New World Chardonnay, and Wine Review: Brewer Clifton 2008 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay

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As mentioned on Monday, chardonnay is a grape that takes up the flavors of its production. As such, the environment in which it is grown, and the way the juice is treated after harvest strongly determine its flavors. The first two classic examples of chardonnay-focused wines discussed this week highlight the lightness and grace available from this grape. However, those are both instances of the varietal raised in northerly climates, with rich chalky soils.

Warmer climates, as found in many of the new world locales that chardonnay tends to be grown, produce a wider range of fruit notes in the wine. Many new world wine producers also focus on adding to the complexity of chardonnay by fermenting its wine in young oak, thus inviting flavors such as baking spices, and even the wood itself. The paradigmatic example of a New World Chardonnay, in fact, could be described as a fruit forward–think combinations of apple, Meyer lemon, pineapple, and peach–nutmeg touched, thoroughly oaked wine, with hints of wet chalky minerals and subtle earth notes.

Chardonnay is one of the grapes grown all over the world, rooting into almost any wine region. So, in focusing on the varietal this week I have chosen to focus not on regional examples of such wines, but instead on differing styles of the varietal beverage. My thought is that, in this case, much of the insight into this particular grape can be had from seeing how greatly it can vary in style.

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The wine makers of Brewer-Clifton prioritize little intervention in the development from fruit to wine. Their commitment instead is to create wines invested in what the grapes themselves show as a result of the vintage’s particular weather, and the unique elements of location from the Santa Rita Hills appelation of California, northwest of Santa Barbara. As such, fermentation and aging of their wines occur with only neutral procedures, and the vines are cultivated for low yield, high quality juice.

As they describe themselves, Brewer-Clifton is dedicated to developing and using the best techniques to create a wine particular to its region. That is, they make a point of studying historical practices in wine production, and at the same time to take advantage of only what will suit the grapes of that season most appropriately. As they explain, their goal is to develop the characteristics of their own appellation rather than to adhere to the historical styles of any other.

The 2008 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay offers a powerful, and focused nose of pleasant lemon, honeysuckle (as well as other lightly scented white flowers such as orange blossom), and sea-wet rock minerals, that opens to include richer pear and heated almonds as it warms–all the while retaining those sea influenced minerals that create a pleasantly long, tangy finish.

This wine is both rich, and fresh, with a balance of fruit and minerals that makes it both pleasant and surprising to drink. When asked what I wanted to drink for my birthday this year, this Brewer-Clifton was one of my selections.

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