What’s in a varietal? Do Greek Roditis or Savatiano float your endemic boat? Are Italian Grecanico or Cerasuola your wayfaring, off the beaten path, go to grape variety strays? Could it be that French Arbois or Sylvaner are your geek out points of reference? If any or all of the above speak coquettish truths about you, then how do you extrapolate epiphanies from a credit-worthy, dyed-in-the-wool list borne out of the Napa Valley?
Related – Napa Valley: The next generation
On a California journey the indenture is written as a very fixed notion, a contract between vintner and taster, specific to and bonded by preordained expectation. So far I have waxed on about Cabernet Sauvignon and ripeness. I have made not so infrequent mention of Sauvignon Blanc and I have dipped with fervent foray into the inner workings of Pinot Noir. On that same trip the holiest of sunshine daydream holies was presented to our sundry Canadian group. The light of west coast life. Napa Valley Chardonnay.
Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age
Six Napa representatives of the highest order, the vinetarius maximus of the valley if you will, gathered in a great big house out on the St. Helena Highway. They came to the 10,000 square foot, Luther Turton-designed Rutherford House at Beaulieu Vineyard to pour their Chardonnay wares. Our moderator was Ginevra Altomara AS, CSW, Trade Education Manager for Treasury Wine Estates. The six of the best tasting gathered together winemakers Jon Priest of Etude Wines, Mark Beringer of Beringer Wine Estates, Domenica Totty of Beaulieu Vineyard, Christophe Paubert of Stags’ Leap Winery, Matthew Glynn of Acacia Vineyard and Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards. There was no sighting of any alleged ghost that lives under the staircase.
Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens
The best of the six draws into question old versus new world theories and Napa Valley’s current position relative to Burgundy. Times have changed. Forget about the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Its relevance in 2016 is merely historical. California Chardonnay is more diverse than it has ever been. Progression, climate change, raw materialistic availability and market share all conspire to reside on its beautiful hillsides. So it must be asked, can Burgundy keep up with the fictionality of the Napa Valley reality? If Chardonnay in these parts is worthy of fetischistic yardsticks usually extended to measure anthologist wines, how can the European union keep up with the North American machine?
The epiphany drawn from such a tasting corroborates the intellection of suggestive antithetical theory that the further south you plant Chardonnay in Napa Valley, the more restrained and elegant it will have a chance to be. If Carneros was not already widely agreed upon as the sub-appellation to rival Sonoma for cool-climate Chardonnay distinction, these wines conjoin to push the point. The apodictical is in the tapioca.
Taken exclusively from the estate ranch, out of well draining, volcanic soils at 400 feet of elevation. Rocky, cobbly, clay loam soils that “takes you off of the floor of the valley.” Makes for compact grapes, condensed, of low yields. “Hens and chicken clusters” notes Jon Priest. A beautifully wood restrained Chardonnay, with orchard fruit aromas and a lacy, silky texture. Mineral tang as gossamer as any, with a fine, cool and clear circuitous Carneros night carnival of vivid luminosity. Old school winemaking you might say, introduced by some skin contact, set in all French oak (10-15 per cent new), ubiquitous yeast spontaneous, primary and then elongated malolactic fermentation. Protracted wine of length the same, for delicasse, with ode to 16 months sur lie making for the gossamer texture. Autolytic Chardonnay that is totally dry but with fruit sweetness. Of the bees and to light a candle to last in the temple. Only 300 cases made. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted February 2016 @ #treasurywineestates
Beringer Luminous Chardonnay 2013, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, California (395699, $39.95, WineAlign)
This is the 3rd vintage of the Luminous, taken from one vineyard site on Big Ranch Road in the Oak Knoll District. Seductively reductive and and celestially volatile for Chardonnay, tender rich in mineral and rendered in citrus fruit. The accumulative tang gives its luminous aspect ratio, like glowing metal, infrared, incandescent. Compressed orange, of zest but not flesh really opens as the acidity prepares the palate for waves of scraped citrus. Done up all in French oak, 30 per cent new. A long fermentation ameliorates the aromatics and opens the door for subsequence by subtle toast. All that said, the tension is not so high, but the finish is long. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted February 2016 @
A foot in two worlds young Chardonnay, at once easy with ripe fruit and honey butter spread on golden, caster crystallized toast. Fashioned in a very accessible and peripheral commercial style, more block than greater vineyard driven. The well-drained, hilly site is off of Deadly Lane, at a southerly aspect, on the beach, against a sand bar. Eight is from an earlier pick then the rest of the ranch, for a Chardonnay of natural acidity, sweetly viscous and rich. Crafted to be a high malolactic influenced, 55 per cent new, 11 months in French oak of medium toast structured, in avoidance of caramel and butterscotch Chardonnay. Within and without of 25 per cent natural fermentation and 95 per cent malolactic, made with a yeast cocktail. Driven to be a softer, textural wine, which it is. Soothing Carneros Chardonnay for when “I follow the road, though I don’t know where it ends.” Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016 @
A big barrel effect is wholly, utterly and diametrically mitigated with exceptional fruit quality and a minerality as stoked and striking as any. This represents the multi-faceted displays of all in Chardonnay replete with a linear streak of raging acidity. Bathed in 50 per cent new oak and considering the implosive integration that is nothing short of remarkable. The fruit comes by way of 65 per cent northerly Stanly Ranch vineyard, the rest from Poseidon in the south of Carneros. Settling was encouraged before going to (a shortish stay) barrel, for protection, then bottled in May. Only available through the winery, this barrel selection Chardonnay should easily linger into its 10th birthday. Only 500 cases made. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted February 2016 @
The most sunshine and buttery goodness. Full on expression with new oak at the forefront. A style that has stuck and wont go away. Grown in the “California sprawl,” from 30 year-old vines with just two wires, floppy vines with fruit tucked inside a canopy plus exposed fruit, caramelized and glazed. The disposition is nothing less than blessed, with charismatic personality and weight. Native yeast leads the faux-secondary fermentation, acts and acquiesces to quite toasty and really lingers. Definitely makes a statement, albeit a natural, 14.9 per cent alcohol one. A six or seven chord wine, atmospheric and orchestrated, with thankful necessary acidity to render it more than likeable, sellable and consumable. Needs two years to reign in the wood. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2016 #
Commensurate restraint emerges and out of a vintage that gave generously. Fruit comes first though barrel has more than a few paragraphs to dictate for a very ripe wine on the edge of ripeness. Rutherford provides 58 per cent of the fruit (in a vineyard located across the street from BV house). The balance (42) comes from Oak Knoll District, a warm, warmer and warmest place. The addition is both hefty and prodigious, with brown butter glazed on route. The barrels are 100 per cent French, 60 per cent of them new and malolactic is gifted to 100 per cent. It all surmises up, up and away to the creamiest of expressions, flavoured in baked apple, vanilla and crème caramel. Drink 2016-2020. Tasted February 2016 @
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel