Skip to content

California Chardonnay Entering Its Golden Age?

2013 February 27

February 2013 095
2013 In Pursuit of Balance tasting at San Francisco’s Bluxome Street Winery

I attended the third annual In Pursuit of Balance tasting this month, an event that focuses on wineries “striving to produce balanced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California.” That tasting along with a number of other Golden State Chardonnays I’ve sampled in recent months has me thinking there are now a host of appealing, balanced and complex California Chardonnays available. Hallelujah! Maybe California’s most widely planted grape has at last entered its golden era.

California certainly has a long history with the variety, and there are numerous older vineyards, going back to the 1970s, that are hitting their stride as sources for lower yielding, more complex grapes.

The most impressive Chardonnays I tasted at the IPOB event–wines rating 93 points or higher–came from Arnot-Roberts, Ceritas, Littorai, Mount Eden, Sandhi, Tyler and Varner.

February 2013 072
The Arnot-Roberts team

I’ve previously profiled here both Mount Eden and Varner, great producers of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay that most impressed me is also sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains. Arnot-Roberts, Ceritas, Sandhi and Tyler are all more recent projects, very much deserving of attention both for their Chardonnays and other wines.

Other star producers that have clearly risen to the top out of the more than 550 California Chardonnays I’ve tried from the last few vintages are Bjornstad, DuMOL, Flowers, Hanzell, Hyde de Villaine, and three more from the Santa Cruz Mountains: Rhys, Ridge and Thomas Fogarty.

A lot of these Chardonnays are made in very small quantities and sold primarily through the winery’s mailing list, as is the case with Ceritas, Thomas Fogarty, Littorai and Rhys. A few of California’s top Chardonnays—from DuMOL, Hanzell, Hyde de Villaine and Mount Eden—are more widely available, but at prices ranging from $60 to $72. The best relative values amongst the Chardonnays I’ve scored 93 points or higher are the 2011 Arnot-Roberts Santa Cruz Mountains at $35, 2009 Bjornstad Ritchie Vineyard for about $38, and the 2010 Tyler Bien Nacido and 2010 Ridge Monte Bello, both averaging $45.

February 2013 079
The Tyler team

Beyond these stars, though, I find the quality level overall of what I’m tasting from many producers is much better than it was only a couple of years ago. Nearly half of the recent vintage California Chardonnays I’ve tasted rated 90 points or higher, a solid improvement over preceding years.

These newer bottlings are showing more acidity, less obtrusive oak and greater complexity than years past. This is the result partly of cooler recent vintages, leading to more minerality and higher acidity, but is also attributable to many producers choosing to dial back on the new oak and to lower ripeness levels by picking earlier than in years past. It’s an exciting trend, and I hope it proves a long lived one.

Chardonnay is certainly California’s biggest selling wine, representing 28% of the volume of table wine shipped throughout the U.S., so it would be great to think the State is putting its best foot forward with a really superior product.

Many Chardonnay producers, like the ones represented at IPOB, also produce Pinot Noir—the red wine from France’s Burgundy region, just as Chardonnay is the Burgundy region’s white variety.

California makes an ocean of Pinot Noir these days, and much of it is quite enjoyable, ripe red fruited stuff. The IPOB producers are generally aiming for something more complex and ageworthy, dialing back on the ripe fruit, and sometimes adding a host of grape stems in an effort to emulate the velvety textured wines made with a high degree of stem inclusion by a number of Burgundy producers.

For me, the high level of experimentation with whole clusters these days shows that California Pinot Noir is still finding its way, but very much in the midst of at least a momentary identity crisis.

February 2013 036
Pinot Noir panel at 2013 IPOB

The IPOB event this year included a seminar devoted to the topic of whole cluster fermentation and stem inclusion in Pinot Noir. All three of the panelists—Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen, Failla’s Ehren Jordan and Jamie Kutch—are strong proponents of whole cluster fermentation, so I felt an alternative voice was very much lacking. I also felt the samples poured for the seminar—from Au Bon Climat, Failla and Kutch—argued much more persuasively against than in favor of high stem inclusion.

Like Henri Jayer, the great Burgundian winemaker who advocated for totally destemming Pinot Noir, I think that most good Pinot Noirs with substantial stem inclusion would have been even better wines without the stems.

9/26/10 Ridge Lytton Springs Bloggers Tasting
the results of destemming

Despite my dubiousness regarding whole cluster faddism, however, I do very much respect some of the Pinot Noirs being made with a substantial amount of whole cluster inclusion—i.e., more than 30%. For example Arnot-Roberts made a delicious 2011 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard bottling with 100% whole cluster, and Soliste made a couple of great 2010 Pinots with 50% (Foret) and 80% (L’Ambroisie) whole cluster.

Nonetheless, I regularly taste a lot more Pinot misses than hits with high percentages of stems. Too often the outcome is wines with high tannins and green flavors—like peppercorn and green bean—that obscure the fruit and make the wines virtually undrinkable for their first several years. In some cases, the stemmy tannins and flavors will integrate over time, yielding a wine with appealing textures and tertiary flavors. Nonetheless, in a lot of cases in my opinion and experience, the fruit will fail to outlast the thick, woody tannins, so that the ultimate result will hardly be worth the wait.

The best Pinot Noirs out of a very strong field at the IPOB tasting, meriting 93 points or more for me, were the 2011 Ceritas; 2008 Cobb Rice-Spivak; 2010 Failla Hirsch Vineyard; Knez’s 2010 Anderson Valley bottling and their single vineyard Demuth; Soliste’s L’Ambroisie and Foret; Littorai’s 2010 Roman Vineyard and The Haven; and Tyler’s 2010 Santa Barbara County and Clos Pepe.

February 2013 076
the Soliste team

Several of these are not yet released, and some are likely to be sold only through the winery’s mailing list. New producer Knez is the best value offering amongst these gorgeous wines, with their Anderson Valley bottling priced at $30 and the Demuth available for $43. Tyler also has some great values, with the Santa Barbara County appellation bottling going for an average of $39.

A final thought on the title of this event: There are a whole lot of other wines being made in California that are balanced—e.g., scads of Sauvignon Blancs and cooler climate reds from dozens of varieties–so I don’t see how an “In Pursuit of Balance” label for an event limited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir does much service to California wine in general.

It is also impossible to imagine an event by this name being held in Italy or France, for example, where balance comes pretty naturally, thanks both to climate and traditional styles of winemaking. Yes, California, like other warm New World regions, has had a recent history of making some pretty unbalanced—extracted, high alcohol, overly ripe, low acid—wines. Nonetheless, both Australia and California, the regions that went the farthest in that direction—have very much regrouped and are heading in a more balanced direction.

The “Balance” title was provocative and attention getting for the first year or two of this event. For IPOB to remain relevant going forward, however, I submit it’s going to have to find something more to distinguish its participants than merely the “pursuit of balance.”

For further background on IPOB, here’s the link to my report on last year’s tasting event.

For my tasting notes on the wines poured at this event, see below.

2013 IN PURSUIT OF BALANCE TASTING – Bluxome Street Winery, San Francisco, California (2/4/2013)

Anthill Farms

February 2013 083

  • 2011 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium ruby color; rosehips, sous bois nose; very tart cherry, rosehips, mineral palate with bright acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (usually 30-40% whole cluster) (91 points)
  • 2011 Anthill Farms Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark ruby color; roses, cranberry, tart cherry nose; roses, cranberry, tart cherry, mineral, rosehips palate with salinity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (92 points)

Arnot-Roberts

  • 2011 Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Very light cloudy lemon yellow color; ripe lemon, lightly saline, vanilla, Puligny-Montrachet-like nose; tasty, rich but poised, tart lemon, mineral, saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (from 30 yr old dry farmed vines on sandy loam soil) (93 points)
  • 2011 Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay Watson Ranch – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Bright, light canary yellow color; lemon cream, vanilla nose; tasty, ripe lemon, lemon cream, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2011 Arnot-Roberts Pinot Noir Peter Martin Ray Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium dark cherry red color; very appealing, sous bois, rosehips nose; tasty, sous bois, rosehips, mineral, Burgundian palate; medium-plus finish (100% whole cluster) (92 points)

Au Bon Climat

  • 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Rosemary’s Talley Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley
    Pre-release: medium dark ruby color; rosehips, reduction, roses nose; stemmy, reduction, tart green notes, tart green beans palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (Jim Clendenen’s first 100% whole cluster Pinot, which is virtually undrinkable at this point–soaring acidity and extreme stemmy flavors–a poster child for the efforts to stem the increasing tide of stems in Cali Pinot) (79 points)
  • 2009 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium dark ruby color; roses, ripe raspberry, reduction, tart berry nose; odd, rosehips, pepper, very tart cranberry, tart currant, reduction palate with searing acidity; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish 87+ points (50% whole cluster placed in bottom of tank and crushed by foot; almost 2 years in barrel) (87 points)

Bluxome Street

February 2013 087

  • 2011 Bluxome Street Winery Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, pineapple nose; fresh, ripe pear, pineapple palate; medium-plus finish (less than 10% new oak) (90 points)
  • 2011 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir Balinard Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Dark ruby color; rich, ripe raspberry, cherry pie, pie crust nose; rich, ripe raspberry, cherry pie, pie crust, ripe cherry palate; medium-plus finish (vineyard planted in ’07 to 115, Calera and a suitcase clone; 20% new French oak) (91 points)
  • 2011 Bluxome Street Winery Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Dark ruby color; tart cherry, sous bois nose showing a little reduction; tasty, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry, roses, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (6 clones from 5 vineyards; 9 mos in 20% new French oak) (91 points)

Ceritas

February 2013 071

  • 2011 Ceritas Chardonnay Porter-Bass Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Light canary yellow color; lemon drop, ripe lemon nose; very tasty, rich but poised, ripe lemon, lemon drop, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2011 Ceritas Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium ruby color; sous bois, ripe cherry, baked cherry nose; tasty, rich, delicious, sous bois, ripe cherry, baked cherry, mineral palate with good acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 2011 Ceritas Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light canary yellow color; ripe pear, vanilla, ripe lemon nose; very tasty, ripe lemon, lemon drop, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2011 Ceritas Chardonnay Peter Martin Ray – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light canary yellow color; very appealing, ripe lemon, white jasmine, lightly honeyed nose; very tasty, tight, ripe lemon, white jasmine, lightly honeyed, mineral palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)

Chanin

February 2013 070

  • 2010 Chanin Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Light lemon yellow color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; ripe pear, ripe lemon, pineapple, French oak nose; French oak on entry that should integrate in two years or so, tart pear, tart lemon, mineral, ripe grapefruit palate with medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points (13.9% alcohol) (92 points)
  • 2011 Chanin Chardonnay Los Alamos Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, ripe lemon, vanilla, tart lemon nose; ripe lemon, lemon drop, pineapple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2011 Chanin Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Light canary yellow color; tart lemon, vanilla, lemon drop nose; tasty, rich, lemon drop, tart lemon palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2011 Chanin Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium dark cherry red color; rosehips, sous bois nose; tasty, sous bois, very tart cherry, rosehips, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (clones 667 & 115; totally destemmed) (91 points)
  • 2011 Chanin Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium cherry red color; sous bois, rosehips nose; sous bois, rosehips, mineral palate with nice texture, balance and medium acidity; needs 3 years to fully integrate; medium-plus finish (92 points)

Cobb

  • 2008 Cobb Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium cherry red color; ripe cherry, roses nose; tasty, very appeal, ripe cherry, roses, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2008 Cobb Pinot Noir Emmaline Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light medium red color with pale meniscus; sous bois, rosehips nose; sous bois, rosehips, tart cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 5% whole cluster) (92 points)
  • 2008 Cobb Pinot Noir Joy Road Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium cherry red color; roses, light cherry nose; appealing, tart cherry, ripe cranberry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2008 Cobb Pinot Noir Jack Hill Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light medium red color; very tart cherry, rosehips, roses nose; tasty, poised, tart cranberry, tart cherry, sous bois, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)

Copain

  • 2010 Copain Chardonnay Brosseau Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Chalone
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, brioche nose; rich, lemon cream pear cream, almond palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2010 Copain Pinot Noir “En Haut” Kiser – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Dark cherry red color; tart cherry pie, light pine forest nose; ripe cherry, cherry pie, raspberry, pie crust palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2010 Copain Pinot Noir Monument Tree – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Dark cherry red color; tart cherry, light graham cracker, sous bois nose; rich but poised, tasty, tart cherry, light graham cracker, sous bois, ripe raspberry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2010 Copain Pinot Noir Les Voisins – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; sous bois, tart cranberry, rosehips nose; tight, sous bois, tart cranberry, rosehips, tart raspberry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)

Drew Family

February 2013 084

  • 2010 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Talfryn & Calder – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; appealing, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry nose; tasty, rich, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry, graham cracker oak palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (30% whole cluster) (92 points)
  • 2011 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Morning Dew Ranch Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Light medium cherry red color; sous bois, rosehips nose; very tart cherry, mineral, rosehips, saline palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2011 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Gatekeepers Blend – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino Ridge
    Dark cherry red color; rosehips, sous bois nose; rosehips, sous bois, tart cranberry, mineral, saline palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (35% whole cluster) (91 points)
  • 2011 Drew Family Cellars Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Yorkville Highlands
    Medium dark cherry red color; very tart cherry, sous bois nose; very tart cherry, sous bois, mineral, ripe cranberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)

Failla

  • 2006 Failla Pinot Noir Peay Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Very dark ruby color; ripe blackberry, very ripe berry, baked berry, lavender nose; rich, ripe Cotes du Rhone-like, roasted cherry, tart berry, tart cranberry, pepper palate with cut and precision and medium-plus acidity (but little Pinot character); needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (about 60% whole cluster) (89 points)
  • 2011 Failla Pinot Noir Whistler Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Dark ruby color; intriguing, roses, rose petal, hibiscus, tart red berry nose; tight, very tart berry, reduction, rosehips, mineral palate with medium acidity, like a blend of high acid Cotes du Rhone with California Pinot; needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)
  • 2011 Failla Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, tart lemon, lemon cream, white jasmine nose; rich, tart lemon, lemon cream, white jasmine palate; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2011 Failla Chardonnay Haynes Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Coombsville
    Light lemon yellow color; pineapple, white jasmine, almond nose; soft, pineapple, white jasmine, almond palate; medium-plus finish (91 points)
  • 2011 Failla Pinot Noir Estate Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark cherry red color; appealing, roses, cranberry, tart cherry nose; appealing, rich, balanced, roses, cranberry, tart cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2010 Failla Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Dark cherry red color; roses, tart cherry, cranberry nose; rich, youthful, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry, grenadine syrup, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (93 points)

Hirsch

  • 2011 Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Slightly cloudy light yellow color; lemon, tart pear nose; lemon, tart pear, mineral, saline palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 points)
  • 2011 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir The Bohan-Dillon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium cherry red color; appealing, fresh, tart cherry, roses nose; light-bodied, tart cranberry, tart cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 points)
  • 2010 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir San Andreas Fault – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; reduction, tart cranberry, roses nose; reduction, tart cranberry, roses, mineral, sous bois palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 points)
  • 2010 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Reserve – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark cherry red color; rosehips, roses, tart cranberry nose; delicate, rosehips, roses, tart cranberry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)

Knez

February 2013 082

  • 2010 Knez Winery Chardonnay Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Light medium lemon yellow color; appealing, tart pineapple, poached pear nose; rounded, tart lemon, lemon drop, mineral palate, very balanced, with medium acidity that should enable it to age quite nicely; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (12.9% alcohol) (92 points)
  • 2010 Knez Winery Pinot Noir – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Lightly cloudy medium dark cherry red color; roses, tart cherry, rosehips nose; tasty, balanced, fresh, lively, tart cherry, roses palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2010 Knez Winery Pinot Noir Cerise Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Lightly cloudy dark cherry red color; appealing, tart cherry, rosehips, sous bois nose; tasty, poised, tart cherry, rosehips, sous bois, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2010 Knez Winery Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Lightly cloudy dark cherry red color; roses, tart red fruit, cranberry nose; very tasty, tart cherry, roses, mineral, sous bois, ripe cranberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years to fully integrate; medium-plus finish (93 points)

Kutch

February 2013 089

  • 2012 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Two barrel samples:
    (1) from a 100% destemmed barrel that is not through malolactic yet: dark purple red violet color; ripe, Gamay-like, tart berry, blackberry, lavender nose; tight, highly acidic, very tart berry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 89-93 points
    (2) from a barrel with 100% whole cluster: very dark purple red violet color; charcoal, earth, pepper, green bean, Cornas-like, dried berry nose; complex, firmly textured, very tart berry, mineral, pepper, tart currant, lavender, charcoal, Cornas-like palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish 90-94 points (89 points)
  • 2011 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Dark ruby color; roses, rosehips, sous bois nose; tasty, rich, rosehips, tart cranberry, mineral palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (30% whole cluster, 30% new oak) (91 points)
  • 2011 Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Very dark ruby color; intriguing, intense, rosehips, sous bois, tart cranberry nose; tart cranberry, sous bois, rosehips, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 7-8 years to integrate; medium-plus finish (80% whole cluster, 50% new oak) (91 points)

LaRue

February 2013 088

  • 2009 LaRue Wines Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Dark cherry red color; roses, rosehips, tart red fruit nose; youthful, roses, rosehips, tart red fruit, very tart cherry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)
  • 2010 LaRue Wines Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Dark ruby color; tart cherry, sous bois, roses nose; very tart cherry, tart cherry pie, pie crust, rosehips, mineral palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)

Lioco

  • 2011 Lioco Chardonnay Hanzell Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Bright light lemon yellow color; tart lemon, tart pear, light vanilla nose; poised, tart pear, lemon palate lightly laced with vanilla; medium-plus finish (13.1% alcohol) (92 points)

Littorai

  • 2010 Littorai Chardonnay Thieriot Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Very light yellow color; appealing tart lemon, mineral, white jasmine nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2009 Littorai Chardonnay Mays Canyon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Lovely, ripe lemon, white flower, ripe pear nose; tasty, plush, ripe lemon, ripe pear, apple palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2010 Littorai Pinot Noir Roman Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color; floral, strawberry, tart cherry, light sandalwood, violets nose; tasty, tart cherry, tart strawberry, light rosehips palate with medium acidity; needs 2-plus years and should age beautifully, like a very good Pommard or Gevrey; medium-plus finish (no whole cluster; vineyard planted in 1998) (93 points)
  • 2010 Littorai Pinot Noir The Haven – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Dark cherry red color; appealing, floral, mint, raspberry, baked cherry nose; very complex, tart red fruit, strawberry, tart cherry, damson plum palate with juiciness and fine tannins; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 93+ points (vyd planted to 40 different clones) (93 points)
  • 2010 Littorai Pinot Noir Mays Canyon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Medium dark ruby color; tart black cherry, black raspberry nose with a sense of stems; tight, velvety textured, ripe black cherry, black raspberry, light cola palate with firm, dry tannins; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 points)

Mount Eden

February 2013 073

  • 2010 Domaine Eden Chardonnay – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light lemon yellow color; lemon cream, vanilla, light honey nose; tasty, lemon cream, ripe lemon, vanilla palate; medium finish (91 points)
  • 2010 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Bright light lemon yellow color; ripe lemon, floral, white jasmine, vanilla nose; ripe lemon, floral, white jasmine, vanilla palate, rich but poised; good now but will go decades; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 2007 Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Bottled Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light medium lemon yellow color; very appealing, ripe lemon, light hazelnut nose; creamy texture, ripe lemon, lemon cream, mineral, light hazelnut palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2010 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium dark cherry red color; appealing, tart cranberry, sous bois, rosehips nose; tasty, tart cranberry, sous bois, rosehips palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 points)
  • 2010 Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Bottled – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium dark red color; very appealing, floral, rosehips, sous bois nose; appealing, floral, rosehips, stemmy, mineral palate; needs 5-plus years to integrate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (about 1/3 whole cluster) (91 points)

Peay

  • 2011 Peay Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light yellow color; very appealing, lemon cream, hazelnut nose; lemon cream, hazelnut palate with intrusive oak; needs 3-4 years to integrate; medium-plus finish (90 points)
  • 2010 Peay Vineyards Chardonnay Estate – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing white jasmine, lemon cream, tart pear nose; white jasmine, lemon cream, tart pear palate with intrusive oak at this point; needs 1-2 years to integrate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 points)

Sandhi

February 2013 074

  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Light medium lemon yellow color; saline, tart lemon, tart pear, Chablis-like nose; a little tight, tart lemon, mineral, Chablis-like, lightly saline palate with medium acidity and firm structure; should age very well; medium-plus finish 93+ points (very impressive, minerally, California Chardonnay; 13.5% alcohol; 25% new oak) (93 points)
  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Chardonnay – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, ripe lemon, light hazelnut nose; tart lemon, mineral, lightly saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Chardonnay Rita’s Crown – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Barrel sample – light medium yellow color; very appealing, lemon, almond, light hazelnut nose; delicious, concentrated, tart lemon, mineral palate with bright acidity; medium-plus finish 93-95 points (93 points)
  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Pinot Noir Wenzlau – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium ruby color; sous bois, stems, rosehips, hibiscus nose; textured, sous bois, stems, rosehips, hibiscus, tart cherry, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 4-5 years to integrate the stems; medium-plus finish (100% whole cluster) (92 points)
  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium dark ruby color; reduction, rosehips, sous bois nose; ripe cranberry, mineral, sous bois palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (25% whole cluster) (91 points)
  • 2011 Sandhi Wines Pinot Noir Evening Land Tempest – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium dark ruby color; stems, sous bois nose; very tart red fruit, tart cranberry, stems, mineral palate with firm structure and medium acidity; needs 7-plus years to integrate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (100% whole cluster) (91 points)

Soliste

February 2013 077

  • 2010 Soliste Cellars Chardonnay L’Age D’Or – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Light yellow color; appealing, tart pear, apple, white jasmine nose; tasty, rich but poised, creamy textured, tart pear, apple, white jasmine palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2009 Soliste Cellars Pinot Noir T-Block Sonatera Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark cherry red color; focused, rosehips, tart cherry nose; firmly textured, very tart cranberry, floral, hibiscus palate with medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (10% whole cluster) (92 points)
  • 2010 Soliste Cellars Pinot Noir Nouveau Monde – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light medium red color with pale meniscus; appealing, sous bois, very tart cherry, tart raspberry nose; very tasty, poised, sous bois, tart cherry, tart raspberry palate; needs 2-3 years to integrate; medium-plus finish (Pommard clone; 100% destemmed) 92+ points (92 points)
  • 2010 Soliste Cellars Pinot Noir L’Ambroisie – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Light medium cherry red color; very floral, rose petal, rosehips, tart cherry nose; delicious, youthful, precise, silky textured, tart cherry, tart strawberry palate; medium-plus finish 94+ points (80% whole cluster) (94 points)
  • 2010 Soliste Cellars Pinot Noir Foret – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Pre-release (releases March 2013) – medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; roses, wild cherry, ripe raspberry nose; delicious, roses, wild cherry, ripe raspberry palate; accessible now and will age well for years; medium-plus finish (50% whole cluster, 5 picking passes at harvest, gentle basket press) (94 points)

Tyler

  • 2011 Tyler Chardonnay – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Slightly cloudy tart yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, ripe apple nose; tasty, fresh, tart pear, apple, lemon palate; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2010 Tyler Chardonnay Bien Nacido – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Lightly cloudy lemon yellow color; poached pear, hazelnut nose; tasty, rich, ripe pear, ripe lemon, pear cream, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (from block planted in 1973) (93 points)
  • 2010 Tyler Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium dark ruby color; appealing, roses, ripe cherry, baked raspberry nose; nicely textured, rich but poised, roses, ripe cherry, baked raspberry, lightly saline, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2010 Tyler Pinot Noir Clos Pepe – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium dark ruby color; very appealing, ripe cherry, raspberry, roses nose; rich but poised, very tasty, ripe cherry, raspberry, roses, lightly saline, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (93 points)
  • 2010 Tyler Pinot Noir N Block Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Dark ruby color; appealing, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry, rose petals nose; lighter in structure than Tyler’s other 2010 Pinots, ripe cherry, ripe raspberry, rose petals, mineral, sous bois palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (13.7% alcohol) (92 points)

Varner

  • 2011 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light medium yellow color; appealing, delicate, tart Bosc pear, tart apple, light white jasmine nose; delicate, light honey, tart Bosc pear, Pippin apple, mineral palate with reduction; needs 2-plus years and/or decanting; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) (91 points)
  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light medium lemon yellow color; appealing, tart pear, light hazelnut nose; creamy textured, tart pear, mineral, tart lemon palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (92 points)
  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, mineral, tart lemon nose; tasty, poised, ripe lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (93 points)
  • 2010 Varner Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Bee Block – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light medium yellow color; intriguing, ginger, quince nose; tasty, rich, ripe quince, lemon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (14.4% alcohol) (92 points)

Wind Gap

  • 2009 Wind Gap Wines Chardonnay Yuen James Berry/Brosseau Vineyards – USA, California, Central Coast
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe lemon, honey nose; rich, ripe lemon, honey, lemon drop palate; medium-plus finish (12.8% alcohol; 11 mos in 50% stainless steel and 50% neutral oak) (92 points)
  • 2011 Wind Gap Wines Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
    Medium dark red violet color; lifted, ripe cranberry, cherry puree nose; fresh, ripe cranberry, cherry puree, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (40% whole cluster; no new oak; 12.4% alcohol) (91 points)
  • 2011 Wind Gap Wines Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark ruby color; very tart cherry, sous bois, rosehips nose; tasty, very tart cherry, sous bois, rosehips, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 4-5 years to integrate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (about 50% whole cluster) (90 points)

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: