Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-14-2019

It’s been a while since I’ve focused exclusively on California Chardonnay, so I’m excited to delve back in.

The breadth of different styles is what always keeps me coming back to Cali Chards. No matter how California Chardonnay is generalized as a category, there are so many wines that do their own thing, buck the trend.

I don’t curate the wines I receive, so while my personal favorites aren’t featured here, I think this is a solid group.

Ramey comes in with four different single-vineyard wines, each of which stood out. It’s interesting, as all four of these wines are treated the same in the cellar: native yeast fermentation, full maloactic fermentation in barrel, with battonage, aged about 20 months in 20% new French oak. They’re all 14.5% alcohol, too. They all rock a similar tune while showing nuanced harmonies of their vineyard site. Smith-Madrone comes through with a killer Spring Mountain Chard, again. And some less expensive wines like The Paring show that there’s still value to be found in Cali Chard.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.2016 Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
SRP: $42
Aromas of ripe pears and yellow apples, topped in cinnamon, nougat, salted peanuts. Ripe and juicy on the palate but lively acidity. Creamy apples and pears, lemon curd, juicy fruit but well balanced, too. Nougaty, honeyed tea, cream, but also some floral perfume and chalk dust. Fun stuff, but showing some complexity, too. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak, 14.1% alcohol. (89 points IJB)

2017 The Paring Chardonnay – California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
The nose shows green apples, white peach, limes, with chalky notes, peanut shell, white flowers. Medium-bodied, plush texture, crisp acidity, it’s framed well with nuanced, tangy fruit (green and yellow apples, apricot). Notes of sea salt, chalk dust, minerals, they blend well with these honey, ginger and chestnut elements. Delicious, vibrant style but significant complexity. Aged 1/3 in used French oak, 1/3 new French oak, 1/3 stainless steel,1/3 malolactic fermentation. (90 points IJB)

2016 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay – California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
thumbnailSRP: $40
Nuanced aromas of honey, warm tea, almond, with sea salt, crushed chalk, yellow apples and pears. Full but integrated so well, with deep texture, but this racy acidity that keeps it bright and lofty. Glazed apples, candied orange peel, lemon, the fruit mixes well with these salty, chalky, rocky, mineral elements. Lovely stuff that should age wonderfully. From their dry-farmed vineyard, barrel-fermented, aged nine months in 80% new French oak. 14.4% alcohol. (93 points IJB)

2018 Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard – California, Napa Valley, Carneros
SRP: $30
Nose of apricot and orange marmalade, whipped honey, graham cracker, yellow flowers. Lush texture, full and smooth, but moderate acidity keeps it lively. Hedonistic fruit (glazed pear, orange marmalade, pineapple), with honey, almond cake, vanilla. But there’s also brighter elements of honeysuckle, river rocks and green tea. Lovely depth, very delicious. Aged nine months in 30% new French oak, 14.6% alcohol. (90 points IJB)

2018 Pfendler Vineyards Chardonnay – California, Sonoma Coast, Petaluma Gap
SRP: $45
Bold nose of ginger, spiced tea, honey, candle wax, nutmeg, on top of lemon cake and yellow apple. Juicy and ripe on the palate with plump apricot, bruised yellow apple, and lots of ginger, cinnamon crumb cake. Rich style, but there’s a nice streak of acid and some lime and mineral tones. Aged 14 months in 50% new French oak. 14.2% alcohol. (88 points IJB)

2018 Cline Cellars Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $13
On the nose, I get a nice mix of toasted nuts, honey, with candied lemon, orange peel. Medium/full-bodied, smooth texture, lively acidity. A bright lemon/orange peel element, with apricot, marmalade and peach. The fruit mixes with toasted nuts, honeycomb. There’s also this floral, perfumed, minty quality, with vanilla and ginger snap notes. I was surprised to see the price point here, because it offers a lot for the money. 60% maloactic fermentation, aged four months in French oak. (87 points IJB)

2016 Ramey Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard – California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
Creamy, inviting nose of buttered pears, yellow apples, with lots of honey, ginger, peanut shell, nougat, some floral perfume. Full and suave with plump texture but vibrant, lip-smacking acidity, and the balance is superb. Apples, pears, orange marmalade, with lots of complex elements of biscuits, peanut brittle. There are also these really lively mountain stream and mineral elements. Delicious, fascinating stuff, a standout in the tasting. A stunner that I’d love to age for five years. Aged 20 months in 21% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2016 Ramey Chardonnay Woolsey Road Vineyard – California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
thumbnadilSRP: $65
The nose shows a bright burst of lime, lemon curd, apricot, along with sea spray, and subtle nutty, waxy, honeyed elements. Crisp acid frames the wine nicely against the plush texture, deep but stays so lively. Green apples, lemon curd, apricot, lush but vibrant, with sea salt, crushed chalk and oyster shell notes that are really delicious. The nutty, almond, ginger snap elements blend in smoothly. I’d love to see this in three to five years. Old Wente clone Chardonnay, aged 19 months in 20% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2016 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard – California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $65
An aromatic burst of yellow apples and pears, with honey, candle wax, candied ginger, white flowers, lots going on. Plump texture, creamy and lush, but the acidity keeps this bright, too. Lemon curd, key lime pie and yellow pear fruit, topped in sea salt, minerals, a crisp streak of those elements, but also buttered biscuits with honey and almond, too. Gorgeous stuff, tons of depth, but also so precise. Aged 20 months in 22% new French oak. (94 points IJB)

2016 Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard – California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $65
The nose shows lots of apricot, yellow apples and lime, with honeycomb, ginger snap cookies, coffee cake, but also these breezy, airy, floral elements as well. Lush texture on the palate but precise acidity, intriguing balance. Lemon and lime meringue, apricot and green apple (gorgeous fruit). The notes of peanut brittle and ginger snap mix well with the sea salt, chalk and yellow flower tones. Complex, harmonious, this could really age well, too. Aged 20 months in 18% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

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