Chardonnay’s place at the pinnacle of popularity in the U.S. has lasted for nearly four decades. It is the most planted grape and No. 1 in sales volume. Its adaptability to different growing conditions and winemaking styles at least partly explains this.
There was a period of winemaking excess, primarily characterized by what is now considered overuse of oak. This eventually spurred a bit of a backlash, particularly among proponents urging consumers to drink ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. But consumers didn’t listen and kept drinking all styles.
More recently, winemakers have found a better balance. With Burgundy as the benchmark, traditional practices — use of new oak barrels for fermentation and aging, malolactic fermentation, and aging on the lees — employed judiciously and tailored to the quality of the fruit, can produce delightfully enticing and complex wines.
This produces in the best chardonnays (in my opinion) wines of lush texture with vibrant acidity accented variously with notes of cream, butter, toast, vanilla, baking spice, and nuts. The fruit will be intense and the grape’s natural citrus may be joined with apple, pear, peach, or tropical fruit, depending on the climate of the vineyard and the ripeness at harvest.
Most impressive in my tasting this year were four single vineyard wines from Ramey Wine Cellars, which I found emblematic of this style. Founded in 1996 by winemaker David Ramey and his wife, Carla, (who handles the business side) after nearly 20 years at some of California’s best wineries, Ramey Wine Cellars is one of California’s leading, family-owned and operated wineries. And Colorado Springs was privileged to have David Ramey as the featured winemaker at last year’s Annual Vintner Dinner fundraiser for the Children’s Literacy Center.
The winery produces more than two dozen different wines. But it is chardonnay that has most distinguished Ramey throughout his 40-year career, during which he has become one of the most influential winemakers in California.
These 2016 vintage wines (each $65) are lush yet structured, self-possessed yet robust, richly textured yet balanced with ebullient acidity. It was impossible to pick a favorite.
• Ritchie Vineyard (Russian River Valley), dramatic impact, luscious oak, loads of mouthwatering fruit, luxurious. palate
• Rochioli Vineyard (Russian River Valley), concentrated, focused, powerful, balanced with graceful texture.
• Woolsey Road (Russian River Valley), bursting with zesty, well defined fruit, richly textured.
• Hyde Vineyard (Carneros), intense, precise, juicy, elegantly textured.
The wines below (in order of personal preference) deftly walk the line between opulence and freshness, pure fruit and richness, delivering complexity with oak influence more as seasoning than dominant flavoring.
• 2017 Blue Farm Laceroni Vineyard ($70), oaky rich, concentrated, lively, hints of cinnamon.
• 2017 MacRostie Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley ($46), toasty oak, rich fruit, drinks fresh but soft.
• 2018 Lombardi Sonoma Coast ($44) nicely balances definition and richness, juicy fruit with creamy notes.
• 2018 Chappellet Grower Collection ($49) El Novillero Vineyard (Carneros), brisk fruit, lightly creamy, supple finish, and Calesa Vineyard (Petaluma Gap), juicy, broadly textured, hints of honey.
• 2017 Oceano Spanish Springs San Louis Obispo ($38), forward fruit, hint of oak, drinks firmly.
• 2017 Ram’s Gate Sonoma Coast ($46), opening freshness softens and broadens in the finish.
• 2018 Frank Family Carneros ($38), lush texture balanced with linear streak.