Carneros, known predominantly for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production, bridges the Sonoma-Napa County border. It’s the Napa side that I have a hard time with. With some of the region’s coolest climates the Pinot Noir here seems to be harsher, tighter, spicier — whereas I tend to favor my full-bodied, fruit-forward Russian River Pinots. But when it comes to Chardonnay, I like a bit more life, intrigue, rusticity, flavor. That same Carneros cooling effect gives the Chardonnays from the region just that: a marked acidity, minerality, and earthiness that shines right through — from stem to stemware. 

About the Wine: The Rutherford Ranch 2015 Reserve Chardonnay is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from a single vineyard in the family’s newest estate property (exact name unknown).

The grapes went through 100% primary malolactic fermentation before aging in 100% French oak barrels (85% new) for 10 months.

14.5% ABV

Flavor Profile: Straight out of the bottle, the Rutherford Ranch Reserve Chardonnay emits aromas of apples, white blossoms, a hint of citrus, and oak. On the pour, the wine seems to be clean and clear, but settles into a watered-down amber shade of yellow once in the glass. It’s luminescent, yet cloudy.

The aroma is all about that malolactic fermentation and oak aging — the warmth of a buerre blanc sauce wafts out of the mouth of the glass, and you’d swear you’re in a French grand-mére’s old-fashioned kitchen. Swirl, sniff again, and the wine becomes rich with vanilla, honey, yogurt. Bring your nose to the top of the glass. Here you’ll find subtle fruit and vegetable aromas: soft pears and apples, walnut paste, lemongrass, scallions.

All that smell of rich creamy foods prepares your brain for a butter-bomb Chardonnay. But this is not the case. Yes, the Chardonnay has a soft, round mouthfeel, but there’s a clean, solid line of acidity that breaks it all up, preventing any glugginess (flabbiness or fattiness). And the flavors aren’t oak-dominant at all. In fact, this seemingly French-like wine has some Asian fusion in it — ginger, lemongrass, white pepper are all at the forefront of the palate, while the finish sings of candied lemon, orange zest, and the slightest hint of grassy-mint.

It really is the acid that carries this wine from start to finish, allowing your tastebuds to go on a journey without ever being dominated by any one flavor or texture.

Food Pairing: I paired the Rutherford Ranch 2015 Reserve Chardonnay with pan-grilled lemon-pepper tilapia served with a side of roasted veggies (brussel sprouts, butternut squash, mushrooms, garlic and onion). I loved how the pepper on the fish amplified the savory notes in the wine, pulling on that lemongrass and ginger. Meanwhile, the soft texture of the butternut squash gave the wine just a bit more body in regards to the round mouthfeel.

Was this the perfect pairing? I quite enjoyed it, but I’d also love to try this wine with an Asian-fusion dish (I’m thinking walnut prawns here). Point is, I will gladly drink it again and play with the flavors and meal pairings.

More Info: If you haven’t read my reviews for either the Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc or the Rutherford Ranch Merlot, please do. I received the Rutherford Ranch 2015 Reserve Chardonnay as a sample for review. (Cheers!) Retail: $42. For more information about Rutherford Ranch and to purchase wines directly, visit the Rutherford Ranch website

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