You may know the Balletto name well — it’s no stranger to the eye-level shelves at the local supermarket. But did you know that the Balletto family is a bit of a Sonoma success story? It all started when John Balletto left his budding college career behind to help his mother run the family’s 5-acre farm, following the unforeseen death of his uncle. Throughout the 80s and 90s, John focused on expanding the family business, purchasing additional parcels of land until the Balletto farm consisted of 700-plus acres planted to over 70 different vegetables. But when drought and other acts of nature threatened the farm, Balletto decided to focus his sights on grapes — a slightly less thirsty plant. Because of encouragement from friend and neighbor Warren Dutton (of Dutton-Goldfield Winery), the family already had 35 acres planted to vines and subsequently continued to convert all their vegetable-designated land to estate vineyards — primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Today the Balletto’s have 16 estate vineyards that sprawl throughout Sonoma County. From their original home in the Sebastopol Hills, down toward the Petaluma Gap, and along the even plains of Santa Rosa.
About the Wine: The Balletto 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from 4 separate Balletto Estate vineyards. Balletto uses only native yeast, and the Chardonnay went though 100% malolactic fermentation. The wine was aged in French oak (33% new). Learn more about Chardonnay winemaking.
Flavor Profile: It’s a subtle aroma that floats out of the bottle once you pop the cork, reminiscent of a pie crust right out of the oven — but not your oven, your grandmotherly neighbor down the street who’s left all her windows open on this warm summer day. Pour the wine from bottle to glass and engage in that fantasy further, as the shade of yellow of the Balletto Russian River Valley Chardonnay is quite like the shimmering light of the sun refraction through a window pane. Once settled into the glass, the yellow calms to an almost cute pastel hue.
Initial aromas are strong with hits of butter, cream, baked pear and apple, with a subtle line of acidity throughout. Swirl, and release a floral perfume that breaks up the richness of the other aromatics. Move the nose around and find some savory notes as well, including lemongrass and ginger and, as the wine continues to open up, you’ll find that the acidic aromas become more alive.
On the palate, this Chardonnay is surprisingly citrusy, with the acid cutting through all other flavors right away and immediately creating a salivating sensation around the tongue. Flavors are ripe with green apple, agave nectar, lemongrass, and ginger spice. That last bit becomes especially boisterous at the end, leaving a little heat along with the acidic tingle for a most enticing and lingering finish. Let the wine linger in the mouth a little longer and you’ll find there’s the most minute background essence of white blossom perfume, complete with pollen.
Food Pairing: I paired the Balletto 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay with, well, popcorn. I’ve never paired wine with popcorn before and on this warm summer evening it just seemed like the thing to try. Perfect pairing? Actually, yes. Because the wine itself has very little new oak or overpowering ML action on the palate, it actually did well to calm down the salt. Meanwhile the salt, as well as the plainness that is innate in popcorn (that kind of cardboard-y taste and texture), enlivened the more savory aspects of the wine and added to it a kind of watery-refreshingness.
I would absolutely pair this wine with popcorn again. But if you’re looking for something more sophisticated or just a main meal, I would recommend grilled chicken, a vegetarian risotto, or good old-fashion pasta alfredo. Nothing fancy or elaborate but the wine would do well to cut through the kind of thready texture of a chicken breast, the richness of a risotto, and the home-style comfort of an alfredo.
More Info: I received the Balletto 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay as a sample for review. (Cheers Ben and Megan!) Retail: $28. Check out how the 2015 vintage compares to the Balletto 2013 RRV Chardonnay. For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Balletto Vineyards website.
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