Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay Shines in 2012

This post first appeared on tthe daily wine blog Terroirist.

California Chardonnay needs no introduction, so let’s get down to business. Most of these wines came from the 2012 vintage, and based on this tasting, there’s a lot to like about the combination of richness and freshness. A few 2011s snuck there way into the tasting, and I enjoy them as well for the lean and tangy approach.

The wines were all received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2012 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Estate California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $26
Medium gold color. Aromas of lime zest and sea breeze mix with richer notes of honey and lemon oil. Rich but so tangy on the palate, the papaya and honey contrasts and complements the sea salt and lime zest. So pure and lively, full of floral and mineral undertones, with a long and nervy finish. So long and pure, capable of development in the cellar. Absurd in its deliciousness and value. (92 points)

2012 Rusack Chardonnay Reserve - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $32
Light gold color. Rich aromas of pineapple, baked pear, honey and cinnamon. Bold on the palate, full-bodied and rich. The pineapple and mango fruit is slathered in honey and dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg. Acid comes out on the finish, saving the wine from being too rich, and I even pick up some mineral and sea shell notes on the finish. A bold and nutty, barrel heavy Chard, but it has personality. Full maloactic fermentation, aged in French oak (69% new), the fruit comes from Siera Madre and Bien Nacido Vineyards. (87 points)

2012 Rusack Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $25
Light yellow color. Lovely aromatics of white flowers, clover honey, sea breeze over top of key lime pie and peach tart. On the palate, crisp acid meets a creamy body, everything’s in balance. Love the nectarine, white peach and yellow pear fruit, accented by notes of sea shell, white tea with honey. Hazelnut and nougat linger on the finish. Long and full, yet clean and food-friendly. Full maloactic fermentation, 22% new oak, which allows the purity of the fruit to shine through a bit more. From Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre Vineyards. (90 points) Note: How did I rate the cheaper wine higher than the more expensive reserve? Well, I tasted these blind, so I didn’t know, but it all comes down to personal preference for oak. I liked the cleanliness and transparency of this bottling more than the toast-heavy reserve. But, to each his/her own.

2012 Gainey Chardonnay - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $20
Medium yellow-gold color. Aromas of green pears, nectarine, buttercream and honeysuckle. Medium acid balances the creamy aspects to the wine. The white peach, pear and nectarine flavors are tangy and ripe, backed up with notes of honey, cinnamon and macadamia nut. A bit of lemon oil on the finish. Rich, but focused and clean. (88 points)

2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Ashley’s Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
SRP: $37
Medium gold color. Nectarine and lime aromas mix with richer notes of cantaloupe and honey. The palate shows medium acid and a creamy mouthfeel on a medium+ bodied frame. Rich orange marmalade and pineapple mix with honey and nougat flavors, a bit of underlying sea shells. Very nutty on the finish, like crushed peanut and hazelnut shells. Aged 10 months in 35% new French oak. (87 points)

2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Sierra Madre - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $37
Medium gold color. Rich aromatics of cantaloupe, yellow apple, honey and floral perfume. Rich texture is framed by medium acid. Full of yellow apple, white peach and cantaloupe flavors, dusted with coconut, vanilla and pistachio nuts. I get a note that reminds me of musk and fresh baby’s breath, and a sea salt note on the finish. Bold and rich, but presents itself well and shows a lot of complex flavors. Long, creamy finish. 50% new French oak. (90 points)

2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $37
Light gold color. Aromas of nectarine, yellow apple and honeysuckle, some crushed rocks. Rich and creamy, almost a viscous texture, but the acid comes through in an attempt to balance it. Caramel corn, vanilla bean, buttered biscuit and almond notes intertwine, along with limestone, sea shell and white flowers. It’s exuberant, but also fresh and nuanced. A very impressive Chardonnay. Barrel fermented, aged 10 months in 25% new French oak. (91 points)

2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Lazy F Ranch - California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita HillsSRP: Unknown
Rich gold color. Aromas of white peach, nectarine, honeysuckle and a kick of sea salt and white flowers… tons going on with the aromas. Full-bodied but tangy acid on the palate with a wonderful sense of richness and balance. Nougat and honeycomb accent the nectarine and cantaloupe flavors. Notes of buttered biscuit, almond and coconut shavings add complexity but don’t overwhelm all else. Love the sea breeze and limestone notes on the finish. Big, but still fresh, I’d love to revisit this in a year or two. (91 points)

2012 Matchbook Chardonnay Old Heads - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP $15
Medium gold color. Aromas of white peach, cantaloupe melon, along with fresh white flowers and butter. Richly textured on the palate, with a bold approach of peach, baked pear and dried mango. Whipped butter and honey mixes with nuts, shaved coconut and lemon curd. Sweet floral notes on the finish. Bold and rich, showing a range of flavors. (86 points)

2012 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $30
Light golden color. On the nose, a shot of lime zest, green melon, honey butter and fresh white flowers. Creamy on the palate, but medium+ acid keeps it fresh. Green melon mixes with papaya and lime juice, and there’s some hazelnut and honeycomb, but it’s not overwhelming. Floral and mineral notes carry the finish, which ends with a combination of zesty acid and honey. Complex and very pretty. Aged six months in French oak, about 40% new. (90 points)

2012 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $28
Generous aromas of white peach, baked pear, honeydew and honeysuckle. Full-bodied with a lot of creaminess and medium acid. This wine is all about the richness and complexity of the interwoven flavors: baked pear, yellow apple and apricot mix with toasted almond, whipped honey and something that reminds me of toast with butter and brown sugar. Long and creamy on the finish. This is a burly Chard, so don’t expect otherwise, but it’s very well made and shows lots of concentration and length. (89 points)

2012 Foppiano Chardonnay Estate Bottled California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $25
A light golden color. Nectarine and lime aromas burst from the glass, also some papaya, sea salt, a bit of honey butter. Medium+ bodied with moderate acid. Yellow apple, ripe pear and apricot blend nicely with the buttered rum and honeyed tea flavors. Bold, forward, with notes of nougat and hazelnut, but stays away from being burdensome. A hint of mineral or crushed rocks on the finish. (87 points)

2012 Flowers Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $35
Light gold color. Aromas show lots of white flowers, ocean air, lime and white peach. Plump mouthfeel, but the acid weaves it together. Green and yellow apple fruit, some lime, some white peach, but it’s got a lot of nerve and cut. Some lemon oil and honeycomb notes. The mineral and oyster shell notes are hitting the sweet spot for my palate. Combines rich sunshine with cold climate and the end result is a tangy but full wine. So clean and pure, just a beautiful Chardonnay. (91 points)

2011 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $20
Color like a ripe banana peel. Ripe pear and apricot aromas, with some creamy, toasted nut notes and a hint of sea shell. Generous pear and yellow apple fruit, but the crisp acid makes this very easy to drink. Some almond shell, toasted bread, baked apple and honeycomb flavors add complexity, just a hint of sea breeze. Fleshy, ripe, but pleasantly balanced with a tangy finish. Fermented and aged in 100% French oak, with half of the wine undergoing maloactic fermentation. A great value. (88 points)

2012 Clarbec Chardonnay Greggarious Vineyard - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $30
Bright yellow-gold color. Aromas of nectarine, banana, honeycomb and lime notes. Full-bodied on the palate with an oily mouthfeel, but crisp acid shows through. Flavors of golden apple, dried apricot and papaya combine with wax and honeycomb notes. Some banana nut and almond notes, along with some seashell and limestone. One of the heavier (14.8% alcohol) wines in the group but this is well-made and shows a lot of complexity. (89 points)

2012 Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont California, Napa Valley, Carneros
SRP: $22
Aromas of white tea, apricot and honey. Fleshy on the palate, but crisp throughout. Apricot and white peach flavors blend well with honey, wax and white tea. Even with 100% maloactic fermentation and nine months in 19% new French oak, there isn’t a ton of emphasis on toast and cream. A fruit-focused wine, plump, full and fun. (86 points)

2012 Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa Valley, Carneros
SRP: $28
White and yellow flowers jump out of the glass, along with orange, lime and white peaches, subtle notes of honeycomb and mineral. Medium+ bodied with a lovely creamy texture, all held together with medium acidity. Tangerine, white peach and green melon blend well with the honey, hazelnut and butterscotch tones, but this wine maintains elegance and balance. I also get some unique oyster shell and apple-cinnamon notes, which linger long on the finish. Very pretty. Aged 11 months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)

2011 Grgich Hills Chardonnay Estate Grown - California, Napa Valley
SRP $42
Rich golden color. Aromas of green pears, butter cream, white flowers, some coconut milk. Creamy on the body but persistent acid. Green apple, pear and melon flavors mix nicely with limestone, sea salt and chalk aspects. Balanced creamy and nutty notes, but the wine maintains a cool and clean aesthetic. Complex, nuanced, beautiful, begs for food. Aged 10 months in French oak, 40% new. (91 points)

2012 FEL Chardonnay California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $28
Light golden color. Lemon, creamy peach, some papaya, a bit more richness on the nose, but still has lots of sea shell. Bold approach on the palate, solid concentration, with flavors of papaya, yellow apple and orange peel. Medium acid helps it pull together. I get this note that reminds me of crushed peanut shells and white tea. Honeyed on the finish, but it’s still fresh. (88 points)

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