Friday, May 24, 2013

California Dreamin' - Wellington Chardonnay Sonoma 2010

I must admit I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to Chardonnay. I've always loved the French styles the most - from the everyday Macon wines to the high end versions from the Cote de Beaune. And though I've never had the good fortune or the dollar fortune to try a Grand Cru, I have tried many a Premier Cru and village wine from Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault. They are, for my money, the best Chardonnays in the world hands down.

California, and in particular Napa and Sonoma, are warm and getting warmer. Chardonnay is a cool climate grape and the problem with Chardonnay in too warm a climate is that when the ripeness of the grapes goes up too high, the acidity goes down, and you are left with a dull, flabby version of Chardonnay. Combine that lower acid fruit with too much barrel treatment, perhaps including some malolactic fermentation, and you have a wine that easily gets overpowered by whatever dish you're trying to pair it with. Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that you either let happen or you stop it from happening. Most reds get it and Chardonnays frequently get it to varying degrees. It's what gives some Chardonnays their buttery flavors and textures. When you pick up a Chardonnay in the store, you can't tell how much malo is on it but you can tell something of the ripeness of the grapes from the alcohol level. And when Chardonnay starts getting up to 14.5% or even 15% alcohol, the chances are I'm going to hate it. This Chardonnay though comes in at a balanced 13.8%.

Wellington Vineyards is a small family owned Sonoma winery that produces nicely valued wines. They are only a step shy of certified organic and they are 100% solar powered. A couple of blocks of their vines planted with Zinfandel, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet date back to 1912 and 1924 while another block dates back to 1895.

The $13.99 2010 Sonoma Chardonnay is made partly with estate fruit and partly with purchased fruit. 25% is fermented in stainless steel and the rest is barrel fermented in 90% French oak - only a small portion of which is new. It's kind of Burgundian in the aromas, with oak spice, poached pear and green apple leading the way. It's got a lovely smooth, medium bodied texture balanced with zingy acidity. The pear and spice notes dominate the flavors and it finishes long, even and bright. This wine is a wonderful value that you should seek out if you like California Chardonnay. Distributed by one of my favorites, Maximum Wine Co. Cheers!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sacred River, Sacred Wine - Alqueira Ribeira Sacra 2011

If Rioja is Spain's Bordeaux, then this DO in Spain's extreme northwest might be it's Burgundy. With vines planted on impossibly steep hillsides, the wines of Ribeira Sacra can be incredibly complex, offering distinct mineral tones in the aromas and lighter styled flavors in the mouth. A Google images search of this area will give you an idea of the beauty that defines this river valley. It's name comes from the 18 or so monasteries that were built here in the middle ages, and though the Romans first cultivated wine grapes here more than 2,000 years ago, the area fell out of production in the 20th century. Recently though, things have changed. A new breed of young, ambitious winemakers have rebuilt terraces, replanted vines and revitalized the area. Eric Asimov's feature on Ribeira Sacra for the NY Times in 2009 is a great read. The steepness of the hillsides along the river are reminiscent of the hillsides that the best German Reislings come from.

The 2011 Alqueira is a 100% Mencia cuvee, one of three indigenous red varietals permitted in the zone. To me, this $14.99 beauty is exactly what wine exploration is all about. It's soil driven aromas lead with distinct stoniness and brown spices followed by bright red cherry fruit. In the mouth, the flavors reminded me of a good, though more complex Beaujolais Villages, with tangy cherry and raspberry flavors. There's bright acidity, and a long slightly tart finish with black pepper, floral and cranberry notes. It's definitely one of those wines I could sit and ponder for awhile after dinner.

The Alqueira went really well with the shrimp quesadillas with spinach, shitakes and pepper jack that my wonderful wife cooked up for us tonight. It's imported by one of my favorites Polaner Selections. Cheers.