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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Italian Varietals
Come to America

A 4-Part Series
Published Jan & Feb 2015

Cabernet Sauvignon
& Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2014

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2014

Oyster and Mussel Wines
A 4-Part Series
Published Sept & Oct 2014

Red Rhone Varietals
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2014

Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series


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Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

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Last Week's Reviews
Published March 11, 2015

Fifty Shades of Chardonnay 2015
Part One of a Four-Part Series
(See Part 2)
By Chuck Hill

Thanks to a book of a similar name, I have found a new name for my annual review of Versatile Chardonnays.  In fact, in the four columns of this series I will explore many more than 50 Chardonnays, and the wineries that bring them to your home or merchant.  Styles of Chardonnay vary from the rich and decadent, tempting your nose and palate with rich tropical fruits, oak and vanilla, to the austere and severe, rewarding your attention with complexity and food-friendly acidity. 

For this first tasting of Chardonnays, we enjoyed Pollo a la Brasa from San Fernando restaurant in Lynnwood, Washington.  Delicious birds marinated in Peruvian herbs and spices then rotisserie cooked to perfection.  No bondage required. 

Helix by Reininger
2013 Chardonnay
Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Chuck Reininger named his alternate label – the wines are too good to be called a second label – after a small town in Eastern Oregon where a family farm was sold partially to fund winery expansion in 2004.  It is also the genus name for escargot, hence the snail on the label.  My tasters very much enjoyed this food-friendly Chardonnay with aromas and flavors of apple, pear and earthy mineral, and notes of vanilla and toasty spice.  

King Estate Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Signature Selection

Each year I, and my Chardonnay tasters, struggle with scoring different styles of the varietal.  Some are lean and crisp, highlighting citrus and mineral, and others are rich and buttery with ripe, tropical fruits and toasty oak.  This Signature Chardonnay from King Estate leans to the rich side with bright, forward aromas and flavors of lemon, melon, apricot and vanilla, yet offers a balancing acidity that complements lighter cuisine to a “T.” 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2012 Chardonnay, Ethos Reserve
Columbia Valley AVA

Even though it is not touted on the label, this wine is essentially a Cold Creek Vineyard reserve, sourced (84%) from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s legendary site north of the Yakima Valley.  The balance of the fruit came from the winery’s Canoe Ridge estate in the Horse Heaven Hills.  Two-thirds of the wine underwent natural fermentation (by indigenous yeasts) for added complexity.  Look for aromas of ripe tropical fruits, vanilla and toasty oak, leading to a rich palate of pineapple, caramel, Asian pear and baking spice.  

Array Cellars
2012 Chardonnay
Columbia Gorge AVA

Henry Smilowicz continues to find success with his all-Chardonnay lineup at Array Wines.  Consulting winemaker Brian Carter works with Henry to create tempting bottlings from single vineyards and blends.  This wine, from Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge on Underwood Mountain, offers aromas and flavors of creamy apple and lemon curd mingling with toasty oak, hazelnut and vanilla – the wine reveals additional complexity with breathing. 

Foundry Vineyards
2012 Chardonnay
Columbia Gorge AVA

Coming from the art-centric community of Camano Island, I truly appreciate the association between art and wine.  Foundry Vineyards owners Mark and Patty Anderson have brought this full circle with the combination of a fine arts gallery, sculpture garden and tasting room.  Allow yourself to become immersed in this Walla Walla landmark.  Enjoy the winery’s delicious Chardonnay, crafted with the addition of 4% Maria Gomes (a Portuguese white variety added for unique acidity).  Look for aromas and flavors of citrus, orchard blossom and earthy mineral that pair superbly with flavorful chicken from the grill. 

Maryhill Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Proprietor’s Reserve
Columbia Valley AVA

Maryhill winemaker Richard Batchelor aged this reserve Chardonnay sur lie in 100% new French oak, giving it a rich and complex character showing ripe fruity notes of pear and apple with stone fruits and hints of vanilla.  There is ample acidity to make this a great wine for pairing with lighter meals and snacks.  With spring arriving early in the Northwest, head up to Maryhill for a great Columbia Gorge experience. 

Del Rio Vineyards
2013 Chardonnay, Estate
Rogue Valley AVA

This unique property began its life in the mid-19th century, and the historic Rock Point Hotel (dating from 1864) serves as the Del Rio winery tasting room.  Orchards planted at the turn of the 20th century have been transformed into vineyards with 12 varieties producing grapes that are sold to more than 20 wineries in Oregon and California.  The 2013 Estate Chardonnay offers aromas of pear, dill, anise and toasty cedar leading to a palate of earthy mineral, apple and vanilla – a worthy pairing for chicken or fish from the grill. 

Three Rivers Winery
2014 Steel Chardonnay
Columbia Valley AVA

Given our co-themes of Versatile Chardonnay and 50 Shades of Chardonnay, this wine is a lighter shade of Chardonnay, but extremely versatile at the table with crisp acidity from early harvesting and cool fermentation.  Aromas of wet stone, green apple, grapefruit and hints of baking spice lead to a crisp palate of citrus and mineral that caresses your seafood selection to perfection. 

Seven of Hearts
2013 Chardonnay, Willakia Vineyard
Willamette Valley AVA

Seven of Hearts owner/winemaker Byron Dooley crafts three separate Chardonnay bottlings from grapes grown at Gran Moraine and Willakia Vineyards.  The Willakia Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills is known for its volcanic Nekia soils and the cool influence of breezes from the Van Duzer Corridor. This Willakia Chardonnay offers a mineral-driven profile with floral elements and flavors of citrus and soft peach. 

Spangler Vineyards
2012 Chardonnay, Unoaked
Southern Oregon AVA

Spangler Vineyards is a great stop for travelers along the I-5 corridor in Southern Oregon.  It is just a half mile west of the highway at exit 119.  Talented winemaker Pat Spangler crafts his Chardonnay without oak to create a food-friendly wine that shows clean and crisp aromas and flavors.   Look for white peach, ripe apple and notes of baking spice and floral perfume. 

Roxy Ann Winery
2012 Chardonnay
Rogue Valley AVA

RoxyAnn Winery is located at the foot of Roxy Ann Peak, named for a pioneer woman Roxy Ann Bowen in the 1850s.  The winery property is part of Hillcrest Orchard, directed by members of the Parson family since 1908.  Jack Day, grandson of Hillcrest founder Reginald Parsons, oversaw the planting of wine grapes on the southwest slopes of Roxy Ann Peak in 1997.  This barrel-fermented Chardonnay from the estate vineyard offers green apple, peach and toasty vanilla with hints of orchard blossom and citrus. 

Airlie Winery
2012 Chardonnay
Willamette Valley AVA

Airlie Winery was a pioneer in planting Dijon clone Chardonnay at the estate Dunn Forest Vineyard just below the winery near Monmouth, Oregon.  Their Chardonnay is a favorite each year with those seeking a food-friendly wine with aromas of melon, pear and citrus and a crisp palate offering flavors of green apple, creamy lemon notes and toasty vanilla. 

Pend d’Oreille Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Vickers Vineyard
Snake River Valley AVA

Grapes for this wine came from the Vickers Vineyard near Caldwell in southwest Idaho.  Winemaker Steve Meyer crafts two Chardonnays from Vickers Vineyard, but uses different yeast strains for each, and this reserve bottling is aged in more new French oak barrels.  The wine offers aromas of tropical fruits, vanilla and toasty oak leading to a soft palate of melon, lemon curd and notes of honeysuckle. 

Wines from Other Areas

Joseph Phelps Vineyards
2013 Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyard
Sonoma Coast

Every year this Chardonnay is at the top of our rankings, demonstrating that meticulous care in both the vineyard and winery add up to excellence in the bottle.  Upon first tasting, it is somewhat shy and demure – its nature is not to be an overpowering blockbuster.  As the wine opens up, the complexity evolves with ripe pear and honeysuckle yielding to Meyer lemon then to notes of vanilla and honey.  The secret is the indescribable sense of balance and structure that is at once tantalizing and captivating – a superb match to almost any elegant lighter fare. 

Noble Vines
2013 Chardonnay, 446

The 446 in this wine’s designation comes from Chardonnay clone 4 (known as the Martini clone) and from Block 46 of the winery’s San Bernabe Vineyard in the cool coastal climate of Monterey.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of pear and melon with notes of spice, stone fruits and vanilla cookie.  It pairs well with lighter foods and is a very good value. 

Sbragia Winery
2012 Chardonnay, Home Ranch
Dry Creek Valley

Ed Sbragia spent 32 years at Beringer Winery in the Napa Valley before starting his own venture in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  Honoring his family’s winemaking heritage, he now makes wine from select blocks of his favorite vineyards.  This warmer vintage created a Chardonnay offering ripe aromas and flavors of pear, mango and pineapple with notes of toasty almond and vanilla. 

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
2013 Chardonnay, “Karia”
Napa Valley

The name Karia derives from a Greek word meaning graceful.  Grapes for this vintage came from select vineyards in the southern Napa Valley including Carneros, Atlas Peak District, Coombsville and Oak Knoll.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of stone fruits and ripe pear with notes of creamy vanilla and earthy mineral spice.


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