By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
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.
Chardonnay is considered a cool-climate grape, showing its best when grown in almost-marginal growing regions like northern France, the Pacific Northwest and the cool coastal regions of California. Chardonnay in America has made dramatic strides in the last 20 years, mostly due to the planting of high quality “Dijon” clones, which originated in France and have been cataloged and distributed through U.C. Davis. (More on clones next week.)
Ethos by Chateau Ste. Michelle
This rich and flavorful wine is not overpowered by oak, but maintains a balance to accompany your finest light meals and seafood dishes. Grapes came from the Lawrence Vineyard on the Royal Slope and from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard. Look for complex aromas and flavors of baked apple and pear with hints of citrus and baking spice.
This wine is a good value and offers some of the 1980s character that attracted many wine drinkers to Chardonnay in the beginning – vanilla and toasty oak. Crafted from fruit of some of Washington’s finest vineyards, tasters enjoy ripe pear and apple with citrus acidity wrapped in a cocoon of vanilla, coconut and spicy American oak.
If you are touring the Oregon wine country near Salem, don’t miss a visit to Left Coast Cellars, a gorgeous 500-acre estate with lovingly cultivated gardens, fields of wildflowers and meticulously tended vines. This reserve Chardonnay is a top-tier selection for the winery, offering forward tropical and floral aromas with notes of vanilla, lemon, grapefruit and hints of orchard blossom.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates had to keep a tight hold on the reins when 14 Hands became a runaway wine hit shortly after its introduction in 2005. Wines are crafted by talented winemaker Keith Kenison – the original winemaker for the brand – and he creates a range of tempting fruit-forward selections. This reserve Chardonnay offers melon and pear with baking spices and a ribbon of caramel, vanilla and toasty oak throughout.
I’ve been visiting Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Washington practically since they first opened in 1982 – you should stop by too! The welcome is friendly and the wines are always delicious. The Reserve Chardonnay is selected from the best Yakima Valley vineyard lots and aged in fine French oak. The wine shows a nice balance of ripe fruit, toasty oak and vanilla, and bracing acidity. Look for lemon curd, baked apple, cinnamon and toasted almonds.
Ponzi Vineyards and Winery is the quintessential example of the second generation of a successful wine family carrying on the traditions of excellence established by the founders. Maria and Luisa Ponzi work together to craft and showcase their fine wines in a modern Oregon-chic style. Check out their new event space that’s available at Ponziwine.com. The latest Chardonnay offers lots of floral notes and spices wrapped around a core of stone fruits and pear with a finish of zesty acidity.
Erath’s Willakia Vineyard in the hills southwest of Dundee, Oregon is named for two soil types that occur in the area – Willkenzie and Nekia. The property has 120 acres of vines with 20 acres of Chardonnay made up of three different Dijon clones of the variety. The wine from this unique site offers glimpses of French white Burgundy with wet stone mineral, earthy forest floor and a basket of lemon, pear, lime zest and notes of toasty vanilla.
King Estate Winery was founded more than 25 years ago in Oregon’s Willamette Valley not far from Eugene. The showplace winery and vineyard have set an example for other wineries that have followed, and King Estate’s commitment to organic and biodynamic farming has been a standard for the state. If you are near Eugene this spring, plan to stop by for a visit and a taste of their excellent wines. The 2016 Chardonnay is well balanced with bright pear and apple fruit and hints of vanilla and toasty oak – great with poached salmon!
Three Rivers Winery
If you’re on the Walla Walla wine-touring trail, remember that Three Rivers Winery has three pitch-and-putt golf holes to enjoy after a visit to their tasting room and well-appointed gift shop. This completely un-oaked Chardonnay gives the variety a chance to speak in a voice that highlights fresh aromas and flavors of stone fruits, tropical citrus and pear, and shows crisp acidity to pair with a wide variety of foods.
Chuck Reininger’s Helix brand focuses on wines produced from Columbia Valley grapes, reserving Walla Walla fruit for his own eponymous Reininger Winery. The superb Stillwater Creek Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope grew the grapes that made this excellent wine. Aromas of pear and apple blossom mingle with tropical citrus and lead to a crisp palate of apple, lemon and flinty mineral. The winery suggests miso-glazed halibut as a pairing.
Anthony and Linda (AntoLin) Haralson founded their Yakima Valley winery in 2007 after perfecting their craft with 10 years of home winemaking. The location of their tasting room on historic N. Front Street in Yakima is centrally located for wine tourists and locals alike. Enjoy a taste of their Chardonnay for its pineapple, pear and toasty aromas and flavors of apple and citrus on the palate.
Duck Pond Cellars
Fries family has pursued winegrowing and winemaking on both sides of the
Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee,
Oregon is in the center of the local wine scene, while their Desert Wind
Winery is in the central Yakima Valley wine headquarters of Prosser. The
Oregon winery’s Chardonnay is from Washington fruit, showing fresh apple
and pear on the nose with slightly spritzy flavors of apple, vanilla and
Wines from other areas
Niner Wine Estates
California’s Edna Valley AVA is near San Luis Obispo where early Spanish
missionaries planted vineyards in the early 19th century. The
area is now known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, taking advantage of the
cool climate in proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Niner Chardonnay strikes
a perfect balance of fresh tree fruits, tropical fruits and toasty
vanilla with refreshing citrus on the finish.
Dry Creek Estate Chardonnay comes from vineyards in the Russian River Valley where the climate is perfect for Chardonnay. An excellent balance between fruit, oak and acidity is harmonious from start to finish. Look for aromas of lime zest, baked apple, Asian pear and stone fruits. The palate adds creamy vanilla, lemon curd and a slight astringency that works with the acidity in food pairing.
The Los Carneros growing region is moderated by influence from San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay with the result of warm days and cool nights. Winemaker Tony Coltrin has long experience sourcing local fruit and from it has crafted this well-balanced, food-friendly wine. Aromas of tropical citrus, pineapple and pear are followed on the palate by flavors of bright tropical fruits, Meyer lemon and toasty vanilla.
This Chardonnay has been a favorite of my tasters for many years. The fruit comes from Katherine’s Vineyard (named for Jess Jackson’s daughter, Katie) in the Santa Maria Valley. The wine offers aromas of orchard blossom, white peaches, wet-stone minerality and pear. On the palate, flavors of apple, pear and pineapple invite the taster to pair with Asian dishes or fresh seafood such as halibut or lobster.
To find contact information for most of the wineries
in the above text,
April, 2018 Chuck Hill
April, 2018 Chuck Hill