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2005 Nickel & Nickel Chardonnay Searby Vineyard Russian River Valley

It was love at first sniff. I’m not normally entranced by Chardonnay. I don’t have anything against the variety. There are many that I have found totally delicious. But I can’t remember the last time that the aroma of a Chardonnay made my eyes bug out.

The wine gave me flowers. How could I resist it? The wine’s bouquet included honeysuckle and loads of other white flowers along with pot pourri, dried citrus peel and nutmeg. Oh, and pear. The aromas weren’t subdued either. Delicate yes, but not quiet. “Wow,” I said, probably several times, as I looked for a way to strap the glass to my nose like an oxygen mask.

”Harrumph,” you might say. “Chardonnay isn’t supposed to smell all flowery like that.” By and large, you’d be right. You expect apples and pairs, peaches and cream, butter and toast, oak and spice. You might expect tropical fruit. If you’re used to Old World Chardonnay, you might be looking for flint or chalk, maybe gravel after a Spring rain. Or a soupcon of cheese rind. And, from time to time, there will be a hint of a pale bloom. That’s why this wine made my eyes bug out. The aromas were as unexpected as they were delightful.

Now, if the wine didn’t smell like Chardonnay as well, and resemble that variety in other ways, it would just be an oddity. But it did. It did not smell like Gewurtztraminer. You would not think you were drinking Viognier or Muscat or other varieties known for floral aspects. In 2005, the Nickel and Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay offered the flowers as a bonus gift, not a replacement for essential Chardonnay characteristics.

Nickel and Nickel attributes the floral nose to the clone of Chardonnay that they use. The Rued clone, in this case planted on St. George rootstock, originated from vines planted by Warren Dutton more than 40 years ago in Green Valley of the Russian River Valley. Weather and vineyard management influence the strength of Rued clone Chardonnay’s floral and passionfruit aromas from one vintage to the next. However, while the 2005 seems to have been exceptionally expressive, the Nickel and Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay offers them up more often than not.

Despite having some age on it, the 2005 Nickel and Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay offers a youthful nose. It’s considerable floral notes are on top of dried citrus, pear, nutmeg and other spices. The lack of malolactic fermentation leaves the wine just short of full-bodied but fresh with medium-plus acidity. The flavors match the nose’s intensity and include oak, nutmeg and cinnamon, white flowers, pear, stone fruit and vanilla. To cap off this complexity, the wine has a long, pleasing finish. Drink it while it’s fresh, now through 2014. Very Highly Recommended.

2005-Nickel-and-Nickel-Searby-Chardonnay

2005 Nickel & Nickel Chardonnay Searby Vineyard Russian River Valley
Rating: Very Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2014
Release Date: March, 2007
Retail Price: $45.00 for the current, 2008, vintage

Blend: 100% Chardonnay, Rued clone
Origin: 100% Russian River Valley

Vinification: Whole-cluster press, barrel-fermented, no malolactic fermentation

Aging: 9 months in French oak barrels, 52% new, 48% once-used

Alcohol: 14.3%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was purchased and tasted blind in a flight of four New World and Old World Chardonnay.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2002 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Reserve Carneros

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery is popular for both its wines and its beautiful facilities. Located in northern Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, about 9 miles north of Healdsburg), the Italianate winery and visitors’ center is surrounded by extensive gardens which include shrubs, flowers — including more than 10,000 tulips and daffodills — waterfalls, bridges, sculptures and over 2,000 varieties of trees and shrubs. Many of the plants have identifying markers, so a walk through the gardens is educational as well as relaxing.

Inside, on the ground floor, there is the “Villa Fiore” wine shop and tasting room which is open every day, 10am to 5pm. Free tasting coupons can be downloaded. Downstairs is the “Enoteca” which is a tasting bar for the reserve wines. It closes at 4:30pm and there is a tasting fee ($15 for four wines, refundable with $80 purchase). Neither tasting room requires reservations. There are also a number of fun and educational tours and private tastings available (by appointment only). For people who don’t have the time to get all the way out to the winery, Ferrari-Carano has a tasting room, “Seasons of the Vineyard,” in downtown Healdsburg as well.

For its wines, Ferrari-Carano uses fruit from a variety of locations including Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Carneros, and Anderson Valley (Mendocino County). From these vineyards, they use more than 10 varieties of grapes to produce over 30 wines, ranging from dry to sweet.

The red and white wines are produced in separate wineries. Whites are made on the same site that houses the visitors’ center. The reds are produced in a gravity-flow winery which sits 1,200 feet up RockRise Mountain in Alexander Valley. That facility also features a 46,000 square-foot cave for fermentation and barrel aging.

While it’s dangerous to generalize too much about Ferrari-Carano’s wines overall — they make seven Chardonnay, each with a different profile — I think it’s fair to say that their wines tend to be lush, round and, in most cases, feature rich flavors derived from ripe fruit and oak. Their Reserve Chardonnay from Carneros is a good example of this style and breaking one of those out to accompany a dinner of lobster or king crab is a great start to an evening of decadence.

I guess I haven’t been eating enough crab and lobster, because I recently found a couple of the 2002 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Reserve in my cellar. People often say that voluptuous California Chardonnay aren’t good candidates for aging, mostly due to a lack of acidity. So, I popped a bottle the other night to see how it’s held up.

The 2002 Ferrari-Carano Reserve Chardonnay looks thick going into the glass and, once there, is gold with medium intensity. The nose is of medium-plus intensity and shows development with flavors of poached pear and baked apple complemented by vanilla and baking spices. This Carneros Chardonnay is very full-bodied on the palate with rich flavors including poached pear, lemon, baking spice, caramel, vanilla, butter and, in the back of ones mouth, gentle oak. The alcohol is perceptible in the body and texture, but is not hot at all. After the creamy and flavorful attack, there’s a hole in the mid-palate while the acidity works its way through the crowd. It succeeds and the long finish refreshes the palate while flavors of caramel and citrus persist.

For a Rubenesque California Chardonnay, the 2002 Ferrari-Carano Reserve has held up well. For those who like the style, it’s a lovely wine: rich, fruity with attractive levels of oak and butter. If you have some of this wine, I would drink it now, though if it has been well-stored, it should hold for another couple of years. Recommended.

2002-Ferrari-Carano-Reserve-Chardonnay

2002 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay Reserve Carneros
Rating: Recommended

Drink: Now - 2012
Retail Price: $32 for current release
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Carneros

Aging: French oak
Alcohol: 14.4%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was purchased for review..

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2005 Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Block Seven Sonoma Coast

Elizabeth Spencer produces wines made from sourced Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. They have a cozy tasting room in Rutherford, across the street from BV Winery and Rutherford Grill but, for the most part, only the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Napa Valley. The rest of the fruit comes from the Sonoma Coast AVA. The winemaking is handled by co-owner Spencer Graham with Matthew Rorick (Matthew Rorick Wines & Forlorn Hope).

The wines are intended to be strike a balance between richness and elegance, ripeness and appellation-typicity. Likewise, Elizabeth Spencer wants their wines to be both accessible early and age-worthy. I have been impressed with both the Block Seven Pinot Noir and Block Seven Chardonnay when young. I bought some of each from the 2005 vintage and cellared a few. This review is based on one of those wines, tasted February 3rd.

The wine is medium minus gold which is appropriate given it’s age. The aromas are fruit-driven and engaging. Nectarine, cooked pineapple, baked apple and sweet baking spices were the most prominent. The palate is very full-bodied yet kept in balance by moderate acidity. The medium-plus alcohol is not intrusive. Flavors include dried apricot, pear, chai spice, walnut, clove and, in the background, oak. The finish is generous.

The 2005 Elizabeth Spencer Block Seven Chardonnay Sonoma Coast is a rich, even plush, wine that is simultaneously sensuous and complex. It’s ripe fruit and viscosity are unmistakably Californian, but it is neither oaky nor buttery. It will complement a wide variety of foods, including the usual suspects such as crab and lobster, salmon, and firm white fish. I enjoyed the wine that remained after evaluation with veal piccata. The wine is still drinking well now and should continue to do so for another couple of years, though the fruit flavors will continue their transition from fresh to dried. Highly Recommended.

2007-Elizabeth-Spencer-Block-Seven-Chardonnay-Sonoma-Coast2

2005 Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Block Seven Sonoma Coast
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2013
Release Date: March, 2007
Retail Price: $60.00 (for current, 2007 vintage)
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: 100% Sonoma Coast
Aging: French oak on the lees with batonage
Alcohol: 14.4%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was purchased for review. It was not tasted blind.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Photo by Fred Swan. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2007 Franciscan Chardonnay Cuvee Sauvage

As you might expect from the name, Franciscan Estate relies on native yeasts when producing the Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage. Most winemakers, at least those in the new world, use commercial yeasts. This creates more reliable fermentations. Since commercial yeasts have specific and well-documented attributes, it also allows the winemaker to better determine flavor profiles, texture, and levels of alcohol and sugar in the wine.

Because “wild” yeasts are reflective of a particular vineyard (or winery), eschewing them in favor of commercial yeasts can be said to reduce the degree to which the wine reflects terroir. Broad use of certain commercial yeasts can also lead to an unfortunate sense of sameness, as opposed to desirable typicity, between wines in a certain category. That said, skilled winemakers can also use commercial yeasts to highlight key attributes of a vineyard making its wines even more distinctive.

The process Franciscan uses to make their native yeast Chardonnay is designed to maximize complexity and, to some degree vintage variation, but not necessarily highlight a specific terroir. The grapes are taken from what the winery considers to be its best lots. Those lots are vinified and barrel-aged separately. This allows each lot to shows its distinct characteristics and reduces the risk of sub-par fermentations affecting large batches of wine. The winemaker then creates the best blend he can, rejecting as much as 90% of the wine in doing so.

I blind-tasted a flight of seven Chardonnays yesterday. Two wines were from Monterey County, one was more generally-labelled Central Coast and the rest were from Napa Valley. Price points ranged from about $10 to $40. All of the wines were well made and good enough for me to recommend. Among those wines, however, the 2007 Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage clearly stood apart as the best and most complex. It’s the only one of the seven which I highly recommend.

The wine is a medium lemon-gold in the glass and offers rich aromas of apple, oak, butter, vanilla, butterscotch, baking spice and marshmallow. On the palate it is full-bodied but both leaner and substantially more refreshing than the nose led me to expect. While the flavors do echo the nose with apple, oak, cream, butter and woody spice there are interesting, pleasantly bitter, notes from the sur lie aging too. The lees and oak also give the wine slightly grippy textural interest. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended.

2007-Franciscan-Chardonnay-Cuvee-Sauvage

2007 Franciscan Chardonnay Cuvée Sauvage
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2015
Retail Price: $40
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Origin: Carneros
Aging: 14 months sur lie in 100% new French oak
Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

The wine tasted was a review sample.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Chardonnay, Rutherford, Napa Valley

Many of the wineries in the central and northern AVAs of Napa Valley choose to focus their estate vineyards on red wines and Sauvignon Blanc. They typically source their Chardonnay grapes from vineyards in Carneros and sometimes the Sonoma Coast. There are some, however, that believe their own vineyards to be sufficiently well-sited for growing Chardonnay. Staglin Chardonnay are routinely among the best of those coming from Rutherford.

When growing Chardonnay in areas where there is plenty of sun and warmth, there is a danger that sugar levels will become too high and acidity too low. Care has to be taken at every step to ensure a balanced and refreshing wine. At Staglin, the site itself starts them off on the right foot. Their vineyards are nestled at the base of the Mayacamas range. This means that the vines get the cooling morning fog which burns off under relatively gentle late-morning and afternoon sun. However, the harsh summer sun of the late-afternoon and early evening is blocked by the mountains. While fruit on the valley floor east of Hwy. 29 is baking, the Staglin Chardonnay is already starting to cool down.

When the grapes are just ripe enough, they are picked in the early morning. [Sugar levels of grapes go up and down throughout the day, based on temperature and exposure to sun. Early morning picking gets them at their freshest.] The grapes are whole-cluster pressed, which substantially reduces the release of harsh flavors and tannins from skin and seeds. During the winemaking, malolactic fermentation is discouraged to maintain as much crispness as possible. Softening is achieved gradually through aging in French oak.

I’ve been collecting Staglin wines in case quantities for a while now, both red and white. I recently opened a 2006 Chardonnay to see how it was doing and to enjoy it with a seafood dinner. The wine was clear and bright with a moderately intense lemon-gold color. The nose included peach and gentle baking-spice derived from the French oak, but the primary aroma was ripe pear. On the palate, the wine was lush and full-bodied yet fresh. The pear, peach and spice were present in the flavors, but I also found golden apple and some juicy tropical fruit, especially cooked pineapple. The finish was very long. The 2006 Staglin Chardonnay was good with my fresh dungeness crab, but would have gone at least as well with king crab legs, lobster, tender chicken breast or salmon. Drink now through 2012. Highly Recommended.

2006-Staglin-Family-Vineyard-Estate-Chardonnay

2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Chardonnay, Rutherford, Napa Valley
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2012
Retail Price: N/A, $75 for the current, 2008, vintage
Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Winemaking: whole cluster pressed, malolactic fermentation “inhibited”

Aging: 10 months on lees with batonnage in 100% French oak, 65% new

Alcohol: 14.6%

Closure: Cork

The reviewed wine was purchased upon release. It was not tasted blind.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.