Recently, I was commenting about the quality of fish and chips we tried from an Astoria, Washington restaurant called Sea Breeze. I started to articulate the specific difficulties of reviewing fish and chips because they come in so many different styles as do burgers, and so for this article, you can add Chardonnay to that list. Yes, it is true, with as many different styles of burgers that are out there for the nationwide consumer to purchase it is not easy to review them with very much consistency due to the multitude of styles. As I was deluged with the amount of Chardonnay that needed reviewing once the weather started to warm up, I quickly came to the realization the same dilemma holds true for Chardonnay.
What clone, what terroir from what region, barrel versus stainless steel fermented—the list goes on and on and every decision that alters the stylistic profile alters the assessment of that particular Chardonnay. Once again being squeezed between California and Washington, Oregon has struggled to showcase a particular style that exhibits something unique about Willamette Valley Chardonnay. It certainly has nothing to do with the efforts that have been put forth to establish a signature style, it’s just that individual producers have not been enlightened with the same vision as to what Willamette Valley Chardonnay is supposed to taste like. The following four reviews demonstrate very different styles of this varietal and hopefully the descriptors will help you identify the style of Chardonnay you want to drink.
2009 Stoller “SV Estate” Dundee Hills Willamette Valley Chardonnay
Stoller recently started to receive the accolades they should have been afforded all along, but hey, we all have dues we have to pay. This wine might be the torchbearer for what an Oregon Willamette Valley wine is supposed to taste like. Big and expressive without being heavy, the wine has distinctive aromatics and although it is three years old, the wine is still tight and vibrant. Citrusy aromas mingled with apple and vanilla, this is a pleasure to experience. That pleasure is extended through the flavor profile showing Oregon can be a contender with its Chardonnay. No it is not Chablis, but our Pinot noir is not burgundy either.
Rating: Excellent (90) | $28 | 14.0% ABV
2009 Matanzas Creek Sonoma Chardonnay
Ding, ding, ding! Folks, we have a winner. This is one expressive bottle of Chardonnay. Racy in a way that no one seems to drive anymore and all the more loveable for it. This is an ‘in your face take no prisoners’ style of wine that makes me very glad I get to do what I do. Tasting through a plethora of mediocre Chardonnay, this wine was a gem of a discovery and an oasis of flavor on what otherwise could be described as a listless sea of flavorless wine not worthy of swilling. Matanzas Creek has staged a comeback with this vintage.
Rating: Excellent (92) | $20 | 14.4% ABV
2009 Gary Farrell Westside Farms Russian River Valley Chardonnay
This complex Chardonnay shows a mix of spice, white flowers and stone fruit aromas. An avalanche of tangerine and honeydew melon flavors cascades over the palate, this is a racy package that delivers. The wine is medium-weight but full bodied showcasing white peach and wet stone minerality that comes through delicately on the pleasant finish.
Rating: Excellent (91) | $38 | 14.2% ABV
2009 Hess Collection Napa Chardonnay
This is a crowd pleasing refreshing Chardonnay that will placate 90% of your guests and will win over non-wine drinkers with a user-friendly approachable style of citrus and honeysuckle aromas and flavors laden with honey, pear and ripe apple. This wine will pair well with grilled seafood, bold vegetarian pastas and rich oven roasted duck or chicken.
Rating: Very Good (89) | $28 | 14.4% ABV
So we included wines from Sonoma, Napa and Willamette Valley. All of these regions produce Chardonnay of impeccable quality and styles that stand alone in distinction and style. Taste all of them and please let us know which style you like to drink and why. We appreciate your comments.
Photo credit: tulsafood.com