Buena Vista Carneros Chardonnay Carneros 2007

I was standing in the aisle at the supermarket, peering dubiously at the chardonnays. “You chardonnays are deceitful. You’ve let me down before” I thought. It’s not too easy, alone in front of a shelf full of chardonnays, to determine which are the overly oaked butter bombs and which are in the more traditional Burgundian style. Our climates (and microclimates) here in California are a blessing, unless you’re trying to pick out wine by the bottle.

I scanned the row and found a Buena Vista Carneros chardonnay. The Carneros AVA is shared by both Napa and Sonoma counties, which at first glance would seem to suggest a much warmer and much heavier chardonnay style. But, Carneros is at the southern end of both counties, bordering on San Pablo Bay, and gets plenty of fog and cool marine weather. I had heard about Buena Vista Carneros, but had never tried any of their wines. It was on sale, so I picked it up.

When I got home I looked up the wine online and things did not look good, at least in terms of getting a cool, fruity chardonnay. According to the winery’s website, the chardonnay was both fermented in oak and on the lees, underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, and was aged in oak for 8 months. I thought this would be an oak bomb with zero acidic structure. But, I gave it a try anyway.

The aromas, honeysuckle, green fruit, and honey, were fairly consistent with what would be expected from oaked, maloed chardonnay. I tasted honey with some butter on the back palate, lasting through the finish. The consistency was moderately syrupy, which I do not like in wine. With all that (for the most part) going against it, the wine was not overly cloying and it retained some acidic structure (I’m not certain how, considering the winemaking). I definitely tasted some of the oaky character on the finish, which I didn’t really care for. Despite all of this, I found it to be much more drinkable than other California chardonnays I’ve tried.

I think, unfortunately, Buena Vista was taking a prize (chardonnay grapes from a cooler region) and trying to mimick a popular style. I think the wine would have been much better without the heavy oak and full malolactic fermentation. Now that unoaked and lighter oaked chardonnays are making a comeback, I would hope Buena Vista reconsiders some of their decisions and fashions a lighter style chardonnay.

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Tasting Room Review: Dry Creek Vineyard

Last weekend my husband and I traveled to the Mendocino coast in northern California for a long weekend of wine tasting and relaxation. It was a great trip and the wines were consistently good. During our stay in Mendocino and along the trip there, we visited wineries in three major appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Anderson Valley, and Alexander Valley.

Our first stop on the drive up was in Dry Creek Valley at Dry Creek Vineyard. I had some experience with wines from Dry Creek Vineyard before visiting. Their wines can be found in many locations around the San Francisco Bay Area and I had tasted their Russian River Valley sauvignon blanc, Sonoma County “Heritage” zinfandel, Clarksburg chenin blanc, and Russian River Valley chardonnay. Without exception, I had enjoyed every wine I had ever tasted from Dry Creek Vineyard. So, I was pretty excited to visit the tasting room and try some offerings that were out of my normal price range.

The winery is located in a spacious, ivy covered building. The grounds surrounding the tasting room itself were well-tended, with lush picnic areas, flowers, and beautiful old gumball trees and redwoods. The atmosphere overall was very welcoming and inviting.

Inside, the tasting room was fairly spacious, with high ceilings, large windows, and sprinkled with the winery’s trademark sailboat images and paraphernalia. We visited on a Friday, around noon, and were the only ones in the tasting room during our stay. The tasting was $5 per person (I believe this may increase on the weekends, though I am not sure) and consisted of five wines from a list of all of their offerings, one being “complimentary”. (We tasted a total of seven wines because we shared the zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon tastings.)

The wines we tasted:

2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Clarksburg Chenin Blanc

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard DCV10 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Somers Ranch Zinfandel

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Beeson Ranch Zinfandel

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley “The Mariner”

2005 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Endeavour”

I had tried Dry Creek’s lower-end chardonnay before and really enjoyed it. I tend not to like the traditional California-style heavily oaked chardonnays with full malolactic fermentation. I learned from the tasting room employee who was helping us that the DCV10 is closer to a traditional California style than the lower-end offering. According to the employee, 85% of the lower-end offering undergoes malolactic fermentation and the whole is aged in oak for 10 weeks, while 100% of the DCV10 undergoes malolactic fermentation and the whole is aged in oak for 18 weeks. Despite my trepidations with the style, I thought the DCV10 was wonderful, with a surprising balance between creaminess and crispness, and I found no cloying characteristics at all. (The employee did not use the term “lower end”!)

The cabernet sauvignons were also remarkably good. While the Endeavour was more refned, both were extremely smooth, with wonderful aromatics.

Overall I found the wines to be balanced, smooth, tasty, and enjoyable. I think Dry Creek Vineyard produces consistently quality wines and I have yet to taste one that I do not like or that is poor quality. The tasting room was inviting with friendly and knowledgeable staff and I will definitely be visiting again.

A Trip to Mendocino Wine Country

This past weekend I took a couple of days off from work and headed up to the Mendocino coast for a long weekend of wine tasting. I was lucky enough to visit three different regions: Dry Creek Valley (on the way up), Anderson Valley (during my stay), and Alexander Valley (on the drive back).

I stayed on the coast about 40 minutes south of the town of Mendocino. And being on the Northern California coast during the days just before summer, I saw a lot of fog and cool breezes. On the day I did the majority of the tastings, the morning was cool and foggy on the coast (in the low 60s).

The Mendocino Coast

But as soon as I passed over the Coast Range and into Anderson Valley, the temperature shot up to the mid-80s (and got to be 87 at the warmest that I saw) with plenty of sun for the remainder of the day. This weather duality just underscored why Northern California is such a great place to grow grapes.

I’ll be posting about my trip to Mendocino as I collect my thoughts and gather my notes together. I certainly can’t wait to take another wine trip again soon.

Louis Latour Chardonnay Coteaux de L’Ardeche “Grand Ardeche” 2007

For me, chardonnay seems to be mostly in the “I’ll pass” category. I typically find an obnoxious, cloying sensation that lingers on the back palate, even in chardonnays that are not heavily oaked. When that happens, I’m left with feeling like I want to clear my throat. So, I am constantly trying to find chardonnays that I actually enjoy drinking. I’ve found that the chardonnays which undergo the least amount of oaking and malolactic fermentation are ideal for me, as well as those Old World chardonnays, many of which have a more citrus/mineral quality to them.

I was shopping a my local Bevmo recently and found a Louis Latour Chardonnay Coteaux de L’Ardeche “Grand Ardeche” 2007. I had never heard of the Coteaux de l’Ardeche before. But the bottle was only $7 and I decided to chance it.

After pouring and sniffing, I could not detect any oak, vanilla, honey, or yeast aromas. This was starting out on the right foot. I found stone fruit, white peach, and very subtle melon. There was a dinstinct minerality and chalky quality, which actually predominated over the fruit. It retained the stone fruit and melon flavor in the mouth and took on a more citrus rind bitterness, which was actually satisfying. It was quite refreshing, with some noticeable acidity, and was fairly smooth. Unfortunately, the crispness might have been a bit too crisp, sacrificing some complexity.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by this wine, and happy that I found another chardonnay that’s not cloying. If you prefer chardonnays in a typical California style, with vanilla, honey, butter, and oak aromas and flavors, you’ll not like this wine. It’s far from that style. But, if you’re looking for a chardonnay that expresses more citrus and mineral qualities, give this one a try.

Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel California “Vintner’s Cuvee XXXII”

Some changes are in store for the folks at Rosenblum Cellars. The international wine and spirits giant Diageo, which owns Rosenblum, is planning to close Rosenblum’s Alameda production facility and move the whole operation to Napa. So, in the coming years I expect we might be seeing some interruption in quality and/or supply. However, Diageo says it will retain the Rosenblum name.

I learned this information the day I recently purchased a bottle of Rosenblum’s basic zinfandel, with the general California appellation. Since Rosenblum is known for its zinfandels, my expectations were a bit higher than they otherwise would be, even for a basic bottling with the California label.

The aromas were very zinfandelish, with raspberry (by far the primary berry), wild berry, blackberry, and a hint of blueberry. There were also some noticeable oak aromas to cut through the berry a bit. The flavors followed the aromas exactly, with the berry and oak blending quite nicely, supported by a decent tannic foundation. The style is big and overextrapolated — it’s the jam-in-a-bottle style. This isn’t my favorite style, but this particular wine was enjoyable, mainly due to its balance.

In general, I think this was better than what would otherwise be available under the basic California label, primarily because it balanced fruit, oak, and tannin without an unpleasant spike of alcoholic heat. But, it wasn’t as good as I was expecting. Perhaps I had unreasonably high expectations. I think if you really like zinfandel, particularly in the jammy style, you’ll really like this one. I’m looking forward to tasting a more localized Rosenblum zinfandel… if they’ll still be available.

VINTJS Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2009

I’m a big sauvignon blanc fan. It’s probably my favorite white. But, I really hate when winemakers try to force sauvignon blanc to taste like hyper-oaked California chardonnay: barrel fermentation, 100% malolactic fermentation, and aging in oak, especially new. The result is a creamy, low acid, mess of ripe pineapple, mango, and, heaven forbid, honey.

While I can understand why some people do not prefer high acidity zingers with tart fruit and grass, there are ways to reduce these effects while maintaining the classic character of sauvignon blanc. Partial malolactic fermentation, partial barrel fermentation, partial oak aging can all help to mitigate the acidity while imparting a smoother, creamier texture without completely anihilating the characteristics that make sauvignon blanc sauvignon blanc. Also, blending with semillon, which is a traditional method of enhancing the mid-palate, reducing acidity, and improving texture, is a method commonly employed in Bordeaux, the traditionally sauvignon blanc dominated region of France.

When I saw that the VINTJS Sauvignon Blanc was from Napa Valley, I had low expectations for a wine that preserved the classic nature of sauvignon blanc. But when I tasted it, I realized my first impression was completely and utterly wrong. On the nose were dominant herbal/green aromas, with some ripe pineapple and a little tart lemon. In the mouth, this wine was smooth and creamy, but not oaky or syrupy and still quite crisp. It was not as acidic as I tend to prefer, but there was a solid acidic backbone. Pungent, tart citrus on the front gave way to softer, more exotic fruits on the mid and back palates. Unfortunately, noticeable alcohol left the finish a bit sharp and bracing. As it warmed, some wonderful custard aromas and flavors arose. It was quite enjoyable.

This was a good example of how a highly acidic wine like sauvignon blanc can be made creamier and fuller without sacrificing the necessary acidic frame or classic aromas and flavors. I was pretty impressed and I’ll definitely be buying more of this.

Urban Uco Malbec-Tempranillo Valle de Uco Mendoza 2008

This is one bottle of wine I would never have picked up if not for its uncommon combination of malbec and tempranillo grapes. I hate to judge a book by its cover or a wine by its label but let’s face it, everybody does it and, frankly, a wine’s label is all about first impressions. The label itself is ultra urban, showing two men in black standing at the edge of a tall, imposing, sterile, gray city structure. I wanted to tell them not to jump, but I hadn’t tasted the wine yet. Maybe they had a good reason for giving up. All jokes aside, I really did not understand or like the label. It seemed cold, distant, and unwelcoming. But, it was a bottle of wine and I was willing to give it a go.

The aromas show deep red reaspberry, smokey oak, some plum, and some enticing herbal notes of eucalyptus and laurel. The nose is pretty nice in an herbal/floral way. The wine is medium bodied with a noticeable tannin structure providing a firm frame for the flavors. It’s more balanced than I had imagined before tasting it, but it does need some aeration because it first comes out pretty hot with a marked bitterness at the back of the palate. As the wine aerates, the bitterness subsides and the herbal flavors become much more pronounced and all the more enjoyable.

On the second day, the aeration has done wonders for the wine, masking the bitterness and enhancing the wonderful herbal flavors. The dominant flavor on the second day was spruce, which I hadn’t even detected on the first taste.

Overall, I wasn’t in love with this wine due to its bitterness on the first day and a slightly unpleasant muskiness, but I did love the mixture of herbal flavors and the firm tannin structure. I’ll most likely pick this one up again.

Note: I bought this at Costco for between $8 and $10.