When it comes to Napa, is Chardonnay the first grape variety that comes to mind? Well, it is the second most widely planted grape in the county, at 6,397 acres/2,588 hectares it makes up just 15% of the county’s vineyards. No surprise, Cabernet Sauvignon leads the race with 20,342 acres/8,232 hectares planted, making up 47% of Napa’s wine grapes. But as a consumer, at least in my little world, when I think Chardonnay I think about the “other” side of the mountain range (Sonoma). But Smith-Madrone, once again with the care and attention to the vines and the very minimalistic and naturalistic approach to winemaking, proves that even white wine has its place in the land of “big red.”
After the fun rosé I experienced from Stinson Vineyards, I was curious and hopeful about what their Chardonnay would present. Chardonnay is something I’m not stranger to. It’s the most widely planted wine grape here in California. Styles span a whole spectrum — from oaky, creamy “butterbombs,” to crystal clear and crisp. How a Chardonnay presents relies almost entirely on the winemaker and less so on the soil. But a chance to taste from the east coast doesn’t present itself very often. So I was eager to taste what the other side of our States had so say about California’s great white grape.
Riesling. Oh Riesling. You poor stereotyped varietal. While I’ve had some fun and, for lack of a better word, tasty Rieslings from the States, I have to say that, for the most part, what our New World has done to the variety is a bit of a shame. What’s more, is I feel like there’s a bit of a stigma surrounding German wines — a few sweet Gewürztraminers and suddenly folks think everything from the cool Rhine region is sweet. When, in fact, it is just the opposite. For the most part Germans tend to make (and enjoy) the dryer style wines (and warm beer, but that’s a different story).
Lucky for me I made a new friend at a local wine shop. A sommelier whose specialty is German and Austrian wine. So when I asked him to pour my anything he recommended that would help me discover the area, he asked “how do you feel about Riesling.” My response, “As long as its as dry as God intended it.” So this is what he poured me. This is what I bought. This is what I enjoyed again and can’t wait to enjoy again.
I present to you Riesling from the Rhine…
Oh Stony Hill — another winery to cross off my bucket list! The original Stony Hill Vineyard, located in Napa’s Spring Mountain AVA, was purchased by Fred and Eleanor McCrea back in the early 1940s. The first vines were planted in 1948 and by 1954 the couple already had a reputation for crafting fine Napa wines. When Fred passed in the late 1970s, assistant winemaker Mike Chelini took the winemaking reigns, and he’s held on tight to those ropes for over 40 years now. The bulk of the business remains in the family, with Fred and Eleanor’s son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Willinda, running the day-to-day operations and with their daughter, Sarah, taking over as president as of 2011.
According to the winery, Fred and Eleanor loved the white wines of Burgundy and would have loved to have planted their entire vineyard to Chardonnay. Well, they didn’t plant the whole vineyard to Chardonnay. But I can say that Fred and Eleanor would be proud that their family does great honor to the fruit that founding couple held in such high esteem.
It’s not often I review foreign wine, so when I do I always like to insert a little bit about the region. This Gris de Gris hails from France’s Languedoc-Roussilon AOC, which spans along the Mediterranean coastline, from the southern border with Spain up toward France’s region of Provence. In total, the AOC has about 700,000 acres planted to vines and is one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the world.
The terrain and climate characteristics are similar to that of the Southern Rhône region (located to the north and slightly west of Languedoc) and Provence (located to the north, arching toward the east along the Mediterranean Ocean.) Thus, the whole of the Languedoc-Roussillon region produces a wide variety of grapes and wine styles — from your classic “Bordeaux” varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc) to your typical Rhône varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Viognier).
There are several appellations and sub-appellations within Languedoc that, for the most part, were originally separated based more on politics than wine-related reasons — though this seems to be changing even as we speak. However, a lot of wines from this area will still simply state “Languedoc” without any other regional or varietal information on the bottle.
On the whole, the Languedoc regions seems to be –what? — undiscovered or under-appreciated? There are quality wines coming from the AOC that are a lot more affordable than some of France’s other notable regions. I guess, for now, let’s not question it, let’s just go with it. And let’s go with it with this Gris de Gris.