We celebrate many special days in the Cogill household…Christmas, birthday’s, anniversaries, but we always raise a glass to Chardonnay Day. Happy Chardonnay Day. Gary loves Chardonnay, enjoying everything from abundant, slightly buttery selections to clean, crisp, racy, unoaked offerings. I lean towards the later but have found all options are welcome on our table at one time or another. For instance, the rich, oaky Chardonnay wines are ideal for pairing with a heartier meal, like roast pork or chicken, where the lighter styles are ideal with anything from fish, pasta, or spring salads. It depends on what you are in the mood for, remembering that the only thing that matters when selecting a wine is to drink what you like. If you need some guidance, consider one of these covering every style and flavor profile.
I attended a recent Zoom tasting with Jackson Family Wines featuring several selections from their portfolio, tasting our way down the Oregon and California coast from Willamette Valley to the Sta. Rita Hills, highlighting terroir, showcasing the distinct characteristics that location plays on the wine. From cooler climates to warmer, inland vs. coastal, Chardonnay reveals a story of place, exhibiting tropical fruit notes in warmer areas, more melon and citrus in colder, which is why it is one of the most planted international varieties in the world, and most popular.
Each delicious selection was varietally correct while being unique and very different. To be able to taste the grouping side by side allowed for a deeper understanding of how the location isn’t an afterthought; for many winemakers, it is the only thought. Of the wines we tasted, Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton ($45) from Willamette Valley, Maggy Hawk Skycrest Vineyard ($55) in Anderson Valley, and Brewer-Clifton ($36) from Sta. Rita Hills were the favorites. I have been a fan of Willamette Valley wines for years, particularly Chardonnay.
Gran Moraine wines have an elegant finesse and refinement, allowing the fruit to shine without the need to be flashy. The Chardonnay layers orange blossom, white peach, and a note of minerality. Maggy Hawk Skycrest Vineyard from the deep end of Anderson Valley in far north California highlights the effects of the diurnal temperature shift the vineyard experiences with very hot days and cool nights creating ripe fruit while locking in acidity and freshness. The round, textured wine shows herbal notes and five spice, with ripe apple and crisp Asian pear. With a long growing season thanks to the influence of the Pacific Ocean in Sta. Rita Hills, Brewer-Clifton shines with citrus and lychee notes, with soft herbs, blanched almond, and salinity.
To read the tasting notes of Eden Rift Estate Chardonnay ($42) from Cienega Valley in California’s Central Coast, you would think this will be a weighty, full-bodied wine. The juice is barrel fermented with native yeasts in partially new French oak, undergoes battonage (stirring of the yeasts) twice a week for six months, and aged 11 total months before bottling. But, there is a light freshness to the wine. The proximity of the vineyards to the Pacific, helps trap acidity in the fruit, creating a wine with orchard fruit and lemon zest, with a touch of orange blossom and creamsicle.
In San Luis Obispo’s SLO Coast, Oceano Chardonnay ($38) displays a similar freshness thanks to the uber-close proximity of the Spanish Springs Vineyard in Edna Valley to the Ocean. Just 1.5 miles from the Pacific, grapes enjoy a long growing season, creating a wine that leaps from the glass with green apple, melon, kiwi, and kaffir lime.
Chardonnay thrives in Sonoma County. From the Coast to Carneros, Green Valley to Russian River Valley, each wine has an individual character, defined by where its grown and enhanced by its production.
Melding fruit from 42 different blocks of Chardonnay grown throughout Sonoma County, Landmark Overlook Chardonnay ($28) shines as a harmonious example of why Sonoma is ideal for Chardonnay. Lush and balanced, the wine expresses the character of the region in each glass, with golden apple, golden peach, ripe citrus, and a touch of vanilla spice.
Celebrating the inaugural release of their Sonoma County Chardonnay ($22) with the 2018 vintage, Seghesio Family Vineyards delivers a stone-fruit filled wine with a bit of oak to round out the finish.
The Sonoma Coast is one of the rainiest parts of the County, and one of the coldest. Vineyards sit above the fog line, ensuring that delicate fruit fully ripens while highlighting freshness. Paul Hobbs Crossbarn Chardonnay ($32) shows this flawlessly, creating a zesty wine with Pink Lady apple, lemon curd, and honeycomb.
Elegance exudes from the wines produced by Ram’s Gate Estate, with their Ram’s Gate Sonoma Coast Chardonnay opening with vibrancy and chic style, layering lilikoi and mandarin with blanched almond and white peaches.
With a rounder, more textured approach, Chalk Hill Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($24) goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, with ten months of sur lie barrel aging, giving the full-bodied wine a creamy toastiness, melding hazelnut, lemon custard, and vanilla.
Petaluma Gap grown Chardonnay in the Calesa Vineyard, right on the Pacific Coast, develops an entrancing freshness that keeps fruit light and crisp, even when producing a white that goes through 100% malolactic fermentation. Chappellet Grower Collection Calesa Vineyard Chardonnay ($49) is textured, round, and complex, layering lemon peel, tropical guava and lychee, spiced vanilla, and creamy custard.
Though located more inland than the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley is still directly influenced by the Ocean’s cooling fog. The Pacific lies just a few miles to the west, allowing evening fog to roll through the Valley, dropping temperatures up to 40 degrees from its daytime high, sitting amongst the vines, not to retreat until the following morning. Additionally, throughout the vast, diverse region, the Russian River produces a thick morning fog, particularly in the vineyards closest to it. It keeps consistency throughout the AVA, creating beloved cool-climate varietal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. Dry Creek Vineyards Block 10 Chardonnay ($34) shines with refinement, showcasing white peach, apple blossom, honeysuckle, and vanilla cream. From four estates within the region, Balletto Rusian River Chardonnay ($29) showcases the character of the fruit with a well-integrated palate, highlighting golden peach, red pear, and lemon balm.
The southern Los Carneros region, experiences afternoon winds are so powerful they can knock you over, ensuring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines are kept cool and free of moisture throughout the long, hot summer days. The fruit is able to evenly ripen, while freshness is maintained.
Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay ($38) highlights this freshness with vibrant energy in the glass, showing ripe Meyer lemon, green apple, baked pear, with a touch of spiced almond. Bonus, through midnight on 5/24, Frank Family Vineyards is offering a 20% savings on all Napa Valley wine purchases, with shipping included on orders of 6 bottles or more via their website.
Alpha Omega Napa Valley Chardonnay ($82) is a Chardonnay for Cabernet drinkers. 100% barrel fermented and aged for 16 months in French oak, of which 65% is new, the wine is rich, warming, and rewarding with honey and caramel custard notes, golden apple, baked brioche, and toasted hazelnut. It is a big wine, with 14.5% alcohol and a full-bodied palate, making it the perfect pairing wine for anything from roasted chicken or pork, to seared steak with a garlic cream sauce.
Consistently a crowd-pleaser, Flora Springs Napa Valley Chardonnay ($36) is creamy, textured, and filled with tropical fruit notes of guava, banana, and golden mango, balanced with juicy lemon zest, making it a great food wine especially with shellfish, i.e. lobster in a white wine and butter sauce.