Chardonnay Madness

Okay, for a change of pace, let’s do eight new release California chardonnays in a blind tasting. This was tough going folks.

In the pole position, appropriately, was the ’97 Testarossa “Chalone”. The nose had plenty of alcohol, towing the fruit along behind it. Round fruit on the palate with a dash of honey and a slight floral quality. Medium-full in body with a somewhat hot finish. Much like Stuart, the wine was fat and simple overall. Number four on my score sheet.

Coming second in the flight was another well known wine, a ’97 Byron “Estate”. Toasty oak and pineapple aromas. Big and full in the mouth, the wine had good fruit in a guilded vanilla oak frame. The oak definitely dominates the finish. Number three for me.

The third wine didn’t do much better. The nose was promising with pineapple and pine needle notes but then the toasted new oak reared its ugly head. Fat and simple on the palate with tons of vanilla. In the words of a friend of ours, this is a “stubby fingered wine.” Unmasked, it turned out to be the ’97 Rochioli “Riverblock”. It’s truly a shame too. Rochioli grows fabulous fruit but the heavy, high toast new oak just kills it. Fifth place.

Into the main stretch with wine number four. Round, rich fruit on the nose that had a sour edge to it. Big ripe fruit on the palate with a full, thick texture. Superb if you like chardonnays on steroids but it wore me out. Sixth place for me, it was the ’97 Gary Farrel “Rochioli Vineyard”.

When I got to wine five, I was already wishing for something red, or at least a white with some acid and fruit. It was not to be. Decent fruit on the nose, a little dust. The big fruit was there in the beginning but didn’t take long to fade away. There was also an odd banana note to it. Viscous texture. Seventh on my sheet, a ’97 Plumpjack “Reserve” was unmasked.

Who knows, maybe the onslaught of heavy fruit and toasted oak was getting to me. I actually liked wine number six. Toasted oak and piney fruit on the nose. Big, fat fruit and vanilla on the palate on the palate with decent balance and a long finish. I did still have enough wits about me to note that the oak and butter were too much. Second place for me, it turned out to be a ’97 Beringer “Private Reserve”.

Wine number seven just flat out sucked. Pickled veggies (in rice wine vinegar) dominated the nose. A weird palate with no fruit. I can only hope that the ’97 Forman was an off bottle. Eighth place.

Wine number eight, although also overoaked, was a decent glass of wine. Vanilla and lemons on the nose. Good, clean fruit on the palate with the vanilla oak holding off until the finish. Full and rich, the finish was short. Decent juice, at number one, it was a ’96 Matanzas Creek.

As if we hadn’t already done enough damage to ourselves, we tasted through two more chards, unblind. The first one was the ’96 Dehlinger. Wow. Fruit driven with minimal oak. Full bodied but still maintaining some elegance. Damned good wine. It rated higher for me than any of the other wines in the tasting.

The second one was a ’97 Martinelli “Charles Ranch”. Pure fruit in a big style, it came across as overripe and a little hot. I do credit them for controlling the oak content though.

The host of the event took pity on us (he picked the theme, after all) and popped a cork on a bottle of ’81 Mouton. All thoughts of the ordeal soon faded away as I sipped on the mature, elegant bordeaux and listened to the mature, elegant voice of Miss Sarah Vaughn….

JD (8/99)