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Oregon and California Chardonnay for Fall, for Katherine


Chardonnays from Northern California and Willamette Valley Oregon

Katherine asked if we could feature Chardonnays for Fall. So, several of us got together and tasted through a range of examples from Oregon and California. The goal was to taste wines from a mix of price points, that avoided oak bomb problems, while still showing a range of styles and generally up acidity, with each known to be a good example of the style in which they’re made. Part of the intention was also to bring together wines from Oregon with wines from California. The resulting collection drew from 7 Willamette Valley, Oregon wines, and 5 from Napa and Sonoma counties in California, plus 1 from the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Following are descriptions for each of the wines.

Along with Katherine’s request, the Antica Terra Aurata was the bottle that inspired this tasting. My sister and I were lucky enough to meet with Maggie Harrison earlier this summer and taste the earlier presentation of this same wine. Knowing the Aurata was about to be released I decided the best way to share it with friends was by showing it alongside other well-made Chardonnays. The opportunity to enjoy multiple wines side by side affords a different style of insight into the wine than simply drinking one on its own does (I drank more of these on their own later).


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Willamette Valley, Oregon Chardonnay

Antica Terra Aurata 2010 $75. The Aurata is vibrant, clean and stimulating. Its presentation is well-tuned, offering a feminine while racy mouthfeel that gives simultaneously a polished textural element and a bunch of mouth stimulation. This wine offers presence in the mouth. It avoids dominating your palate, while at the same time pulling you to attention with interest. What this wine does well is bring together rich flavors with swift structural movement and nice textural mouthfeel, all together avoiding any sense of heaviness or overwhelm. There are elements of caramel and citrus blossom, light candy powder, white and pink grapefruit, and meyer lemon. 12.9% alcohol. Vibrant acidity. Long finish.

Brick House 2009 $30. Though Brick House red wines are often well thought of and appreciated, the 2009 Chardonnay does not show the same advantages. The 2009 drank chunky and disjointed with a heavy blanket of reductive funk on the nose that marred the fruit characteristics lingering in the background, then the finish bottomed out and disappeared. Decanting or air does not help here. The wine simply drinks like it is trying to be something it isn’t. From what I know of Brick House wines and have read of this one in particular I am wanting to believe the effect might be bottle variation. Still, for this price I have to be honest and warn, be careful. 13.6% alcohol.

Cooper Mountain Reserve 2009 $15. The Cooper Mountain Reserve wins the value challenge. The Reserve takes fruit entirely from the Cooper Mountain estate, blending fruit from vines planted in 1978, 1982, and 1999, after fermentation and aging through a mix of stainless and old oak. The presentation you get here is well balanced with a rich while delicate, well-integrated range of flavors on a hardy backbone of structure. You get caramel and light spice on the nose coming through with citrus blossom, light beeswax, and hints of toast. These carry into the palate culminating in a great zing finish, and a mouth tightening after finish. 13% alcohol, medium acidity, medium-long finish. Cooper Mountain grows both organic and biodynamic certified fruit.

Cooper Mountain Old Vines 2010 $30. Cooper Mountain’s Old Vine bottling draws only from the fruit of the 1978 plantings of Estate Chardonnay, grown via organic and biodynamic certified farming. Even at the higher price this wine offers value. It is one of the most pleasing of all the wines tasted offering a smooth mouthfeel, and clean presentation. The nose offers citrus blossom with light melon undertones, chamomile and orange blossom, with hints of graphite. There are elements of butter cream pastry and meyer lemon plus lime blossom here with a pleasing bergamot finish. 13% alcohol.

Domaine Drouhin Arthur 2010 $28. The Arthur was split into two lots with half fermented in French oak barrels (30% new), and the other in Stainless Steel, then blended after to create a wine with rich flavors and a more delicate body. Domaine Drouhin consistently offers well made wines, and this chardonnay drinks as though it is made by someone that knows precisely how to work with the grape. It offers a clean presentation with good acidity and a breadth of flavor. There is a light cedar and nut touch to the nose with floral and orchard fruit elements, a smooth mouthfeel and lingering finish. 13.9% alcohol.

Evesham Wood 2011 $18. The value on this wine is impressive. You get a lot for your money here. The nose offers citrus and lily flowers, carrying over into the palate with nutskin, and dried sage alongside notes of mace and light wax. The Evesham Wood offers a smooth mouthfeel with medium alcohol (12.5%), medium+ acidity, and a medium finish. Erin Nuccio, and his wife Jordan, have recently taken over the Evesham Wood project, after producing Haden Fig at the location since its beginning. Erin’s wines are worth keeping an eye on as they show good quality, while doing well at maintaining value.

St Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard 2010 $24. The scent of movie house and microwave popcorn–the butter and salt of it–stood out most for me on this wine. It lessened with air, but was there still when I revisited the wine again later that first day, and again on the second day. There is a citrus blossom finish with a zing to the after finish. The wine was made in older oak, with full malolactic fermentation. 14% alcohol.

Northern California Chardonnay

Donelan Nancie 2011 $45. The fruit from Donelan’s 2011 Nancie comes from a blend of three vineyards offering a mix of older vines, and some elevation plantings. There is a rich and smooth mouthfeel here with a good mouthwatering stimulation of movement. The wine presents a vibrant nose of citrus blossom, very light butter, faint hints of leather and mushroom, all carrying forward into the palate with a tingling finish. The wine is barrel fermented and goes through partial malolactic fermentation. This wine though still young, drinks with sprightly complexity now. 13.7% alcohol.

J. Rochioli South River Vineyard 2009 $75. The South River Vineyard Chardonnay from Rochioli Vineyards offers 100% Hanzell selection fruit. Rochioli is one of the few vineyards outside Hanzell itself that has this particular clone, regarded as a heritage clone of the plant. The South River Vineyard chardonnay represents a very small production site specific wine from Rochioli Estate, one of the practices the winery is known for. This particular chardonnay represents the wine with the most apparent oak flavor influence in this tasting. In that way, it is the richest flavor profile offered, while avoiding any issues of ‘oak bomb.’ The nose offers chamomile, hints of cut grass, meyer lemon, orange blossom and light butter. On the palate there is a showing of integrated light butterscotch and butter with a touch of scotch whisky alongside chamomile and orange blossom. 14.5% alcohol.

Massican Gemina 2011 $45. The Massican Chardonnay uses all Hyde Vineyard fruit, and gives the most focused presentation and most fragrant nose of the tasting. The wine is also a rush of vibrancy in the mouth, with ultra clean flavors. Its flavors and nose are tropical, and floral without being cloying or sweet. The layers open as the wine warms giving tropical and white grapefruit with lychee notes. The wine offers a zingy round and textural finish. The Massican offers the most distinctive acid focus of the wines tasted. I like the vibrancy of this wine now and want to taste it again in a few years when the acidity has calmed some. No malolactic fermentation occurred here. Only 85 cases produced. 13.6 % alcohol.

Matthiasson 2011 $25. Another example of impressive value, the Matthiasson Chardonnay is a stand out for what it offers at the price. It utilizes all clone 4 fruit from an old riverbed vineyard in Napa Valley–the result is a well-focused wine with a smooth mouthfeel offering vibrant floral and spice elements alongside orchard and citrus blossom, and dried white sage notes. There is also a very light caramel toast here. The wine offers medium+ acidity with a medium-long finish, and 13.5% alcohol. I like the feel and flavor of this wine now, and also look forward to tasting it again with the complexity offered from more time in the bottle. This wine is a stand-out.

Ridge Estate 2010 $30. Ridge Estate, from the famed Monte Bello property, offers a glimpse at classic California chardonnay style–before the oak bomb stereotype became a norm. There is a richness of flavor here riding a spine of acidic focus. You get vibrancy and breadth of flavor both. The wine brings together round, lush flavors focused on citrus and hints of pear, with touches of butter, and a zippy finish of mineral salt. 14.2% alcohol with tingling acidity, and a medium-long finish. Ridge is known for allowing natural, wild-yeast fermentation and malolactic fermentation in barrel. 10% new oak.

Rochioli Estate 2010 $50. The Rochioli Estate chardonnay offers a rich presentation with the juiciness to carry the flavors forward. The nose shows toasted brioche with light nut, orange and pear blossom, hints of pear, and bergamot. The fruit and floral qualities carry over in the palate with the sense of toasted brioche and light caramel alongside. Rochioli integrates the most apparent sense of oak flavor elements from the wines tasted, and shows how to do so in an integrated overall presentation with balance. This is a rich wine, but has the movement to carry the flavor. It will also do well with additional age allowing the brioche and caramel elements to deepen further. 14.5% alcohol.


The Antica Terra, Cooper Mountain, Donelan, Massican, Matthiasson, and Rochioli wines were provided as samples.

Thank you to Katherine for requesting a chardonnay focus.

Thank you to Tyler, Joe, Davis, and William for tasting the wines with me.

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