Archive for the ‘Review Chardonnay wine’ Category

A Tale of Two Chardonnays: Part 2 (Rodney Strong)


Yesterday I made a confession: I like oaky Chardonnay. Not the “two by four in your mouth” kind of oaky, but I definitely like some richness and toast. I won’t take you through my diatribe again: you can read the story if you really want to hear it. Let me just cut to the chase and talk about one of the two great everyday Chardonnays I’ve enjoyed recently.

Rodney Strong Vineyards has been a bastion of Sonoma County wine culture since it was established in 1959. Rodney was one of the first to believe in the potential of a Northern California wine region that was Not Napa. He explored the micro-climates of the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and what is known now as the Sonoma Coast, and identified the best vineyard sites for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other classic varietals.

He realized that Chardonnay would thrive in the cool-climate regions in western and southwestern Sonoma County, where the influence of the Pacific Ocean allowed the grapes to ripen slowly and develop great flavors and acid.

Thirty years later, Tom Klein, fourth generation California agriculturalist, took the reins at Rodney Strong and continued the program of single vineyard, reserve and blended bottlings.

The Chard I tasted, Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay 2009, is part of their entry-level series. Grapes are sourced from vineyards in the Russian River, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast and blended to create — my favorite style of Chardonnay. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Tale of Two Chardonnays: Part 1 (Cameron Hughes)

chardI like good Chardonnay. Still.

Even though we’re all supposed to be jumping on the New Zealand Sauv Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and Italian White bandwagon, I still crave my richer, oakier, more hedonistic Chardonnay.

I know it’s not cool! But I still want some oak in my white wine.

Not too much, mind you. I agree that the “chewing-on-a-two-by-four” style of California Chard is way out of balance and not fun to drink. But after years of tasting and reading technical notes I’ve pieced together a “style profile” for my ideal Chardonnay: my Nirvana in a Glass will see only partial ML (malolactic fermentation), and a gentle treatment with French oak — not 100%, and not new barrels.

What will all that get me? A full-bodied but balanced Chardonnay, with richness on the palate, some crispness on the finish, and a little butterscotch along the way. I’ve had some great Chards that fit my profile, and they’re always priced upwards of $25 (try Kenneth Volk Santa Maria Cuvee 2007, or Ortman Edna Valley 2007). But is it possible to get this style for an everyday price?

Apparently it is. I’ve just discovered two California whites that I’d happily drink any day.

The first is Cameron Hughes California Chardonnay 2009, which is part of a new series from the smart California negociant and marketer (you can read my background article on Cam Hughes and a review of his Lot 190 Cabernet:  “The Rise of the American Negociant”.) Until  recently, Cam Hughes wines were marketed in “Lots,” each one a bottling of surplus juice from a respected appellation. Each was a one-time offering and when it was gone, it was gone.

The new “California Series” is a more traditional model: he’ll source his juice from “top vineyards and wineries across California” and each variety will be available vintage after vintage. There are currently two wines in the series, a Meritage and the Chardonnay I tasted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Variety is the Spice of…Wine: Kenneth Volk Vineyards

ken vThe wine business is so glamorous … like when Ken Volk first started out, making wine in a neighbor’s garbage can and crushing grapes with a baseball bat. Wow, that sounds kinda crazy, but it shows determination, ingenuity, and a non-conforming personality.

But it turned out all right. Ken Volk ended up building Wild Horse Cellars into a 160,00o case winery and then selling it for what we hope were big bucks to the liquor conglomerate Jim Beam.

I remember meeting Ken back in the Wild Horse days. We were wine distributors at the time and he spent the best part of an afternoon with us, talking and tasting what seemed like dozens of varieties. Heck, there probably were dozens of labels: while he was best known for his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Ken just never held with the common wisdom that you should concentrate your resources and energy on a few “fighting varietals” (you know, Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir). Instead, he experimented with practically every grape he could find, usually with very good results.

And he hasn’t changed a bit. He launched Kenneth Volk Vineyards in  2004 when he purchased a run-down winery facility in the Santa Maria Valley that had been the original Byron winery. After a year of “fix-up,” he started making wine from his estate Chardonnay grapes and fruit sourced from some of the best vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

He’s still known for his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but he’s up to his old tricks and produces several bottlings from what he calls “heirloom varieties.” These are grapes that are rarely seen on California labels, but can make good or great wines. And he’s right — I tried a few and was amazed with his results. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Wine Lady:Mer Soleil Great Chardonnay

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Look Abroad for CHEAP but GOOD Wine

globeI just read a post by Tim Fish, a contributor to He talked about the effect our expectations have on our experiences. He tells a really cute story about childhood memories that’ll make many of us think back to the wood-paneled station wagon and 8mm movie camera’s of our youth.

In wine terms, he said we expect much more from an expensive bottle than an inexpensive one, and are much more disappointed when “name” bottles and legendary vintages don’t live up to their press.

I couldn’t agree more. We live in a culture where the price tag is equated with the value, and a big-ticket car or watch or wine bestows tremendous cachet on its owner — sometimes more cachet than they deserve.

Fish says it’s a pleasure to find things that over-deliver: where the value far exceeds the price. Again, ditto. He mentions several California wines that are a great deal for the money.fuego

So here’s where I disagree: I’ve become more and more disappointed with the value of California wines. The cheap ones — i.e. under $10 — have flaws that put me right off. The whites usually have an edge of sweetness where there shouldn’t be one: I don’t want sugar in my Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay! (Watch this video to see me rant about this.) I assume they put sugar in wine to cover up the wine’s flaws, and to pander to Americans’ penchant for sweet foods (Sugar Frosted Flakes anyone?) Read the rest of this entry »

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To Oak or Not To Oak… A Chardonnay Wine Review


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“I love this warmth and richness.”

“I hate this heavy oak.”

Or how about…

“I love this snappy grapefruit.”

“I hate how this acid turns my mouth inside out.”

Both these examples of diametrically opposed taste buds are classic examples of why we can’t all enjoy the same white wines. Oak is oak, acid is acid, and never the twain shall meet. And these are not made up comments: they are actual conversations between me and my husband while tasting white wine.

“A-Ha!” you say. Does this indicate irreparable marital discord? I don’t think so. I hope not.

But what it comes down to is this: white wines represent a very wide array of styles and winemaking techniques, from super-dry, flinty and acidic wines such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Austrian Gruner Veltliner, to oaky, soft, even flabby Chardonnays (classic California style). In my vast (or pretty vast) experience of conducting and participating in wine tastings, people’s palates go either one way or the other: they either love New Zealand whites or they hate them, and they either love oak-y Chards or hate them.

But let’s make a big wine wish: What if we could find a white that would bridge the gap; that would be like the Nobel Peace Prize of the wine world and unite the warring factions? Read the rest of this entry »

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Too Much Of Everything: California Zin and Chard

raisinsI was reading an article about Zinfandel written by Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, SFGate. The event that prompted the article is the ZAP festival coming soon to SFO. What’s ZAP, you say? The acronym stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and it’s a group of winemakers and wine drinkers  who love big, juicy, high alcohol, red wine.

And there’s the rub — the “big, juicy, high-alcohol” part. Zinfandel producers have been accused of letting the grape lead them where  no man/woman should go. The criticism is that grapes are  left on the vine until they’re too ripe and too high in sugar, producing a Port-like wine with more raisin than berry flavors and alcohol above 15%. On top of that, many producers overdo the oak barrel aging to add texture, and they end up with waaaaay too much vanilla and toast. As well as everything else.

Some say, “Bring it on!” Others say (yours truly included), “Tone it down!”

It’s important to point out that all Zin producers aren’t on the same side of this fence. Bonne quotes two winemakers: Ehren Jordan, who makes wine for Turley Wine Cellars, said “I actually have a major issue with a lot of Zinfandel that is produced in California.” Mike Dashe, owner/winemaker of Dashe Cellars, a vey respected Zin producer, said, “I think some of the exuberance for that super-ripe, almost overripe, fruit is not there anymore…I really think that people are tired of that.”

I sure am. My palate gets tired of those Port-like Zins after about one sip, and the over-ripe fruit starts to comes across muddy and flabby. There’s no balance in these wines, and balance is what good wine is all about.

At about this point in Bonne’s article, I started going, “Hmmmm: overdone, too heavy, too much oak.  This sounds like the Chardonnay debate!”

The same arguments made about Zin could be made about a lot of California Chardonnay. I happen to be one of those wine drinkers who object to chewing on a 2×4 when I drink a glass of Chardonnay, and there used to be way too many of those on the market. Recently, though, I’ve seen a trend away from the Super Woody Chards towards a more balanced style where fruit, acid and oak all happily co-habitate.

I have an idea. I say we get the High Alcohol Raisin’y Zin people together with the Over-Oaked, Too Buttery Chardonnay folks. We make them try each others wines, and maybe they’ll see the faults that the rest of us have been grousing about. Then the wine industry can set about making nothing but wines that the discerning public (i.e. “me”) can enjoy.

What a concept! Do you think it’ll work? Cheers…

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Balanced and Delicious: Pierano Estate Chardonnay


A lot of wine comes out of Lodi, California. And a lot of it doesn’t appeal to me.

But Pierano Estate Vineyards makes some fine Lodi wines. And they’ve been at it for a long time.

Pierano’s colorful history dates back to the Gold Rush days, when Giacomo Pierano got off the boat from Italy and set out to find gold. What he found instead were a lot of gold miners in need of everything from pick-axes to potatoes. He opened a Mercantile in one of Lodi’s mining camps and made good money supplying the other newcomers’ needs.

When he returned to Italy a few years later to fetch his bride, he took cuttings  of some Italian Zinfandel vines from his family’s vineyards. These he planted on his new land in Lodi, tending the vineyards and selling grapes while his wife worked the store.pierano 2

Let’s skip to the next generation, who were at the helm of Pierano Estate Vineyards when Prohibition was declared. Many wineries went bust during those 13 years, but Pierano actually profited. Because Zinfandel grapes were their only crop, and Zin had not yet been recognized by the government as “wine” grapes, they were able to make good money bootlegging their grapes to Italian home winemakers in New York and Canada. Good thinking!

Pierano is now run by the fourth generation, who have been making and selling their own wine for almost 20 years. They use many of great-grandfather Giacomo’s methods, such as head pruning their old vine Zinfandel and hand picking their grapes, but have expanded to many more varietals.

Let me back up now and explain my opening statement, that I don’t like many Lodi wines. The climate in this region, which sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills, is quite warm. Many of the wines I’ve tasted from Lodi have flavors that are over-ripe, cooked, and raisin-y. Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet the “New” California Chardonnay: Midnight Cellars 2008

midnightBack in the day, we all loved chewing on a log. Or at least it seemed like it, because the California Chardonnay we drank was so full of oak that you thought you were chomping on a 2 x 4.

Not that that was a bad thing…

For years, American Chardonnay was aged in young American oak barrels, and put through 100% malolactic fermentation, which was a secondary fermentation that resulted in the crisp malic acids (like the acid in green apples) being converted to lactic acid (like the acid in milk). The result was a “buttery” mouthfeel, and combined with 100% oak barrel aging, it produced a Chardonnay that was so rich and heavy it tasted like you were drinking butter on toast.

So fast forward to 2010, when imported and domestic Pinot Grigio has begun to steal some of Chardonnay’s market share. The savvy marketers at the big wine conglomerates noticed the trend (they don’t miss a trick) and postulated that Americans might be getting tired of traditional California Chardonnay.

And I believe they were. I could see it in my customers when they said, “You know, I think I’ll try something different from my usual Chardonnay.” And winemakers saw it too. Or maybe they also got tired of over-oaked whites. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kick-Ass White Wines

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