Archive

Chardonnay

Another huge hiatus! Time to make up for it with a dazzling series. Once in a while, especially when playing catch-up on a wine blog, you want a wine that just rocks. No snobby nonsense; no sniff, swirl, spit. Just a wine that breaches all boundaries, pushing the limits of what you thought possible in terms of terroir. I found such a wine recently, and it represents a defiant vision of winemaking I find quite attractive.

This wine is the 2008 Stronghold Vineyards “Tazi,” a white blend made in Cornville, Arizona by no less a personage than Maynard James Keenan, frontman for the alternative/prog metal legend Tool. If anything exemplifies the approach used for producing this wine, it is the name: “Tazi” is a name used for the Persian greyhound, one of the earliest breeds to diverge from wolves. The vineyard site, located at the eastern end of Sulfur Springs Valley, is 80 acres, of which 70 are currently cultivated. If you want to learn about this project, which Keenan undertook with winemaker Eric Glomski, see the documentary, Blood Into Wine, which can be obtained at their website http://www.arizonastrongholdvineyards.com/. Who could expect that Arizona would produce wines of any note, let alone with such bold fruit character and aromatics as this one?

What surprised me about “Tazi” is its composition: it is a blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Chardonnay, 19% Riesling and 8% Malvasia Bianca – Sauvignon Blanc contributes freshness and acidity, as well as some herbal qualities; Chardonnay contributes body and texture; Riesling contributes finesse and some fruit to the finish, while Malvasia contributes aromas and texture. Combined in this blend, they present a wine that is floral and fruit-driven on the nose, focused on peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle notes. It has a nicely balanced mouthfeel, medium-bodied and supple, except a little hot from the 13.7% alcohol. Nice crisp medium finish, but again, a bit hot for my taste. Try this fine example of unorthodox winemaking for only $18.

Delacroix Brut NVLet’s say you get invited to a party, but it’s no big occasion – a friend’s housewarming party, or maybe someone you don’t know well got signed to a record label. Maybe your favorite Japanese game show wasn’t canceled after all. You need a bottle of bubbly, but Champagne would be a clear case of waste at best – at worst, a clear waste of a case. What do you do?

Grab one of the many more affordable equivalents, of course! And this is a solid one. The NV (Non-Vintage) Delacroix Brut is a fine Blanc de Blancs (white wine from white grapes) for your everyday celebration. Well, it isn’t precisely a Blanc de Blancs in the Champagne sense: the grape varieties include Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. It’s also Brut, meaning it is considered a dry wine, though in Champagne there may be up to 15 g/l of sugar added with the dosage before final bottling. I do not know how much sugar is left in this wine, nor do I really care. This is for parties, after all. The wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle; that is, it adheres to many of the same principals of production as Champagne, including completion of a second fermentation in the bottle, with the wine aged for an extended period on lees (yeasts) to acquire its carbonation and fuller texture.

The end result? This NV Brut by Delacroix has a decent mousse, with toasty bread and citrus aromas, showing a bright straw color in the glass. Good mineral profile and full texture from the Chenin Blanc, with some snappy acidity contributed by the Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) – a little less Chardonnay fruit than I’d like, but nice balance and a quenching finish. $8. Pair with lobster rolls, fried fish or fried chicken, or serve as an apéritif. A case would never go to waste at any party. Cheers.


Today’s post concerns the single best American Chardonnay I have ever tasted. Better than Morgan, better than Heitz, easily the match for Kistler. This Chardonnay is the 2006 Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay, produced from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley, California. Beautiful. Just beautiful wine, comparable to almost any white Burgundy in its price point.

A gorgeous yellow gold in the glass, with flinty citrus and green apple aromas combining with hints of spice, flowers and honey on the nose. The mouthfeel is supple, silky, with tangerine and grapefruit bursting into ripe peach and mineral flavors, the body definitely showing some extended lees contact in barrel. It is moderately oaked, has vibrant acidity for a Chardonnay so rich, and ends with an unctuously long finish. This wine can be purchased by the half-bottle (375 mL) for the middling price of $22.


Some nights I cannot help but roast a chicken in our clay pot, particularly in fall. While the leaves are turning amber and orange, root vegetables are fresh and in profusion, and the air is starting to have a bite, roast chicken with garlic, butter and herbs is the most comforting food I can imagine. We usually pair it with a medley of potatoes, onions, parsnips, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Roasting these in a clay pot infuses each element of the meal with the flavors of every other element, and adds a tender juiciness to the chicken that is unparalleled.

Only one wine should be paired with this meal, in my mind: Chardonnay. It does not have to be Burgundian, nor does it need to have excessive oak aging. Preferably, it should be fruity and have hints of creamy butter, with that toastiness provided by time in barrel. Chardonnay paired with roast chicken should also be suede-soft, and there should be just enough acidity to maintain its role as a food wine.

Thus the 2007 Edna Valley “Paragon” Chardonnay, from the San Luis Obispo County in California, perhaps the coolest mesoclimate around their AVA. A pale gold in the glass, with good clarity, this wine presents a nose of pure fresh pear and vanilla, with a healthy dose of oak, and notes of guava and other tropical fruit. In the mouth it is lush and opulent, viscous and soft, with more pear and green apple balanced to buttery oak. There is definitely some acid backbone here, just enough to keep it from falling into the “flabby domestic Chardonnay” category. Decent balance, and a great long finish. Pair this with roast chicken or Cornish game hen, or pasta dishes with shrimp or chicken in cream sauces. $15.


“Go into the woods after a rain, and try to describe that smell.” These are the words of an Austrian winemaker, Willi Bründlmayer, and I think they also apply to this wine, the Weingut Schieler Spätlese Trocken 2003, a German Chardonnay with one of the most fascinating characters I’ve encountered in this varietal. Just try it; I’ll let it remain mostly a mystery. A nose featuring citrus with a zingy effervescence, and a mouthfeel showing bright notes of apple and pear. Not much oak, but balanced acidity buttresses the fruit. $25 a bottle.


Olivier Leflaive Rully 1er Cru. I must make a big deal about this white Burgundy. If you get a chance to drink this, do so. Rully is located in the Côte Chalonnaise, in the south of Burgundy. 1er Cru means Premier Cru, which of course means First Growth. It’s got floral and honey aromas with a hint of citrus, and is beautifully well-balanced, with creamy oak complementing fresh acidity and vibrant fruit. Full-bodied, soft, and a lingering finish. When people think buttery French Chardonnay, they’re thinking of something like this. $20. Get a case. A bottle of this will compliment roasted chicken, halibut, or boiled lobster with pepper butter.

This Thibert Mâcon-Fuissé presents a great value in white Burgundy. Pure Chardonnay, moderately oaked, the result a well-balanced, full-bodied wine with hints of citrus and mineral on the nose, and buttery mouthfeel on the palate complemented by hints of peach and white plums. This is one of the Mâcon appellations allowed to hyphenate the town’s name into the wine region, allowing a more specific designation than just “Mâcon” or “Mâcon Villages.” Such specificity is supposed to indicate higher quality, and does in this case. Worth trying at $15.