I am on a Chardonnay kick. Wait. Let me edit that. I am on a QUALITY Chardonnay kick. As in, recently, I threw out 3 bottles of Chardonnay after the first sip because they are still adhering to the old-new world expression: over-oaked, buttery spread. But trends are changing: everything that’s old is new again and that goes for the “Chablis-style” Chardonnay. I recently attended a panel discussion of winemakers making wine in this style (please read The Chardonnay Style Spectrum) and I am so pleased that the industry is headed this direction. And much of this is headed by the Oregon wine industry. Chardonnay may be the most widely planted white wine grape in California, but it is creeping up the Oregon ladder (currently still behind Pinot Gris) — and these guys are doing it right. Case and point: Panther Creek Cellars.
I’ve been having such fun experimenting with new releases of California Chardonnay. I feel like the modern expressions of the grape has come to vary so widely that gone are the days of this white wine’s stereotypes — the new norm is the ab-norm. And while this Chardonnay does reflect those “classic” characteristics, and may not be to everyone’s palate, it does have a fresh take on an old look and certainly has its time and place when paired with the proper meal.
When it comes to modern California Chardonnay, it seems more grapegrowers are focused in on purposeful planting, winemakers taking a more “hands-off” approach in the winery. Thus the nuances of the actual fruit are able to come forward, unmasked by excessive ML or NFO aging. Tasting the J. Cage Cellars 2016 Schmidt Home Vineyard is one such Chardonnay that piqued my interest into the current California expressions of the grape. So when owner Roger Beery asked if I’d like to taste his most recent release, my answer was an enthusiastic “yes please!”
There are so many expressions of Chardonnay. And while I’ve known that in theory for quite some time, it seems to me that lately—within the last two years even—winemakers are taking advantage of what that really means. Any where from round and doughy to crisp to fruit forward, and the whole spectrum that spreads between. Get a good Chardonnay from a reputable winemaker, and he or she will only use the techniques that will showcase the vineyard and vintage. That is the direction Chardonnay is going: while its tastes and textures are still nearly 100% reliant on the winemaker, winemakers seem to be working with the grape, instead of just completely…working the grape.
I’m loving the cool climate wines from Ranch 32. From their Cabernet Sauvignon to their Pinot Noir, they truly keep the essence of the fruit in the bottle. And this Chardonnay is no exception. Aged completely in stainless steel, just a kiss of ML in the blend, Ranch 32 truly knows what “minimalistic winemaking” means. Bonus point: this restrained Chardonnay comes at an affordable price, which means you can enjoy this wine just as easily with a mid-week meal as you could on date night.