Monday, May 15, 2006

Chardonnay Blind Tasting

I have to confess that I am usually an ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) kind of person. I like crisp and refreshing whites with distinctive fruity and floral aromas and I am often disappointed with Chardonnay. Nevertheless, Nothing But Chardonnay, or NBC, was the theme of our last blind tasting, which ended up being very instructive. Four out of the six wines that we tasted that evening originated from Sonoma County. The remaining two were from Italy and New Zealand. All came from cool climate wine regions and had a similar light straw color. None showed excessive oakiness.

This was the first time that we were blind-tasting white wines and we discovered that our tasting ritual was not well adapted to whites. We usually pour a little bit of each wine in different glasses in order to compare the wines side by side. But while red wines generally evolve nicely in the glass and reveal their personality with time, white wines become quickly too warm, dull and flat, and are thus harder to judge. So next time, we'll go back to tasting red wines!

Our first wine was the 2003 Belvedere Healdsburg Ranches Chardonnay Sonoma County, a gold medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition — Chardonnay $14.00 to $19.99. A blend of fruits from the cool Russian River Valley and from the warmer Alexander Valley, the wine had a nose of ripe pear with a hint of oak. On the palate, it was round with aromas of cooked apple. Overall, the group liked this well balanced wine and ranked it #3.

Our second wine was the 2002 Waugh Cellars Chardonnay Indindoli Vineyard Russian River Valley. Waugh Cellars is a small Napa winery that has one main purpose: to bring a taste of passion to our life. 2002 was the winery's first vintage of Indindoli Vineyard Chardonnay. The wine was barrel-fermented but no new oak was used. The wine had a sweet nose with notes of butterscotch. On the palate, it was smooth with strong apple cider flavors that some of us found overpowering. The wine was ranked #5.

Our third Chardonnay was the 2002 Jordan Chardonnay Russian River Valley. Established in Alexander Valley since the early 1970's, Jordan Vineyard & Winery is a renowned winery producing a popular Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley and a Chardonnay from Russian River Valley. The Chardonnay is cool fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged in French oak barrels (35% new). Malolactic fermentation is only partial to retain the natural crisp acidity of the fruit. The wine had a fresh nose of citrus and peach. On the palate, it was light, crisp, and not oaky at all, although some guests found it too acidic. It was ranked #4.

With our fourth Chardonnay, the 2003 Vie di Romans Chardonnay Ciampagnis Vieris, we left California and moved to Italy. The Vie di Romans winery produces wines from Friuli Isonzo, an appellation located in the northeast corner of Italy, not far from the Slovenia border. The Ciampagnis Vieris Chardonnay is an unoaked wine that undergoes a complete malolactic fermentation. It had a floral nose with notes of white peach and citrus. On the palate, it was smooth with sweet pineapple flavors and a long, aromatic finish. For most of us, this was our favorite wine and the group ranked it #1.

Our next wine was the 2001 Kistler Chardonnay Vine Hill Vineyard. Kistler Vineyards is a family-owned winery renowned for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. Vine Hill Vineyard is a twenty acre cool site in the Russian River Valley, producing Chardonnays with tremendous concentration and complexity of flavor. Unfortunately, the bottle seemed to be flawed. The nose was musty with some chemical off-flavors. On the palate, it was tart with not much fruit. The wine was ranked #6.

With our last wine, the 2004 Neudorf Chardonnay, we moved to the southern hemisphere. Neudorf Vineyards is a small family-owned winery producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris in Nelson, New Zealand eighth largest wine region. Nelson is situated on the north-western corner of the South Island and is particularly well adapted for growing cool weather varietals. The wine was made from hand picked fruits from Neudorf's own vineyards. It was then fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in barrels (20% new oak). The nose was attractive with citrus and tropical aromas. On the palate, it was crisp, earthy and well-balanced with a slightly oaky finish. Overall, everybody liked it a lot and ranked it #2.

Other recent blind tastings:
• Pinot Noir Blind Tasting
• 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Blind Tasting

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