One of the many highlights of my recent trip to the San Francisco Bay area was having dinner at Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Long before most yuppies cared about fresh, local, environmentally-friendly food, this place has been serving up culinary works of art with a Northern California touch.
The restaurant’s upstairs section is designed with an a-la-carte menu that changes almost as quickly as the Ocean Beach surf conditions. My girlfriend and I split an assortment of Pacific oysters for an appetizer, and I ordered halibut with a green olive, oil and herb sauce for a main course.
I was surprised by the affordability of the wines Chez Panisse had on their list, as well as the diversity of producers. I ended up choosing a wine I’d never heard of, hoping for a surprise: the 2009 Lioco Chardonnay Demuth Vineyard from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino. Considering the establishment at which I was dining, I knew the wine would be good, but I had no idea how good. Turns out, this wine is stunning.
Intoxicating aromas of meyer lemon, margarita salt, minerals and brie rind. Over the course of the evening, a bit of honeydew melon came out on the nose. This wine really is an aromatic experience.
The wine isn't oaked, and I for one am happy about that. The juice is so damn good that it needs no added flavors or textures. Tangy acid hits the palate upon the first sip and carries through to the finish. This wine is almost Chablis-like with its mineral and lemon flavors, but the California sunshine shows through with flavors of rich lemon curd and orange rind. As a whole, this is pure, vibrant and simply beautiful chardonnay. It's worlds apart from those high-alcohol, oak-slathered, butter-bomb California chardonnays you might be used to.
It stood up to the briny oysters with its minerals and acid, but it also paired well with the richness of the halibut. I would love to taste this again in five years, as I’m sure its complexity will evolve for a long time. I'd also love to throw this wine into a tasting of Grand Cru Chablis, because I have a feeling it would hold its own.
I scored it 94 pts, and that's being conservative.
The wine was so good, I had to do some research…
These chardonnay grapes are grown in the Demuth Vineyard, a 1,600-foot mountain-top vineyard that overlooks the Anderson Valley. The soil has a shallow layer of clay underlined by thick shale rock, and the wide swings in temperature between day and night provide ideal growing conditions for chardonnay. The winemakers insist on their website that: “this is the best demuth we have made yet. period. end of story.” This is my first Demuth Vineyard wine, but I’m willing to take their word. It’s an incredible California chardonnay, even if it acts a little French.