Wine Reviews: California Wines to Beat the Heat

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-29-2023

Apparently, August 4 is National White Wine Day. And considering the seemingly endless heat across most of the country, the timing sure seems right.

It’s 96 and humid where I am in the Mid-Atlantic, and I know it is a lot worse in other regions. I honestly can’t even think about red wine at the moment, so let’s dive into some delicious California white wines.

From a shockingly good $15 Chard to Chalk Hill and Carneros, this is a Chardonnay heavy sampling, but there’s a lot of diversity in here. Chalk Hill delivers three intriguing offerings, and I have a few from well-known names like Sonoma-Cutrer and Ferrari-Carano. If you haven’t heard of Lange Twins   or Bouchaine, these two producers make some well-balanced Chardonnays at reasonable price points. Bouchaine’s winemaker Chris Kajani makes more than a dozen Chards, and his skills show.

To top things off, I have two unique white wines from Napa’s Mira Winery. I’ve long been a fan of their reds – the Malbec and Cabernet Franc are exquisite – but these two wines are new to me: a skin-fermented Cabernet Franc (OK, so it’s not technically a “white wine”) and a Sauvignon Gris that’s perfect for high-end summer sipping.

These wines were received as samples. The Chardonnays were tasted single-blind, while the Mira wines were tasted sighted.

2021 Harken Chardonnay Barrel Fermented USA, California
SRP: $15
Deep yellow color. A ripe nose of lemon curd, yellow apples, and pear butter, with notes of almond, graham cracker, saltines, and some tropical flowers. The palate is juicy and ripe with yellow apples and pears, and medium acidity, which helps it stay bright and balance out the richer tones. Honey, graham cracker, and white tea notes add some fun vibes. There’s some flinty, floral complexity, too. A fun, surprisingly complex value Chardonnay that tastes way more “real” than most Chardonnays in this price point. Aged eight months in 50/50 American/French oak. (88 points IJB)

2022 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Rich pears and yellow apples with almond, honey, graham cracker, with fresher tones of white and yellow flowers, chalk dust. The palate shows a delightful creaminess but refreshing acidity, all balanced nicely. Juicy lemon, yellow apples, creamy pears, along with flinty, seashell vibes, and nuances of almond skin, honeycomb, and peanut brittle. Deep but vibrant, balanced, a delightful Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. (89 points IJB)

2021 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $52
Rich yellow color. Juicy aromas of white peach, yellow apples, and pear butter, along with inviting tones of cinnamon and almond cake, with notes of honey, dandelion, and white flowers, too. A creamy, rich texture with bright acidity keeps things balanced wonderfully, and I love the flavors of yellow apples and pears, some nectarine. There is a pleasant mix of honey, graham cracker, sea salt, with honeysuckle and some nougat. There’s a tingly, mineral-laden finish. Aged 11 months in 42% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2021 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Felta USA, California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill
SRP: $90
Light yellow color. The nose exudes lemons, pears, green apples, with nuanced tones of sea salt, cinnamon crumb cake, shaved ginger, and mineral water. The palate sports an invitingly creamy texture, balanced with focused acidity, and a rich and juicy appeal with yellow apples, kiwi, and lemon, along with complex tones of honeyed white tea, almond croissant, yellow flowers, and all sorts of mineral and saline nuances. Delicious and precise. All maloactic fermentation, aged 15 months in 73% new French oak. (93 points IJB)

2020 Bouchaine Chardonnay Estate USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $36
Deep yellow color. The nose exudes ripe yellow plums and pears, mixed with cinnamon, biscuits and honey, some graham cracker, and the richer tones are balanced with these limestone and crushed rock tones. Rich texture but the acidity is crisp and the balance is on point. Yellow apples, lemon curd, orange peel, the fruit is backed up by nuances of graham cracker, peanut shell, honeycomb, honeyed tea. Underneath, there are these flinty, mineral essences that finish clean and add a lot of complexity and enjoyment. (91 points IJB)

2021 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Tre Terre USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $45
Medium yellow color. The nose shows a deep but lively mix of creamy pears, orange peels, drizzled with lime, along with honey, almond, some graham cracker, with tones of white flowers and flint. This has a delightfully rich texture, balanced nicely with lively acidity, and juicy, creamy fruit (pears and yellow apples) with some orange peel tossed in. There’s a nice crushed shell and mineral mix underneath that tingles the palate and lasts long on the finish, contrasting well with the honeyed, almond vibes. Delicious, complex, rich but nuanced Russian River Chardonnay, aged 15 months in 2/3 new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2021 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Dutton Ranch USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $42
Deep yellow. The nose shows a tropical dessert of yellow pears and lemon curd, with pie crust, nougat, crumb cake, and some helpful doses of salt and chalk. The palate is juicy and fun, has nuanced acidity that keeps things going forward, and solid complexity. Flavors of ripe yellow apples, orange creamsicle, and pineapple mix with tones of buttered biscuits, toasted oak, and almond skin. A deep, suave, creamy style but it stays vibrant and you can’t deny the deliciousness. (89 points IJB)

2021 LangeTwins Chardonnay Merrill Vineyard USA, California, Central Valley, Clarksburg
SRP: $25
Medium yellow color. An expressive nose of lemon curd, pineapple, ripe peach, along with lots of honey, whipped butter, and subtle talc and mineral vibes. Generous texture, moderate acidity, it has a plush and creamy feel with mango, ripe yellow pear, some green apples. Flavors of whipped honey, ginger snaps, some corn husk, and there’s a cool mix of talc, minerals, and quinine. Interesting flavors and style – fun stuff, quite complex, solid value! Aged 12 months in used oak. (89 points IJB)

2021 Mira Winery Ovum Aureum USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $85
Light yellow color. Aromas are just beautiful and so inviting, with fresh tones of orange peel, guava, lemon zest, along with chalky, limestone, mineral-infused goodness, with flinty, stony vibes and wild herbs and white flowers. The palate has a beautiful textural depth, and brisk acidity, and the balance is impressive. Pure fruit (yellow apples, nectarine, juicy raspberry and red apple). The non-fruit elements are exciting and woven together so well – stony minerals, mountain stream, limestone and chalk dust, almond skin, white flowers. This is rocking now but also has aging potential. Wow. All Sauvignon Gris aged in egg-shaped old oak barrels. (94 points IJB)

2021 Mira Winery Cabernet Franc “Franc Blanc” USA, California, Napa Valley, Yountville
SRP: $65
Gorgeous pale copper color. So fresh on the nose, with this crunchy white cherry, tangy strawberry, with notes of watermelon rind, spicy white pepper, nettle, basil, and some chalk dust – really exciting. The palate shows gorgeous texture, with racy acidity, and complex, delicious fruit (yellow plum, tart raspberry, yellow apples). There is a complex, intriguing mix of sea salt, minerals, mountain streams, along with nuanced tones of hay, white pepper, basil, there is a lot to parse through. The complexity, mouthfeel, this is Mira doing their thing – I wasn’t aware this wine existed, but it’s a special wine for sure. All Cab Franc whole-cluster pressed. (94 points IJB)

2022 Bouchaine Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $29
Light watermelon color. The aromas pop with crunchy red apple, white cherries, bright raspberries, along with white pepper, wildflowers and wild mint. The palate has a salty, punchy appeal, beautiful briskness and tart vibes but solid textural complexity and weight, too. White cherries, wild raspberries, tart red apples, the fruit is blended well with tones of daisies, celery seed, chalk dust, some flinty-mineral essence. Beautiful mouthfeel and finish, a lot of personality and vibrancy. 85% whole-cluster and 15% saignée Pinot Noir. (91 points IJB)

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