Monday, April 22, 2013

Tasting Report: California Chardonnay, 2010 and 2011 Vintages

My last chardonnay report focused more broadly on chardonnay from Oregon and California. This week I’m honing in on the Golden State. More and more, I’m impressed with the diversity of aromas, flavors and styles in California chardonnay, as this report shows. 

All wines were received as press samples by my friends at the daily wine blog Terroirist. I tasted and scored all of the wines blind before unveiling them and researching more about them.  

The highest-scoring wine in this report, the Smith-Madrone
displays wonderful balance between richness and zesty acid.

2010 Smith Madrone Chardonnay Estate Bottled - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District ($30)
The fruit smells honeyed and rich, yet these shaved lime peel, sea shell and peanut brittle notes demand attention as well. It all combines in a beautiful aromatic display. This chardonnay introduces itself by barging through the door, with pineapple, melon, honey, and mixed nuts from the oak. (It spends 8 months in 100% new French oak). But it’s still bright from the acid, which is crucial to have in wines with this kind of intensity. Orange peel, seashell, caramel and hazelnut linger long onto the finish. A brave wine that challenges — and rewards — my palate. I’m kind of in love with it. (92 points)

2010 Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Grown - California, Napa Valley ($42)
Aromas of juicy yellow apple, pineapple, guava, but there’s also this white flower and sea salt aroma that keeps it from being too rich. The palate is blessed with acid. Richer flavors of pineapple and guava mix with Granny Smith apple, sea shell and striking minerality. The wine is fermented and aged 10 months in 40% new French oak, which adds caramel and nutty notes to the finish. It undergoes no maloactic fermentation, so if you like citrus in your chardonnay, this is perfect. I’m impressed with the depth and balance of this wine. Grgich Hills, blind or sighted, I end up loving these wines. (91 points)
2011 Lawer Family Chardonnay Duck Shack - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley ($22)
Bright on the nose with tart lemons, tangerines and mineral notes. On the palate, this wine has tart acid, creamy body and flavors of green pear, apple and lime. Very tangy and brisk in its approach, with just enough richness and creamy-nutty notes to say, “I’m from California.” The 13.2% alcohol is really refreshing. (88 points)

2011 Breggo Cellars Chardonnay - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley ($28)
The nose reminds me of key lime pie, with the sweet lime, the cream and the graham cracker. Juicy yellow apples on the palate, buttery and creamy. Medium+ acid keeps this together. Nice graham cracker, hazelnut notes linger long onto the finish. A bit simple, but clearly a crowd-pleasing wine. I’m generally more enthusiastic about Breggo wines. (86 points)

2011 Landmark Chardonnay Overlook - California, Sonoma County ($20)
Aromas of honeysuckle, buttered biscuits and fleshy yellow apple. Creamy on the palate, with yellow apple, baked pear, buttercream and toasted oak flavors. Medium acid keeps it fresh. There’s a flavor that reminds me of toasted biscuits. Overall, a solid chardonnay. (87 points)

2011 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros - California, Napa Valley, Carneros ($20)
Smells of floral perfume and honeysuckle, and I also get some whipped butter and green pear notes. Medium acid on the palate provides counterweight to the creamy body. Honeysuckle and orange blossom mix with yellow and green pears and pineapple. The nutty flavors don’t overwhelm the floral and citrus elements, which makes this a balanced effort. Crisp acid lingers with richer hazelnut notes on the finish. Half the wine was aged six months in 30% new French oak, while the other half spent time in stainless steel, so you get just a hint of the oak, but the wine retains its purity. Great buy at $20. (88 points)

2011 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone White Rocks! - California, North Coast ($18)
Okay, so this isn’t a legit chardonnay, but rather a unique blend of mostly chardonnay with some gewürztraminer. Totally tropical on the nose, with white peach, ruby red grapefruit and canned pineapples. On the palate, this wine is plump and juicy, the tropical fruit flavors playing the same riff. Medium acid keeps it from being too thick. Hints of lychee nut, chalk and honeysuckle accent the finish. Who would’ve thought a wine with an exclamation point on the label could be so solid. Open a bottle of this, and bring on summer. (87 points)

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