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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived May 2, 2013
Published March 25, 2013

Versatile Chardonnay –
Variations in Weight and Style
By Chuck Hill
Part 3 of 3  (Part 1)  (Part 2)

With each new vintage, winemakers are faced with choices as they evaluate the incoming grapes and the young wines made from them.  Some decisions are based on past successes with established vineyard sources, and some are dependent on the quality of the vintage or trying out new grape suppliers.  Chardonnay made without much winemaker intervention can be a very simple wine.  If cold fermented in stainless steel, it offers a simple varietal profile of pear, peach and mineral, and in the best cases, shows complexity from the vineyard “terroir.”   

Many winemakers today choose to barrel ferment their Chardonnay to add complexity from yeast contact and to acquire flavors from new or once-used barrels.  The decision to barrel ferment and/or to barrel age a Chardonnay is based partially on the cost of French oak barrels.   Each barrel from a quality cooper will cost the winery $900 to $1,000.  The additional effort required to care for the barrels and the wine in them is not a small consideration either.  When you add up these costs, it is easy to see why wine prices are as high as they are. 

This week, we have a variety of Chardonnays for you to seek out and enjoy.  Some pricey selections can be sipped and savored, while less expensive offerings may be served daily to complement your efforts in the kitchen.   

Bergström Winery
2010 Sigrid Chardonnay
Willamette Valley

This selection from the library of Bergström Winery shows the benefit of adding a little bottle age to a high-quality Chardonnay.  Complexity and smoothness highlight the improvements, but the wine seems to offer better affinity with food as well.  Look for aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apple, tropical fruits, pineapple, barrel spice, smoky mineral and hints of vanilla and toast. 

Johan Vineyards
 2009 Chardonnay, Reserve

Dag Johan Sundby relocated from his native Norway in 2004.  Exploring the Northwest with an old friend of his father, he gained an appreciation for Oregon Pinot Noir and decided to look into investment opportunities in the Willamette Valley.  A piece of property west of Salem, Oregon was acquired in 2005 and Johan Vineyards was born.  Today, all Johan Vineyards wines are estate bottled.  The 2009 Reserve Chardonnay offers aromas of apple and pear with notes of vanilla, toasty oak and floral perfume.  The palate echoes the aroma with fruit flavors and adds flinty mineral and citrus with a buttery finish. 

Kramer Vineyards
2009 Chardonnay, Estate, Dijon Clones

Keith and Trudy Kramer began planting Kramer Vineyards in 1984 on property that they located in Yamhill County.  A wide variety of Oregon-friendly varietals populate the vineyard including Dijon clone selections of Chardonnay from which this wine was made.  The wine was barrel fermented and aged sur lie with bi-monthly stirring.  On the nose you’ll find tropical fruits and citrus with notes of floral perfume and earthy mineral.  The palate offers flavors of stone fruits, mango, pineapple and vanilla-laced toasty oak. 

Millbrandt Vineyards
2011 Chardonnay, Estates, Evergreen Vineyard
Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley

Butch and Jerry Milbrandt’s Evergreen Vineyard is located in the Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley AVA and is a unique site in Washington State.  The 452-acre vineyard sits on a bluff 1,300 above the Columbia River with soils deposited by the Missoula Floods over caliche and volcanic basalt beds.  In the last decade, this site has produced some of Washington’s finest Chardonnays from wineries throughout the state.  Milbrandt Evergreen Chardonnay offers aromas of spicy citrus, tropical fruits and wet stone minerality.  The palate shows flavors of white peach, banana, mineral and lavender. 

Rex Hill Vineyards
2010 Chardonnay
Willamette Valley

Rex Hill Winery opened in 1985 along Highway 99W near Newberg, Oregon.  Original owners Paul Hart and Jan Jacobsen created a showplace facility and hired winemaker Lynn Penner Ash who made her first mark on Oregon wine at this venue.  Today, the winery is owned by A to Z Wineworks and is still a showplace and a must visit at the gateway to the Northern Willamette Valley.  The Rex Hill 2010 Chardonnay offers just a hint of oak, caressing aromas and flavors of tropical citrus, earthy mineral, honey and white peach – an excellent food wine for lighter meals. 

Maryhill Winery
2010 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley

This value-priced Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel and offers refreshing aromas and flavors of citrus, pear, baking spice and a hint of vanilla – a great addition to springtime picnics and casual dining.  As the weather warms in the Columbia Gorge, be sure to plan a visit to Maryhill where free live music is presented on their tasting terrace on weekends in June and July.  It’s a great place to impress out-of-town visitors with gorgeous views, tasty wines and fun. 

Serra Vineyards
2010 Chardonnay
Applegate Valley

Serra Vineyards winery was founded on the site of the former Applegate Red Winery, which closed in 2008.  Scott and Krissa Fernandes discovered the property and have added new vineyards and other agricultural endeavors.  A new tasting room opened in 2012 with views of the surrounding valley and vineyards.  The 2010 Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of ripe stone fruits, pear and earthy mineral with a light palate suited to accompanying lighter meals and appetizers. 

Canoe Ridge Vineyard
2011 Chardonnay, The Expedition

The name for Canoe Ridge Vineyard came from the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1805 whose members thought that the ridge above the Columbia River resembled an overturned canoe.  The Horse Heaven Hills AVA now encompasses much of the area seen from the river.  This Chardonnay tastes like a much more expensive wine.  Butterscotch, citrus and floral scents introduce the wine with flavors of tropical fruit, vanilla and mineral following on the long and generous palate. 

Del Rio Vineyards
2011 Chardonnay, Estate
Rogue Valley

Del Rio Vineyards is one of Southern Oregon’s largest vineyards planted to 10 varietals that emphasize the area’s warm climate.  Grapes were first planted in 1997, but the tasting room dates to 1864!  The former Rock Point Hotel near the entrance to the vineyard has been restored and now offers a glimpse of the past while you enjoy wine tasting.  The 2011 Chardonnay comes from estate-grown fruit showing aromas of pear, vanilla, citrus and tropical notes leading to a palate with flavors of crisp green apple, mineral and creamy notes of vanilla and barrel spice. 

2010 Chardonnay, Durant Vineyard
Dundee Hills AVA

ADEA winery began as a serious hobby for the Fisher family – the name ADEA is an acronym for the family members Ann, Dean, Erica and Adam.  Ninety percent of the winery production is Pinot Noir with the remaining production limited to Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.  The winery specializes in crafting wines from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and nearby areas.  Rich aromas of earthy mineral, tropical fruits and citrus zest lead to flavors of pear and spice with hints of toasty oak and mint. 

Tyee Wine Cellars
2011 Chardonnay, Estate
Willamette Valley

Tyee Wine Cellars is located on the scenic Buchanan Family Century Farm founded more than 120 years ago in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley near Corvallis.  The first vines were planted in the estate vineyard in 1974 with subsequent plantings throughout the 1980s.  Dijon clone and Pommard Pinot Noir vines were added in 2000.  Winemaker Merrilee Buchanan Benson crafted this estate Chardonnay showing Fuji apple, pear and mineral on the nose with palate flavors echoing the aromas.  The wine is concentrated and crisp and will improve and round out with additional bottle age – great with Peruvian-roast chicken. 

Rolling Bay Winery
2011 Chardonnay, Upland Vineyards
Snipes Mountain AVA

Rolling Bay Winery winemaker/owner Alphonse de Klerk specializes in creating limited quantities of premium wine from grapes grown on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley.  Upland Vineyards is one of the oldest in Washington State with a history going back to vineyard development by W. B. Bridgman.  Winemaker de Klerk continues his Burgundian style of Chardonnay with sur lie aging for 10 months in neutral French oak barrels.  Look for aromas and flavors of white peach and pear with notes of mineral and hints of honeysuckle and lemon cream. 


Foris Vineyards
2010 Chardonnay
Rogue Valley

Chances are that Cave Junction, Oregon is not on your way home from work.  In fact, the Illinois Valley - west of the Applegate Valley but entirely within the Rogue Valley - is one of the most remote wine growing areas in the state.  However, the history of Foris Vineyards, combined with the hospitality of the Gerber family and staff, make a visit worthwhile if you are planning a Southern Oregon wine odyssey.  Don’t miss Foris’ 2010 barrel-fermented Chardonnay, crafted from Dijon clone 76 and 96 fruit. Aromas of fresh apple, mineral and baking spice lead to rich flavors of Asian pear, nectarine and vanilla. 

Duck Pond Cellars
2009 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley

The Fries Family embraced Oregon wine and the connection with the “Quack Attack” of the University of Oregon by founding Duck Pond Cellars in 1993.  They now farm 840 acres of vineyards in northern Oregon and the slopes of Eastern Washington producing grapes for Duck Pond Cellars and Desert Wind Winery in Prosser.  Duck Pond Cellars’ value-priced Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of apple and pear with notes of mineral, vanilla and barrel spice. 

Grace Cellars
2010 Chardonnay, Lonesome Springs Ranch
Columbia Valley

Mike and Barb Grace make small lots of wine from their winery in suburban Lynnwood, Washington.  Their wines can be tasted at their shared tasting room on the Bothell-Everett Highway near Country Village Shops.  The 2010 Chardonnay was fermented in American oak and aged sur lie to enhance the wine and add complexity.  Look for aromas and flavors of stone fruits, citrus, buttered brioche and vanilla. 

Wines from other areas 

Fog Dog
2011 Chardonnay
Sonoma Coast AVA

This new release from Joseph Phelps Vineyards highlights the quality of Sonoma Coast AVA (specifically their Freestone Estate Vineyard and the Dutton Ranch Mill Station Vineyard) for producing superb Chardonnay.  Grapes were whole-cluster pressed to barrel for a slow, native yeast fermentation.  Minimal handling included occasional lees stirring during malolactic fermentation and one racking prior to bottling.  The wine was a favorite with our tasters showing bright aromas of green apple, baking spice,  wet stone, floral perfume and vanilla.  On the palate, flavors of pear, melon and toasty hazelnut complement crisp acidity and earthy mineral notes. 

Bota Box
$21.00 / 3 Liter

When one needs a glass of tasty Chardonnay on demand, it’s easy just to head to the fridge and dispense a portion from the handy Bota Box.  This excellent value wine offers aromas and flavors of green apple, citrus and pear with notes of mineral and ample acidity to pair with almost any light meal.  Summer’s coming and when it arrives, you will want to have a dependable wine like this on hand. 

Pedroncelli Winery
2011 Chardonnay, F. Johnson Vineyard
Dry Creek Valley

I have been enjoying Pedroncelli wines here in Seattle since the late 1970s, and I have never been disappointed.  This bottling from the unique Frank Johnson Vineyard comes from the Dry Creek Valley half of the property; the other half lies in the Russian River Valley AVA.  Rich aromas and flavors of apple and citrus are complemented by notes of honey, white flowers and creamy toasted oak. 

Dry Creek Vineyard
2010 Chardonnay
Russian River Valley

DCV’s estate Foggy Oaks Vineyard is in the cool Russian River Valley AVA, and this is the third vintage of Chardonnay produced exclusively from this site.  The wine was barrel fermented in French oak and aged 10 months in French and Hungarian oak, 45% new.  On the nose the wine offers aromas of tropical fruit, pear and lemon along with flinty mineral notes.  Showing excellent balance on the palate, flavors of peach and apricot mingle with tropical fruit and vanilla, with a fine finish of crisp acidity and mineral. 

Noble Vines 446
2011 Chardonnay

Send in the clones!  If one has spare time, pour a glass of this Chardonnay, then sit down at the computer for a little perusing on the subject of Chardonnay clonal development.  There are currently more than 100 specific clones in the U. C. Davis catalog – many that evolved in California and a good number that came from France.  This wine is crafted from clone #4, also known as the Martini Clone (after California wine pioneer Louis Martini, Sr.).  Grapes are grown in Block 46 of the winery’s estate vineyard, the block closest to the winery (quick transfer of fruit to the cool winery).  Look for aromas and flavors of fresh apple, tropical fruits and light notes of mineral and toasty vanilla spice. 

 2011 Chardonnay, Grand Selection
Casablanca Valley, Chile

From the Marnier-Lapostolle family (the folks that bring you the world-renowned liqueur Grand Marnier), paired with the Rabat family of Chile, comes Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay.  Chile’s climate and geography is excellent for winegrowing, and the wines coming from the Southern Hemisphere are always good values.  This stainless-fermented wine offers fresh aromas and flavors of lime and pear with notes of mineral and baking spice.

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