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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived April 4, 2017
Originally Published March 17, 2017

Versatile Chardonnay –
A Great Wine for Enjoyment
Part 1 in a 4-Part Series  (Part 2)  (Part 3)  (Part 4)
By Chuck Hill

Chardonnay is the most popular white wine in the United States.  Whether you look at a restaurant wine list or listen to the actors in popular movies, you’ll read or hear about this ubiquitous elixir that captures the fancy and dollars of wine lovers everywhere.  Much of the Chardonnay sold in the U.S. is produced for mass consumer appeal – not too tart, not too oaky –  with just enough pear and vanilla to go down smoothly and accompany a wide variety of cuisines.

Next week, I’ll whine and cry about today’s price of the original Chardonnay – White Burgundy, but today we can celebrate the wines we have at hand, and even some bottlings that are crafted to hint at Chardonnay immortality.

Chehalem Winery
2014 Chardonnay, Ian’s Reserve
Dundee Hills AVA

This wine comes from Stoller Vineyard where Bill Stoller is co-owner of Chehalem Winery with Harry Peterson-Nedry.  The Chardonnay is 100% Dijon clone.  More about clones in a later column, but suffice to say that most complex Chardonnays come from these clones.  Winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry (Harry’s daughter) handled this warm vintage fruit with great skill, producing a well-balanced wine featuring aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, white peach, orchard blossom and nuances of vanilla and earthy mineral.

Sleight of Hand Winery
2014 Chardonnay, The Enchantress
Yakima Valley AVA

Winemaker Trey Busch crafts his popular Chardonnay from 30-year-old vines grown at French Creek Vineyard near Prosser, Washington.  The wine opens with a bouquet of floral scents with notes of peach and pear, leading to a complex palate of spicy pear, lemon crème and pineapple.  Lingering notes from barrel aging and nice acidity make it a superb food wine.

J. Christopher Winery
2015 Chardonnay, Cuvee Lunatique
Willamette Valley AVA

“When winemaker Jay Somers first produced this fresh, clean Chardonnay with no oak or malolactic fermentation, some called him a lunatic.  But its local popularity proves that he wasn’t so crazy after all.” My tasters agree that this lean Chardonnay with pear and citrus and bright acidity is just perfect for a light meal or springtime sipping.

Alloro Vineyard
2014 Chardonnay, Estate
Chehalem Mountain AVA

Alloro Vineyard was planted in 1999 on a southwest-facing slope of Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains.  The estate Chardonnay is 50% each Dijon clone 76 and 96, and was barrel fermented in French oak, 20% new.  Tasters reveled in aromas of tropical fruit, pear and fragrant orchard blossom and baking spice.  The palate pairs well with savory fare, offering juicy pear and wet stone minerality with hints of toasty oak and creamy vanilla.

Carabella Vineyard
2014 Chardonnay, Dijon Clone 76
Chehalem Mountains AVA

Winemaker and geologist Mike Hallock found his vineyard site on the southeast slope of Parrett Mountain in 1996.  Blocks of Chardonnay Dijon Clone 76 are sited in the warmest and coolest parts of the vineyard.  The 2014 vintage offers ripe aromas and flavors of pear and fig and rewards food pairing with balanced acidity, anise and lingering notes of gunpowder-chalky mineral on the finish.

Domaine J. Meuret
2014 Chardonnay, Clos Pierre
Columbia Gorge AVA

Winemaker/owner Jon Meuret gained early renown for his superb Rhone-style wines produced under his Maison Bleue label.  He has expanded into Burgundian varieties under his Domaine J. Meuret brand featuring Chardonny and Pinot Noir sourced from the Columbia River Gorge AVA.  Clos Pierre refers to the rock walled White Salmon vineyard site where the Chardonnay grapes were harvested.  Ripe pear and peach are joined by notes of baking spice and creamy vanilla, giving this wine versatility for sipping or accompanying light meals or appetizers.

Coeur d’Alene Cellars
2015 Chardonnay
Washington State

The fruit for this tasty New World Chardonnay came from two main sources: Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope and Olsen Vineyard in the central Yakima Valley.  A small portion – five percent – came from Conner Lee Vineyard.  Aging in French oak – 40% new – and partial malolactic fermentation, add inviting nuances of toasty oak, vanilla and buttery goodness.  Aromas and flavors of fresh Granny Smith apple for a core of the flavor along with pear and baking spice.

Januik Winery
2015 Chardonnay, Cold Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Mike Januik was winemaker for many years at Chateau Ste. Michelle, and he brought along his fondness for their Cold Creek Vineyard when he founded his own eponymous brand.  His 2015 Chardonnay is made in the New World style, featuring ripe aromas and flavors of citrus, pear and honey crisp apple with notes of toasty oak and lemon curd on the finish.  An elegant and flavorful wine for sipping or savoring with food.

Three Rivers Winery
2015 Chardonnay, Reserve
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Holly Turner used fruit exclusively from Gamache Vineyards for this vintage of Three Rivers Reserve Chardonnay.  The warm season and early harvest paired well with Holly’s plan of using French oak – 44% new – to age this luscious wine.  A tropical dream aroma of pineapple and creamy citrus entices the taster to enjoy the lush palate of baked apple, pear, buttered brioche, vanilla and flinty mineral.

Columbia Crest
2014 Chardonnay, H3
Horse Heaven Hills

It is hard to imagine a better value than this tempting Chardonnay from Columbia Crest.  It is made in the consumer-friendly, New World model, offering aromas of spicy pear and apple, hints of tropical fruit, vanilla and creamy coconut.  The palate is richly flavored, yet bright with acidity and hints of mineral.  Enjoy this wine by itself or with light meals and snacks – a go to when company arrives!

Wines from other areas

2015 Chardonnay, Bin 311, Tumbarumba
NSW Australia

This high-altitude, cool-climate vineyard region is in New South Wales, about 250 miles southwest of Sydney.  Penfolds has worked with Chardonnay from this region since the early 1990s, developing the Bin 311 style of mineral-driven backbone complemented by barrel fermentation and aging in French oak.  Look for bright aromas of citrus and pear with hints of apple and yeasty barrel character.  The palate offers white peach and nectarine with hints of baking spices on the finish.

La Crema
2015 Chardonnay
Russian River Valley, California

As wineries evolve their Chardonnay styles to appeal to consumers looking for more Old World character, we find a pleasant synthesis in cool-climate wines from California.  La Crema takes advantage of their location in the Russian River Valley to tap several vineyards for this opulent-yet-complex wine.  Tropical aromas and flavors include tangerine, Meyer lemon and nectarine, while a creamy palate, edged with vanilla and toasty oak, has just enough finishing acidity to make this an excellent food wine.

Chateau St. Jean
2014 Chardonnay, Robert Young Vineyard
Alexander Valley

Fans of Chateau St. Jean are loyal to their vineyard-designated wines, thanks to winemaker Margo Van Staaveren who has been guiding the winery’s program for 35 years - “great wines are grown, not made” is her philosophy.  The wine profile for wines from the Robert Young Vineyard has been consistent for years, with slight tweaking as per vintage variation.  Aromas of stone fruits and orchard blossom lead to flavors of citrus and peach with notes of creamy lemon and light toast on the finish.

Steele Wines
2015 Chardonnay
Carneros, Durell Vineyard

Owner/winemaker Jed Steele has worked in the California wine industry since 1968, and has been the founding winemaker for several major brands, including his own Steele Wines in 1991.  He has a fascination with many wine varieties and vineyard locations, and he bottles dozens of individual wines under four separate labels.  The premier label is Steele Wines which brands this single-vineyard Chardonnay.  Look for ripe stone fruits, citrus mingling with toasty oak, baked apple and vanilla – a tasty sip or a great pairing with light meals.

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To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above text,
visit our alphabetical lists for Northwest States.



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