorn to another investment group, so the game of musical chairs continues in the Napa Valley.

But happily the founding management crew at Far Niente, who also have ownership shares in the company are still in place and doing a good job, we think.  

We used to say "Far Niente" is Italian for "expensive Napa Valley wines" and the marketing philosophy here is "why pay less?"  But while the wines were, in our view, weak for so many years, we are delighted to say the quality has improved and today they make a pretty good Chardonnay.  

The fruit comes from Coombsville, a somewhat below-the-radar site in southeast Napa.  It's a cool climate region and it's less windy than Carneros.  Further, the soils are deeper.

It seemed to us that the Far Niente Chardonnay began its increase in quality around the 2006 vintage and they've been improving ever since.

Far Niente barrel ferments its Chardonnay and leaves the wine on the spent yeast for about 10 months.  A bit more than half the barrels are brand new and the rest have been used just for one wine.  We like the use of oak in the wine, as it's certainly present and easy to detect, but it's not overwhelmingly woody.  They don't allow a malolactic fermentation and the wine retains a mildly appley fruit character with a touch of a toasty note, likely from both the time in barrel and the time on the spent yeast.

There are some notes in the 2014 which we find in mild French White Burgundy wines...and they have not chased the current fashion of brands such as Caymus and Rombauer by making wines which have residual sugar.  Bravo for that!



 


FOXGLOVE
2013 Central Coast Chardonnay $14.99
 

The Varner Brothers had been vineyard specialists when we first met them, as they worked for Dr. Thomas Fogarty in Woodside/Portola Valley.

The next chapter, they had a little importing venture and we purchased some terrific French wines.  In fact, we still buy wine from some of their 'discoveries' from their now defunct Park Wine Company.

The American dollar was on the downturn and they didn't view the French wine business as viable, so they shut the doors and concentrated on making their Varner labeled wines.

They then launched another label called Foxglove.  It's a line of modestly-priced bottlings, including Cabernet, Zinfandel and a rather delightful Chardonnay.

You can compare the 2013 Chardonnay to a good wine from Macon.  Maybe it's not quite on par with some top bottlings of Pouilly-Fuissé, but it's every bit as good as most "Macon Villages" wines.  And the price is attractive, as well.

It features a mildly pear-like fruit quality with a hint of citrus.  Oak is very faint.  The wine is dry and a good value.
Case discounts, too, so it's $13.50 or $12.75 by the dozen.

 
 


TALBOTT
The Talbott family has been making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the early 1980s.

The family was well-known for luxury neck-ties, a business started by Robb Talbott's father.  Mom sewed the ties and Dad sold them in the town of Carmel.

In the Carmel Valley they have a vineyard called "Diamond T" and in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey, you'll find their Sleepy Hollow vineyard.

I can tell you the early vintages were marvelous and stylish...amongst the best in California.

Then in the late 1990s, perhaps, or early 2000s we found the style of Talbott's Chardonnays to be remarkably variable.  

Some vintages suddenly had lost the oak character associated with the early Talbott Chardonnays.  Some years the wine seemed to be fruity and a bit sweet.  Vintage to vintage, the wine was, frankly, inconsistent.

We had not had a Talbott Chardonnay in the shop in several years.  Over that time, they'd introduced a few other labels, Logan and Kali-Hart...these are wines which are more "commercial" in style and which are aimed at competing with Kendall Jackson or Clos du Blah.

I included the 2011 Talbott "Sleepy Hollow" bottling in a blind-tasting of Chardonnays in November of 2012.  We had a trio of French Burgundies and 5 California wines.  The Talbott was the surprise winner of the tasting and its style was a bit surprising, too.

It was not the oaky or toasty wine of the early days.  Nor was it the sweet, fruity style of a few years ago.

Instead we found a wine which actually smells and tastes of Chardonnay "fruit."  The Chardonnay grape often produces wine of little personality and so typically the hand of the winemaker helps produce a style of wine appreciated by those who enjoy Chardonnay.  Sometimes this entails dominating the wine with an oak quality.  Other times it means a secondary fermentation takes center stage.  Sometimes the wine spends months on the yeast sediment and is vigorously stirred to give a toasty element to the wine.

Well, the 2012 Talbott is PURE Chardonnay!  Think of the fragrances and flavors of a Granny Smith apple but without the sugar...that's the 2012 Talbott.  We didn't find much oak here, though it was supposedly matured in French barrels, 30% being new.

The winery was purchased by E&J Gallo, so when the last bottles have been sold here, this brand will no longer be offered in the shop.  It will be available solely by special order.
Currently in stock:  2012 TALBOTT "Sleepy Hollow" CHARDONNAY $36.99




Z-D WINES
2014 California Chardonnay  list $37 SALE $31.99
We have fond memories of visiting the Zepponi and DeLeuze family winery on Burndale Road in Sonoma back when this was a "garage" operation.  We were early supporters of this little enterprise, having purchased cloudy Gewurztraminer and wildly exotic Pinot Noir.  They also made Riesling back in those early days.  


Today it's operated by the De Leuze family, Gino Zepponi having died in an auto accident in the mid-1980s.  Norm DeLeuze passed away in 2007, so both pioneers are gone, but they certainly live on in memory and spirit.

They left a very distinctive "recipe" for their Chardonnay, blending fruit from the Central Coast with North Coast grapes.  

Then the juice goes into small American oak barrels for its fermentation.  Most producers, these days, ferment Chardonnay either in stainless steel or concrete and skip the oak or they conduct the fermentation in somewhat toasty French oak barrels which often contributes a vanillin quality to the wine.
American oak can make quite an impression on the wine and ZD's ends up being quite distinctive and unique.  They cool the cellar to retard the fermentation.  While many wineries will ferment their Chardonnays over the course or a couple of weeks, ZD's takes as long as a couple of months.  We think this helps capture the some of the exotic fruit notes in their wine.  Add to the recipe the American oak and you'll likely detect the pineapple-like fruit quality of ZD Chardonnay.

They take precautions to not have a secondary, malolactic fermentation.  And once the primary fermentation is complete, they rack the wine off the spent yeast to not pick up any leesy or smoky notes.

They then begin the task of blending and assembling this Chardonnay Jig-Saw Puzzle.  This continues through the spring and into summer.  Around July and August they bottle the wine and the new vintage hits the market 
The 2014 is the current offering.

This vintage shows the typical ZD "spice" from its exposure to American oak barrels. If you've not tasted ZD Chardonnay in a while (or ever), maybe now is the time to take the plunge?

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

winepour.gif (12696 bytes)Wine Tasting Today

TO INQUIRE ABOUT A WINE:  
Copyright © 1999 WEIMAX  December 6, 2016