Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chard Which Way?

I recently attended a tasting with a local wine club I belong to. The theme was California Chardonnays and how they differ. We would be comparing Chardonnays from a few regions of California and how they differ in flavor and color. Interesting! Why? One of the reasons why I enjoy Chardonnay so much is because I believe no two are alike! Most people just assume all Chardonnays are the same. This wine is far from being one dimensional. If my readers come away learning one thing from this story, it's that where the wine comes from will make a difference in how the wine will taste. This tasting was proof of that.

We started with a Chardonnay from the central coast of California, 2007 Chalone Monterey Chardonnay. FYI,there is an actual AVA (American Viticultural Area) named Chalone. What makes the terroir of Chalone so different is that it is up high in the mountains above Monterey, above the fog line. With that you get a unique minerality. Very flinty but wonderfully balanced with a nice touch of stone fruit. The color was a very pretty gold. Not dark, but not very light either. An additional note, Chalone Vineyards participated in the 1975 Paris tasting shown in the "Bottle Shock" movie. However, although it did not fare as well as its competitors, it still has had a solid ride throughout the years. I definitely would recommend it for any occasion. It is not expensive at all coming in at around $15 per bottle.

The next Chardonnay we tried was the 2008 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Chardonnay. This is the entry level Chardonnay for this winery. Made by "Superstar" winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren, this wine couldn't do anything wrong. Pears! Lots of them, paired with a slight touch of oak and some vanilla. Almost transparent in color. Easy to drink, easy on the pocketbook.

I visited Chateau St. Jean last Fall and sat on their terrace and tasted many of their wines! The place is beautiful and has the single best view in the Sonoma Valley (from what I've seen so far anyway)--in fact, my profile shot on this blog was photographed there. (I'm holding the magnum of Cinq Cepages!!) This one came in at $13. Not bad at all...

On to the third Chardonnay...Another central coast find, 2007 Edna Valley "Paragon" Chardonnay. I've enjoyed many vintages of this wine. It is consistent, tropical and fruit-laden with a nice mineral quality as well. This one hails from San Luis Obispo county, a little farther south. The tropical fruit blends well with the nutty, spicy finish. This wine does not undergo a secondary fermentation and is aged sur-lie. Still has a nice medium-bodied mouthfeel without being cloying. The color was similar to the Chalone Vineyards bottle. Easy to enjoy and great to share with friends. This one is easy to find in most markets, wine shops, grocery stores etc for around $14.

Want to know a secret? Here's the undiscovered part--you can visit their beautiful winery and tasting room in San Luis Obispo and for $10 (the going rate) you can taste a nice line-up of winery exclusives. Definitely recommended!

For Chardonnay number four, we are going back up north--to the Russian River Valley and the 2006 Picket Fence Chardonnay. I want to like this wine, I really do. The maker of this wine is Don Van Staaveren (husband of Chateau St. Jean's winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren), a veteran with many years in the winemaking business. It is a new project for him and along with the Chardonnay, he also makes Russian River Pinot Noir. A year ago, I got sucked into a beautiful magazine ad for this wine. The label on this bottle was simple and spectacular. I purchased a bottle expecting something really magnificent. The wine, unfortunately, left me flat. I tried really hard to like it but it seemed that the description of the wine didn't match what I was tasting. It was very light-bodied for a Russian River Chardonnay and the creaminess I read about in the description simply was not there. The color, a medium golden color, showed it was a bit older than the others. I've tried it twice since since the original tasting and experienced similar results. For a $20 bottle, it was just too middle of the road for me to spend that much money on it. I have to be honest, I've tried better! I'd be curious to try any newer vintages if there's going to be any. I've seen nothing about it--not even on their website. Guess I'll have to wait...

And finally, wine number five! The 2007 St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay. I recently met their winemaker, Danielle Cyrot, when I attended the Napa day for the Wine Blogger's Conference. She's young and knows what she's doing! Definitely up and coming, making some fantastic red wines as well, such as the Orropas. I had never tried any of the whites before this tasting. This wine is a fantastic example of what a cool climate Chardonnay can be! The Carneros district of Napa (It also incorporates a tiny bit of Sonoma) gets that wonderful cool breeze from the San Francisco Bay, being at the southern end of the county. With this wine, you get this medium-bodied, citrus and apple bomb. Just luscious with a hint of vanilla oak. Very nice. The color was a light golden color. Around $20 for the price point but I got a sale price on it so I was happy! St. Clement is located in St. Helena along HWY 29.The winery is a Victorian house with nice grounds. Definitely worth stopping by.

My goal was to bring one of these Chardonnays home and ta-da!! It ended up being the St. Clement. In fact, I bought two. I can't wait to enjoy it again. Like any good thing, drinking the same Chardonnay can get old. Please try some othe from different areas of the United States, or even some white Burgundies from France or the crisp Chardonnays of Australia or South Africa. The sky's the limit on this varietal. Have fun with it and please be safe and smart with your choices! Cheers everyone!

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