California Chardonnay
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California Chardonnay

 

The Fifty Best California Chardonnay Tasting of 2017

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 20 recent release California Chardonnay wines with a panel of 10 wine judges. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles and served well chilled. Only ice water and white bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold and Gold medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no silver or bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. Prices indicated do not include tax.

 



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Alpha Omega
2014 Chardonnay

(Napa Valley)   $76

Grapes for this wine (100% Chardonnay) were totally barrel-fermented, then aged for 18 months in French oak (60% new).

Aroma: Golden apple, green apple, lemon, lemon peel, citrus, pineapple, coconut, lemon chiffon, flowers, jasmine, honeysuckle, toasty, oats, hay, minerality, wet rocks.

Palate: Lemon, citrus, pineapple, lemon custard, cream, butter, honeycomb, floral, mushroom, leather, wood, oak, bright acidity, structured.

Finish: Vanilla, citrus pith, wood, creamy mouthfeel, sits very well on the palate, round with a bit of fat, somewhat oak-driven, well-balanced, structured, elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Alpha Omega 2014 Chardonnay

 



White Oak Vineyards & Winery
2015 Chardonnay

(Russian River Valley) $220

Peach, pineapple, mild citrus, bright citrus peel, tropical, honeysuckle, mineral, earthy, toasty oak, deep toast, smoky, fresh.

Aroma: Peach, pineapple, tropical fruit, coconut, vanilla, vanilla bean, buttery, minerality, mellow oak, smoke, good balance, structured, high-toned.

Palate: Green apple, apple, pear, red grapefruit, lime, honey, creamy, full mouthfeel, high acid.

Finish: Green apple, low acidity, rich, sits well, nice, like an elegant Burgundian.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



White Oak Vineyards & Winery 2015 Chardonnay



The Withers
2015 English Hill Chardonnay

(Sonoma Coast)   $55

For this wine, hand-harvested grapes – from a vineyard noted for loamy soil and cool afternoon breezes &ndassh; were fermented in neutral 7-10 year-old French barrels and aged in barrels for 16 months on its lees (wasted yeast).

Aroma: Orchard fruit, pineapple, citrus, lemon, candied lemon peel, chiffon pie, honey, mint.

Palate: Lemon, pineapple, citrus, berries, melon, lemon tart, candied citrus, pralines, yellow flowers, buttery, leather, earthy, oak, acidity.

Finish: Citrus, tropical, mushroom, steady, even, sits well in mouth, great.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



The Withers 2015 English Hill Chardonnay



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS:


Alpha Omega
2014 Chardonnay Un-Oaked

(Napa Valley)   $44

This 100% Chardonnay was totally fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 6 months in stainless steel on its lees (wasted yeast) before bottling.

Aroma: Orchard pear, green apple, melon, pineapple, citrus, lemon peel, honey, creamy, hay, mint, mineral, woody.

Palate: Orchard fruit, apple, pineapple, tropical fruit, grapefruit, sour lemon, lemon peel, crisp.

Finish: Peach, citrus, oaky, earthy, clean.


Gold Medal
Gold medal



Alpha Omega 2014 Chardonnay Un-Oaked



Alyris Vineyards
2014 The Audition Carneros Chardonnay

(Napa Valley)   $55

For this wine, premium grapes – sourced from vineyards that experience cool temperatures from their proximity to San Pablo Bay – were fermented and aged for 10 months in 100% French oak barrels (50% new).

Aroma: Green pear, tropical fruit, lychee, butterscotch, cream, vanilla, floral, wild flowers, lavender, herbaceous, wood, oak.

Palate: Sweet strawberry, apple juice, citrus, vanilla, brioche, toasty, minerality, woodsy, pine, oaky, bright acidity, balanced, yum.

Finish: Good fruit, wood, oak, balanced, great finish.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Alyris Vineyards 2014 The Audition Carneros Chardonnay



Grgich Hills Estate
2013 Chardonnay

(Napa Valley)   $43

Grapes for this wine (100% Chardonnay) were sourced from vineyards in American Canyon and Carneros. Following fermentation using indigenous yeast, the wine was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels (60% neutral & 40% new).

Aroma: Green apple, citrus, verbena, lemon oil, green grass, vegetal, forest floor, earthy, butter, wood.

Palate: Orchard fruit, citrus, pleasant mushroom, crisp, slight -bodied.

Finish: Melon, citrus, nice fruit, peppery, acidity, well-balanced, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Grgich Hills Estate 2013 Chardonnay



Bonterra
2015 Chardonnay

Organic (Mendocino)   $13

For this wine, organic grapes from Mendocino were fermented in a combination of French and American oak (70%) or stainless steel (30%). Aging of most of the wine (84%) took place in neutral oak with the remainder in new oak.

Aroma: Lemon, citrus, treacle, vanilla, butter, soft flowers, herbaceous, mineral, wet rocks, wood.

Palate: Lime, grapefruit, citrus, citrus peel, tropical fruit, vanilla, creamy, vegetal, dill, grassy, hay, popcorn, wet rocks, strong woodiness, oaky, bright acidity, rich.

Finish: Lemon, lemon zest, light slate, butter, cedar, oak.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bonterra 2015 Chardonnay



The Withers
2015 Peters Vineyard Chardonnay

(Sonoma Coast)   $38

Grapes for this wine were hand-picked from a Sebastopol vineyard noted for cool afternoon breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. Fermentation took place in 7-10 year-old neutral French barrels and aged in barrels for 16 months on its lees (wasted yeast).

Aroma: Lemon, grapefruit, citrus, apple, berries, honey, honeycomb, honeysuckle, vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, wet rocks, fresh.

Palate: Peach, pear, apple, citrus, fresh lemonade, vanilla, honey, honeysuckle, minerality, bright.

Finish: Apple, lemon, butter, Chablis-like, good acidity, very bright.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



The Withers 2015 Peters Vineyard Chardonnay



Harken
2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay

(California)   $13

Grapes used to produce this wine hailed from the Arroyo Seco AVA of Salinas Valley. Following 100% barrel fermentation, the wine was aged for 7 months in oak (80% American & 20% French).

Aroma: Lemon, pineapple, over-ripe orchard fruit, honey, creamy, vanilla, floral, earthy, stone, slate.

Palate: Lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, apple, over-ripe orchard fruit, honey, toffee, creamy, vanilla, brioche, spices, earthy, sweet oak, cedar.

Finish: Lemon, honey, oaky, even finish, nice, clean, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Harken 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay



ROAR
2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay

Organic (Santa Lucia Highlands)   $45

This wine went through 100% malolactic fermentation in barrels and was aged for 11 months in French oak barrels (30% new) before bottling.

Aroma: Very ripe orchard fruit, tangerine, lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass, lemon meringue pie, buttery, caramel, toasted vanilla, Lucky Charms cereal, toasty, oaky, cedar.

Palate: Very ripe orchard fruit, tropical fruit, lemon, citrus peel, marshmallow, creamy, buttery, cardamom, cinnamon, peppery, toast, burnt oak, oak, acidity, well-balanced.

Finish: Strawberry, tart lemon, baked fruit, marshmallow, heavy oak, light acidity, sits nicely, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



ROAR 2015 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay



Alpha Omega
2014 Chardonnay Reserve

(Napa County)   $100

Only 400 cases of this 100% barrel fermented 100% Chardonnay were produced. The wine was aged for 18 months in French oak (60% new) plus 3 months in stainless steel.

Aroma: Apple, lemon, grapefruit, citrus, honey, buttery, butterscotch, toasty, yeasty, minerality, wet rocks.

Palate: Green apple, apples, pears, ripe orchard fruit, melon, citrus, lime, round lemon drops, apple pie, vanilla, herbal, oak, very bright, nice fruit and balance.

Finish: Baked brioche, oak, nice, clean fresh finish.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Alpha Omega 2014 Chardonnay Reserve



Celani Family Vineyards
2014 Chardonnay

(Napa Valley)   $40

To fashion this wine, estate grown Chardonnay grapes were fermented in either new French oak (40%) and aged on its lees (wasted yeast) or fermented and aged in an egg-shaped concrete vessel.

Aroma: Pineapple, citrus, tropical fruit, baked apple pie, candy, caramel, slight muscat, spring flowers, honeysuckle, cardamom, nutmeg, burnt toast.

Palate: Juicy golden apples, pineapple, lemon peel, butterscotch, buttery, toffee, café au lait, honeysuckle, wheat, herbs, white tea, spice, cinnamon, wet flint, wood, toasty oak, clean, good acidity.

Finish: Peppery, mineral, wet flint.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Celani Family Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay



Cakebread Cellars
2014 Chardonnay Reserve, Family Vineyards

(Napa Valley)   $56

Grapes for this wine (100% Carneros Chardonnay) were harvested at night (to maintain freshness) and fermented and aged for 15 months on its lees (wasted yeast) in French oak barrels (30% new).

Aroma: Pineapple, citrus, tropical fruit, baked apple pie, candy, caramel, slight muscat, spring flowers, honeysuckle, cardamom, nutmeg, burnt toast.

Palate: Juicy golden apples, pineapple, lemon peel, butterscotch, buttery, toffee, café au lait, honeysuckle, wheat, herbs, white tea, spice, cinnamon, wet flint, wood, toasty oak, clean, good acidity.

Finish: Peppery, mineral, wet flint.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve



Barnett Vineyards
2015 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay

(Carneros)   $36

Grapes for this wine were totally fermented in oak barrels and aged for 10 months in French oak (20% new & 80% used) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Golden delicious apples, ripe orchard fruit, mango, lemon, grapefruit, mushroom, earthy, light wood.

Palate: Pear, lemon, grapefruit, citrus, pineapple, honey, dill, mint, baking spice, malo, minerality.

Finish: Peach, lemon, lemon tart, honey, vanilla, oak, big finish.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

 



Barnett Vineyards 2015 Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay



Kenwood Vineyards
2015 Six Ridges Chardonnay

(Russian River Valley)   $26

This wine was produced from 100% hand-harvested Chardonnay grapes that hailed from the Russian River Valley. Fermentation and aging for 8 months on its lees (wasted yeast) took place in French oak barrels.

Aroma: Lemon, pineapple, papaya, herbal, toast, earthy, oak.

Palate: Yellow peach, apple, orchard fruit, pineapple, light citrus, creamy, oats, honeysuckle, yellow flowers, smooth wood, oaky.

Finish: Lemon, lemonade, tropical fruit, honey, vanilla, frosting, crisp.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kenwood Vineyards 2015 Six Ridges Chardonnay



Ron Rubin
2014 Pamela’s Chardonnay Un-Oaked

(Sonoma County)   $14

Grapes for this wine were sourced from a combination of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Carneros and Russian River Valley. Cold-fermentation and aging took place in stainless-steel tanks.

Aroma: Ripe pear, ripe orchard fruit, green apple, grapefruit, citrus, pineapple, honeysuckle, rose, earthy.

Palate: Pear, green apple, orchard fruit, melon, pineapple, lime, citrus, fruit-forward, honey, vanilla, vanilla bean, oak barrel, tart, bright acidity.

Finish: Peach, lemon pith, crisp.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Ron Rubin 2014 Pamela’s Chardonnay Un-Oaked



Kenwood Vineyards
2015 Chardonnay

(Sonoma County)   $13

Grapes used to produce this wine hailed from the Arroyo Seco AVA of Salinas Valley. Following 100% barrel fermentation, the wine was aged for 7 months in oak (80% American & 20% French).

Aroma: Pear, orchard fruit, melon, banana, citrus, lemon, lemon zest, lemon chiffon, baked apple, vanilla, almond, wet rocks, oaky.

Palate: Grapefruit, lemon peel, apple pie, vanilla, crème brulee, buttery, creamy, hibiscus tea, oaky, malo, smoky, bright acidity, rich, structured, elegant.

Finish: Herbaceous, dill, hay, mineral, earthy, smoky, woody, oaky, good acidity, smooth, round, very well-balanced, big yet elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Kenwood Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay



Fetzer
2015 Sundial Chardonnay

(California)   $9

Following harvest, grapes for this wine were either barrel or tank fermented then aged for 9 months (50% in tanks and 50% in either American or Hungarian oak).

Aroma: Red delicious apple, green apple, star fruit, very ripe orchard fruit, pineapple, guava, lemon, grapefruit, lavender.

Palate: Peach, pineapple, guava, citrus, lemon, honeysuckle, bright, slight spritz, good fruit, nice balance.

Finish: Lemon, floral, baking spice, molasses, brioche, nice, fresh, clean, crisp.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Fetzer 2015 Sundial Chardonnay



Lobo
2015 Wulff Vineyards Chardonnay

(Napa Valley)   $60

To fashion this wine, grapes from a single vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district were fermented and aged in French oak (75% new).

Aroma: Ripe orchard fruit, tropical fruit, “mezcal” pineapple, caramel, burnt butter, toast, cereal, mint, smoky, oak, barrique.

Palate: Ripe orchard fruit, pineapple, lemon, grapefruit, citrus, honey, molasses, butterscotch, sweet cream, malo, toast, cereal, herbs, heavy wood, oak.

Finish: Honey, caramel, vanilla, popcorn, oak, wet flint, crisp, nice acidity.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Lobo 2015 Wulff Vineyards Chardonnay



ROAR
2015 Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay

(Santa Lucia Highlands)   $45

This wine went through complete malolactic fermentation in barrels and was aged for 11 months in French oak barrels (30% new) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Ripe orchard fruit, pineapple, lemon, apple pie, vanilla, butter, crème brulee, maple, leather, pine, slight oak, terrific.

Palate: Lemon, lime, melon, apple pie, vanilla, caramel, leather, pine, oak, bright, structured, nice acidity and fruit.

Finish: Melon, tropical fruit, oak, structured, bright, perfectly balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

 



ROAR 2015 Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay

 


 

California Chardonnay – To oak or not to oak?

Chardonnays are not nearly what they once were. And this is a good thing.

Chardonnay is the top-selling wine in the U.S., and the 5th most widely planted grape variety in the world. But back in the early 1950s, James Zellerbach, a paper magnate and American ambassador to Italy, produced a Chardonnay at his Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley that had been aged in small French oak barrels. Connoisseurs understood the importance of a wine that was made in the traditional Burgundian method, but Hanzell’s Chardonnay was appreciated by only a select few. Chardonnay plantings in California grew throughout the 1960s, with 18 times more acreage in 1972 than in 1959. However, most wine drinkers still preferred their misleadingly labeled “Chablis” and “Sauternes.”

All that changed after the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay took First Place in a blind tasting that included both American and French wines, and was widely hailed in the media. Chardonnay became a superstar. Virtually every winemaker in California wanted to make one. So in went Chardonnay vines, often replacing less the popular varieties. French oak barrels arrived into American ports by the boatload, ordered by winemakers who felt that if new French oak was good enough for white Burgundy, it was good enough for them. And that's when the trouble started.

In wine, balance is everything, and eventually a style for chardonnay evolved that seems natural and unforced. Today, unoaked California Chardonnay is more than a trend, it’s a movement. But in the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Consumers decide for themselves which style of Chardonnay they like: unoaked, heavily oaked or something in between. And that’s the beauty of California: no rules, few regulations, a wide range of terroirs and vintners willing to explore the possibilities while keeping a close eye on the market.

What to look for in California Chardonnays? Richness, depth and a refreshing sense of acidity. An emphasis on orchard and tropical fruits, with tart citrus, creamy and mineral flavors. Chardonnay is an easy wine for food pairings because of its wide variety of styles, textures, levels of sweetness and natural acidity. All types of seafood, chicken, veal, pork are good pairings with Chardonnay. It's also perfect with a wide variety of hard, soft and creamy cheeses.

 

 

 

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