The Evolving California Chardonnay

cazWith more than 60,000 wine labels registered in the state of California it is not so easy to pick a wine sometimes. California has more chardonnay planted than any other country in the world. To simplify things you may consider choosing the most important white – wine grape grown in California – chardonnay. This narrows your search to approximately 800 different chardonnays available to consumers. So looking for that perfect match of a chardonnay may be considered daunting, or, just downright a good time! Your choice.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile white wines in the world. It offers  broad and diverse styles  of structure and complexity. The rich and powerful buttery chardonnays have been popular for a long time. If you happen to be one of those buttery chardonnay fans it may serve you well to know how this character is achieved in your wines.

Chardonnay grapes contain malic acid which is also found in tart, green apples. A secondary fermentation allows for the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid while producing a byproduct, diacetyl. Diacetyl is used in the artificial butter flavoring of movie popcorn, the aroma most everyone enjoys.  It is thought by some that the buttery effect can be the result of aging wine in new oak barrels. I personally feel that the flavors imparted from oak barrels are more vanilla, butterscotch, caramel and toast. The lactic acid offers the butter and cream.

The overly oaked chardonnays exist due to excessive heat patterns producing more sugar in the fruit. This results in more alcohol content in the wine during fermentation. A method of masking the increased alcohol is to leave the wine in the oak barrels longer. The result…….the “oak monster” as Gary Vaynerchuck so eloquently describes it. This pattern has led to a shift in wine drinkers seeking alternative whites.

Now it seems that many wine enthusiasts are opting for the unoaked fruit forward wines that truly show off the chardonnay varietal. Branching out to the Burgundian whites of France gives one the light, crisp fruit-forward character without the oak. These wines are fermented in stainless steel vats stripping from them any woodness, thus sometimes you will see the term, “naked”. You may also see the term “silver” denoting this stainless steel vat fermentation process.

Some of the leaders in chardonnay are seeking to decrease sun exposure having the grapes harvested at night, aiming for the more tartness and harvesting at overall lower pHs.  This equates with the acid having more structure in the wine.

I have to admit that when I first began drinking  chardonnays I looked for that butter richness in the glass. And I still do enjoy this structure. But as my passion began to expose me to the whites of Burgundy I have found myself broadening my horizons and looking for more fruit on the palate and a bit more acid. This really allows the wine to pair better with foods.

….so how is it that I have found myself stocking my wine cellar this Summer season with Steve and Suzie Reynoldʼs 2009 chardonnay?

Simply put, hard work and dedication is reflected in their wines. I enjoy the fruits of their labor and I know this makes their efforts worthwhile. Certainly with a glass of their chardonnay it is easy to perceive their work efforts being reflected in their wines. In particular, the 2009 Reynoldʼs Family Winery chardonnay.

Their 2009 chardonnay grapes are sourced from the heart of the Carneros region, the Corotto Vineyards.   Steve is able to hand pick his blocks and rows of fruit. it is 100% chardonnay and is whole berry pressed and cold soaked for 24 hours. The cold soaking is a technique to extract more color and fruit flavors from the wine. That is, let it marinade prior to fermentation. 100% stainless steel fermentation is used with just a little bit of neutral oak and new French oak. So the “oakiness” is not present to overpower the beautiful fruit in this wine. Malo-lactic acid fermentation is completely omitted.

  The result is a beautiful golden colored chardonnay with aromas of apricot and sweet caramel. Crisp citrus and tropical fruit linger on the palate with traces of minerality. This wine is well balanced and may perform even better if you have the patience to lay this one down, easier said than done. I have some bottles of the 2008 vintages that are drinking amazingly well.

  I have also had the opportunity to visit The Reynoldʼs family Tuscan style winery and it is quite a gem in the heart of Napa. If you find yourself along the Silverado Trail please do yourself a favor and experience the Reynoldʼs Family Winery. One visit with Steve and his family and you understand how his wines are fast moving into the mainstream of Napa Valley classics.

  This 2009 chardonnay is available in Baton Rouge, priced at $40 – 50 retail, and worth every penny. Cheers!

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