Saturday, August 3, 2013

California Chardonnays Show Elegance in 2011 Vintage

I love all styles of California Chardonnay, from buttered toast bombs to the crisp green apple and mineral interpretations. But the 2011 vintage seems to have taken California Chardonnay in a more delicate direction. I recently blind-tasted some 2011 California Chardonnays and I have to say: I’m a fan.

Freshness is a word that came to mind over and over again as I tasted these wines. Obviously, the vintage conditions varied from region to region and winemakers craft Chardonnay in completely different ways, but, speaking generally, the 2011s feel elegant and crisp yet full of flavor. A cooler summer and early autumn rains led to many grapes being picked with lower sugar levels. Considering the weather is still hot and these Chards are currently on shelves across the country, now is a great time to enjoy the 2011s.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2011 Gainey Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $22
A light straw yellow colored. A great nose of lime, white peach and clovers, some honey. Plush on the body, with really fresh acid. Minerals and white flowers blend well with the green pear and apple fruit. Some peanut and honeycomb, but this wine is still crisp in its approach. Well-done. This Chardonnay spends 10 months in 18% new French, Hungarian and American oak. (88 points)

2011 Gainey Chardonnay Limited Selection - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $38
Light gold color. Aromas of yellow apple, lime, honeysuckle and some fresh biscuits. The palate starts off with mouth-puckering acid, but the yellow apple, ruby red grapefruit and creamy pear flavors follow. A mineral splash mixes with just a bit of butter and honeycomb notes. The creaminess and acidity line up well. The focus is quite impressive, as is the length of the finish. (89 points)

2011 JL Giguiere Chardonnay “Matchbook” Musqué Clone 809 - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills

SRP: $16
Smells of green melon, honey and an herbal note that’s hard to nail down (Nettle? Oregano?). A waxy, honeyed feel to the palate and low acid. Cantaloupe and nectarine fruit mixes in with sweeter honeycomb and apricot. Not oaky, however — all stainless steel. A bit short on the finish. Tasted blind, I was convinced a Muscat had found its way into a Chardonnay tasting. This is a fun wine, but I’m not sure I can figure out what it’s trying to say. (82 points)

2011 Hooker Rugby Club Chardonnay “Breakaway”  -California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $24
The nose is packed with papaya and honey, but also a lot of minerals. The palate shows lots of acid to start, with lemon-lime, green apple and white peach fruit. There’s also some clover honey and toasted nuts for richness, but this is a leaner, subtle oak kind of Chardonnay. Long, crisp finish that’s packed with minerals. I mean, this wine with oysters? C’mon. After tasting and getting excited about this wine, I was thrilled unveil a Russian River Chard for $24. (90 points)

2011 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Fresh on the nose, with floral and lemon tones. Also some creamy pear and honeycomb. On the palate, a lush mouthfeel mixes with crisp acid and a distinct mineral edge. The lemon and lime flavors are zesty, but accented by complex notes of dried honey, hazelnut and spice tarragon or something? The creaminess is limited, with only 30% of the wine undergoing maloactic fermentation. While this wine shows some rich pear and nutty aspects from the oak aging, it maintains an elegant posture. (89 points)

2011 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $27
I’ve never been to the factory that makes those Lemonhead candies, but I imagine it smells something like this wine. I get that tangy lemon and sugar cane, plus there’s some floral and limestone aromas. The palate is airy and citrus-focused, with lemon and lime and tangerine. Some plushness to the mouthfeel, but with no maloactic fermentation, this wine is more about verve and briskness. Only the slightest touch of hazelnut and toast. There’s also a fresh sense of minerality that makes me crave oysters. A sleek and elegant Sonoma Coast Chard. (90 points)

SRP: $40
On the nose, pineapple and mango meet toasted marshmallow and hazelnut. This Chardonnay is plump and rich on the palate. Mango, lemon and honey flavors are topped with roasted nuts and caramel corn. Charged, strong and bold, but the medium acid is appreciated. Aged 14 months in 86% new French oak, this is obviously an oaky wine, but it shows a bit more nuance than a lot of wines made in this style. (87 points)

The 2011s are available now, so if you’re a fan of crisp, clean Chardonnays, you’ve got quite a lot of options. If you’re interested in straight-up scores without context, here’s a free alphabetical listing of Wine Spectator’s recent scores for California Chardonnay, including many from the 2011 vintage.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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