Russian River Delivers Outstanding Chardonnay.

Our first outdoor dinner of the season was shared with some deer friends.

Our first outdoor dinner of the season was shared with some deer friends.

Inspired by the season’s first dinner on the patio (which marks the official T-time for white wine drinking) I thought I’d put down in print my take on many of the outstanding Russian River and Sonoma Coast Chardonnays I’ve encountered at the recent round of wine tastings.

This time around I was pounding the pavement at two outstanding events in Manhattan, one entitled “Taste of Sonoma; On Tour” hosted by an assortment of Sonoma Valley trade organizations and the other presented by wine distributor extraordinaire Michael Skurnik Wines.

Tasting season is a demanding time for the wine makers, winery owners and the assorted experts that pour wine at these events. They may spend an entire day serving and talking about their wines to the trade, take a short breather, and then repeat the process for the general public. Wine buyers don’t have it any easier, as we are often faced with two or three “can’t miss” wine tastings on the same day. It’s a lot of work and tradespeople often need an outlet after such a grueling day.

So if insurance brokers, teachers and accountants go out for a drink after attending a convention, what do wine industry professionals do after gathering for an all day wine tasting? Like the waitress who gets off work and can’t look at another cup of coffee, wine professionals occasionally get tired of drinking wine. I know, can you imagine? I know this to be true because at one of these tastings I overheard this conversation;

“Hey Chuck, that was a long day. Let’s go out and not get a glass of wine.”

“That’s a great idea Mike. I really couldn’t use some wine right now.”

James Hall, owner & winemaker at Patz & Hall shares a snarky moment with Don at the Taste of Sonoma tasting in Manhattan.

James Hall, owner & winemaker at Patz & Hall shares a snarky moment with Don at the Taste of Sonoma tasting in Manhattan.

Before you lose any sleep worrying about us deprived wine professionals you should know there’s a popular expression among wine makers that proclaims “It takes a lot of tequila to make good wine.” We may get tired of tasting wine after two or three hundred samples but that’s why they invented tequila, beer and bourbon. Going out for a cocktail after sampling wine all day may sound a little excessive and that’s the reason I quit drinking – every night at bedtime.

Balletto Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $18
This Pinot Gris is made in a rich, ripe style. The faintest touch of sweetness greets your palate but it’s not off-putting. It’s surprisingly pleasing – like that sloppy wet kiss from your friend’s grandmother that you don’t really mind because she’s kind of hot. The palate bursts with ripe red and yellow apple flavors, combined with subtle melon nuances. A brisk minerality kicks in the finish, leaving you thirsting for another kiss, I mean sip.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Balletto Vineyards, 2013 Chardonnay, Teresa’s Estate, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $20
As you might expect from an unoaked Chardonnay, the Teresa’s Estate lets its bright floral and tropical fruit characteristics propagate like Carmen Miranda’s hat. What you might not expect to find from this neck of the woods is the Chablis-like chalkiness apparent in the nose. The palate displays surprising richness and a silky texture that carries flavors of ripe red apples that evolve into pineapple and nectarine.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Benovia Winery, 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $34
If you’d like some wine with your oak you’ll love Benovia’s barrel fermented and aged Russian River Chardonnay. Forward aromas of toasty oak and baking spices waft from the glass, followed by a full-bodied, richly layered wine with subtle ripe citrus, nectarine and pear flavors, followed by notes of butterscotch in the finish.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Hartford Court, 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $30
This affordable Chardonnay is as bold and showy as a Jersey girl’s tramp stamp and has probably seen just as much wood. This is a big wine with impressively concentrated aromas and flavors and a rich, creamy texture. Loads of ripe tropical fruit flavors mingle with subtle hazelnut and vanilla characteristics. A terrific value.
Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Keller Estate, 2010 Chardonnay, Oro de Plata, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, CA $33
Keller ages Oro de Plata Chardonnay in neutral oak barrels. No, that doesn’t mean the barrels are from Switzerland, it means they have been used so many times that they’ve lost their ability to affect change, much like congress. Speaking of congress, this Chardonnay is as white, rich and creamy as a three-term Republican senator. It features unique flavors of ultra-ripe red apples, cherries and white peach.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Keller Estate, 2010 Chardonnay, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, CA $38
The Keller La Cruz Vineyard Chardonnay has the same rich oaky quality that the Keller’s Oro de Plata Chardonnay doesn’t. It’s silky and elegant, yet powerful and concentrated. The nose is redolent of crème brûlée and ripe pears, while the palate features ripe red apple flavors tossed with vanilla and baking Graham crackers.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Kosta Browne Winery, 2012 Chardonnay, One Sixteen, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $58
This Chardonnay features the same floral, lavender-like nuances found in baby powder. In fact it glides over your palate with the silky refreshment of talcum powder applied to a bad heat rash. Put it between your cheeks you’ll see it’s an impeccably balanced white with crisp acidity and full-body, abundant fruit flavors of ripe apples and subtle pineapple with pretty honeysuckle notes in the finish.
Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, CA $38
I detected the telltale yeasty aromatics and round mouth feel of sur lie aging in this Chardonnay. Wine maker Heidi Bridenhagen confirmed my observations and also reported that in addition to keeping the wine in contact with the dead yeast cells, she also incorporates 100% barrel fermentation, utilizing 25% new French oak barrels in the aging process. New oak imparts stronger oak flavor and has greater influence on the final outcome, much like the voters in Ohio. This is a full-bodied white with ripe fruit and toasty oak doled out in equal measure.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Martinelli Winery, 2009 Chardonnay, ‘Bella Vigna’, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $43
Martinelli has been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1887 and accordingly, Julianna Martinelli’s business card lists her title as “Farmer’s Daughter.” So if you visit the winery I recommend you don’t tell her father you’re a travelling salesman. This is an elegant, silky and full-bodied Chardonnay that features ripe pear and caramelized custard flavors and faint traces of yeasty, toasted brioche.
Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Patz & Hall, 2012 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $42
In a world filled with overripe, over extracted and over oaked Chardonnay it was refreshing to taste the understated and exquisitely balanced wines from Patz & Hall. Sure this wine is ripe and packed with flavor but it keeps it all in check and never becomes flamboyant. Aromas and flavors of flowers, peaches, orange marmalade and slightly toasted oak come together in harmony. Crisp acidity lends structure and asserts that this Chardonnay should accompany your meal and not be your meal.
Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Thomas George Estate, 2011 Chardonnay, Estate, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $34
Formerly known as the Davis Bynum winery (the first to label a wine with the Russian River designation), Thomas George Estate is now owned by the Baker family. The estate Chardonnay is a medium-bodied white with a pleasing round mouth feel and subdued stone fruit aromas and flavors. White peach, lemon meringue and clean minerality combine to make this a well-balanced, food-friendly white.
Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Van Dyk Family Wines, 2011 Chardonnay, “Respect” Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA $40
This is the inaugural release from Van Dyk Family and presently the wine is only available directly from the winery. It features captivating aromas of lemon custard, subtle butterscotch, peach cobbler, and crème brûlée. The full-bodied palate displays flavors of lemon, tangerine and restrained white peach surrounded by subtle nuances of butterscotch. Crisp acidity lends balance to this multi-faceted white, while the lengthy finish reveals notes of hazelnut and vanilla pudding. Profits are donated to Alzheimers and other senior care organizations.
Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)*

*In the name of full disclosure, I am friends with the Van Dyk family and I originally wrote these tasting notes for their web site.

4 Comments

  1. Leigh
    May 16, 2014

    Favorite line I’ve ever read in tasting notes!!!!!
    This affordable Chardonnay is as bold and showy as a Jersey girl’s tramp stamp and has probably seen just as much wood.

    • Don Carter
      May 16, 2014

      I’m kind of partial to, “It’s surprisingly pleasing – like that sloppy wet kiss from your friend’s grandmother that you don’t really mind because she’s kind of hot.” In either case I doubt the wineries will be turning them into shelf-talkers.

  2. George Farago
    May 16, 2014

    “…as white, rich & creamy as a 3-term Republican senator” means it must be an intense wine that doesn’t pair well with good food!

    • Don Carter
      May 16, 2014

      Oh it goes well with good food, it just clashes with liberal portions.