Tasting Modern Day Chardonnay from Three Sonoma County AVAs

If there’s anything we know about Chardonnay, it’s that it is highly adaptable to its environment. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Oregon—heck even Canada—all have areas that produce premium Chardonnays. Yet all are so distinctly different, all so uniquely dependent on both environmental (soil, climate, altitude and latitude) and human factors (grape grower, winemaker).

In California, Chardonnay is our most-planted white wine grape variety. It’s produced all over the state and, given the size of the state and the amount of wine producers, it can be expressed in a number of different styles. Today I’m zeroing in on three specific AVAs: Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Valley—all part of the Northern Sonoma AVA in Sonoma County, Calif.

Northern Sonoma This AVA is as vast and amorphous as its name, encompassing Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, most of Green Valley as well as portions of Rockpile and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak.
Northern Sonoma, courtesy Sonoma County Vintners (sonomawine.com)
This AVA is as vast and amorphous as its name, encompassing Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, most of Green Valley as well as portions of Rockpile and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak.

The wines expressing these pieces of California terroir are all Chardonnays produced by Dutcher Crossing Winemaker, Nick Briggs, who walked me through a virtual tasting which included insight into the regional specificities from his growing partners: Charlie Chenoweth (Chenoweth Vineyards), Pam Bacigalupi (Bacigalupi Vineyards), Dan Rotlisberger (Redwood Empire Vineyard Management).

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Tasting Wines of Roero—Arneis & Nebbiolo

If you’ve read my Northern Italy Overview and, more recently, my Diploma WSET Theory and Tasting—Piemonte, you’ll note that (for good reason) the primary focus is on the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, Dolcetta d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and to a somewhat lesser extent my personal fav—Gavi di Gavi.

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.

And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.

Nebbiolo di Roero tasting line up

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Tasting Rosé from Puglia

If you’ve seen my post on my top ten Southern Italy factoids (along with interesting anecdotes), then this little section on Puglia may seem familiar:

Puglia is hot Mediterranean with moderating sea breezes, low rainfall, fertile soils, and permitted irrigation—most suitable for high volume production

INTERESTING FACTOID: “Its name derives from the Roman a-pluvia or ‘lack of rain.'” ——Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition). Pretty much confirms the above description. —me (First Edition)

Puglia key grapes:

    1. Primitivo (Primitivo di Manduira DOC; Gioia del Colle DOC) INTERESTING ANECDOTE: Gioia translates to “joy” in Italian; Colle translates to “glue” in French. Interestingly, Gioia del Colle DOC, despite its reputation for the higher quality grapes grown at elevation, is the one that requires the least amount of Primitivo, allowing blending of other grapes such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Negroamara, and even the white wine grape, Malvasia (as well as other local and international varieties)—or “gluing” together to create the “joy” that is the region’s red wines. However, the region was so-named before some monk guy brought over the primitivo grape, which he named prima-tivo because of its early-ripening-ness (prima meaning first or early). —me and my remedial Italian and French (First Edition)
    2. Negroamaro “Makes sweet-tasting, early-drinking reds and some good rosés on the heel of Italy.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Salice Salentino Rosso/Riserva DOC)
    3. Nero di Troia/Uva di Troia “High-quality, flavorful, firm northern Puglian that has declined considerably in the last 40 years.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Castel del Monte/Riserva DOC/G)

While the WSET has us focusing on Puglian red wine production, I was provided the opportunity to taste through some rosés of the region as well as participate in a master class educating us on these wines and Puglia as a wine producing region in general. I wanted to share with you some of my tasting notes, as well as some of the things I learned from the Italian industry pros.

Rosé in Puglia
Rosé in Puglia

A note about the wines: According to the winemakers present, all wines are created in a style intended for immediate consumption—light, easy, fruitful. They’re looking to appeal to a broad range of consumers, but are also very keen on introducing non, new, or infrequent wine drinkers into the wine-drinking culture. Unfortunately, none of these wines are available in the US at the moment. All are within a 2 to 5 Euro price point.

Andiamo…

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This Week’s Latest Wine Headlines: March 13—19

Hello and happy spring! Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there. I’ve got your weekly round up of wine-newsy content from the past week, including a piece by yours truly on the California wine grape crush report.

A few other highlights—the WSET holds its first virtual diploma graduation and plans to keep the format for the future as well (I personally hope that I will be able to travel to London for the in-person event if/when that time comes); the European wine industry is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in history; restaurants are opening up for indoor dining all over the country—but it’s still risky business for workers and patrons alike; and industry pros debate whether we need better labelling on wine bottles.

Those are just a few of the top stories, but scroll through—I’ve included some fun articles surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, there’s some great independent insight in the Blogs, and actually quite a few informative press releases.

Have fun. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And drink good wine.

 

 

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This Week’s Latest Wine Headlines: March 7—12

Welcome to your weekend edition of wine news. I’ve got everything from interesting press releases, gender equality, women in winemaking, Covid, tariffs, Japanese and Chinese wines….there was a lot going on this week both in traditional press and in the blogging world.

In the midst of it all, the wine industry lost a legend on Tuesday with the death of Steve Spurrier. I only met the man twice, so I’m not going to feign an intimate relationship that didn’t exist. But I think it’s fair that anyone with a career in wine and wine writing was in some way influenced and inspired by his great work. I’ve included a whole section with other writers’ rememberings of Steven below.

Lastly, with a shameless self-plug, the grape growing conference in which I moderated a session all about regenerative viticulture is now live on YouTube. I’ve provided the video below as well.

If you missed any of this week’s posts, I’ve got wine reviews and tasting notes from Domaine de la Pousse D’or 2018 Vintage, Sokol Blosser’s 50th Anniversary, and Alma Rosa Spring 2021 Releases—all with insight from recent associated media tastings and interviews.

Thanks as always for hanging out with me. Hope you find some good news, interesting news, and maybe a few laughs in the links I’m sharing with you today.

 

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