I’ve been having a hard time with Chardonnay lately. I’ve been finding them too overworked: either over-oaked or incorporating too much malolactic fermentation — in the worst cases both. I don’t like to start off a post with a negative, but you have to understand where I’m coming from. The Chardonnay’s of late have left me wondering — what does Chardonnay actually taste like? What is its entity? What is its innate nature? Ok, I’ll go there…where is its soul?

I found it. Here. With this wine. This is the Chardonnay I’ve been looking for. This is the pretty much the Chardonnay I want to always be in my cellar.

About the Wine: The J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard Chardonnay is made from 100% Robert Young clone Chardonnay grapes harvested from the Schmidt Home Vineyard in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. The wine was aged in 100% French oak barrels (all neutral) for 7 months. The wine was aged on the lees and underwent regular hand-stirring. The wine did undergo “the slightest amount” of secondary, malolactic fermentation.

I love that note, “the slightest amount.” When I asked Beery how they do that, he prefaced his answer with the exact feelings I mentioned above: “ML has its place to improve mouth-feel, add complexity and round off sharp edges…but too much of a good thing…is too much.”

So, how do they control the amount of ML to get that “slightest amount?” Like all winemaking, it starts in the vineyard, testing the grapes before harvest. “We want ML to start dropping out of the fruit,” said Beery. “As the amount of ML gets lower, there is less to convert and less to effect.” He calls this a balancing act between ML, brix, TA, and pH during the pick decision. Once in the winery, the J. Cage Cellars winemaking team adds sulfur to half the barrels to prevent ML from even starting. The other half is allowed to naturally continue the secondary fermentation process. Then, they blend.

14.2% ABV

Flavor Profile: Open the bottle of the J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard Chardonnay and breathe in spring-like aromas of apple, pollen, citrus, and citrus blossoms. This Chardonnay is a pale straw on the pour, settling into the glass a shade deeper with a hint of beige. Initial aromas are of apples, pear, light honey notes, and perhaps a hint of caramel. Swirl — yes, this wine awakens once you swirl — and open up a field of flowers, meyer lemons, and sun-warmed grass.

The palate of the J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard Chardonnay is soft, smooth, and textural just along the edge of the tongue. The acidity presents itself with citrus and a bit of a sour sensation. Dominant flavors are of citrus zest, lemon juice, pollen, coriander, nut skins, and tarragon.

Food Pairing: A casual meal the day I enjoyed the J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard Chardonnay, I paired it with a turkey and swiss cheese wrap with a side salad of spinach, tomato and seasoned goats cheese (lavender, fennel seed, and pollen). The greens brought out the juiciness of the apple notes along with all the acidity you never really equate with apple but, in actuality is very much there. The cherry tomatoes highlighted that textural component (pleasantly), as well as the more herbaceous qualities in the wine. The turkey wrap, as a whole, brought out those latent floral notes — probably because of the Italian seasoning mixed into the tortilla-like wrap itself. And the goats cheese allowed that minimal amount of ML to do its work, without ever adding extra acidity, milky, or buttery notes.

Loved this pairing. That being said, I would love to taste this wine again alongside a dish with “Thanksgiving” flavors (if not for actual Thanksgiving), for a more elevated wine and dine experience.

More Info: I received the JJ. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard Chardonnay as a sample for review. (Cheers Roger!) Price: $35 For more information about J. Cage, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the J. Cage Cellars website.

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