Not Your Momma’s Chardonnay
As a child, I clearly remember my mom saying to my dad on multiple occasions, “Honey, don’t forget the Chardonnay!” as he’d head out the door to the store to complete a task on his honey-do-list. My mom loved Chardonnay. When I was sixteen, I remember trying my first sip of Chardonnay during Thanksgiving dinner, and the toasted oak flavors, creamy mouth feel and long lasting finish was one I wouldn’t soon forget. In my early twenties, I left in the middle of a college semester to live on a sailboat in the Bahamas, and the name of the boat was, ironically, Chardonnay. I was urged by the name of my new floating home, along with the memories of my mom’s favorite beverage, to stock up on Chardonnay for a long sail around the southern Exuma Islands. So, my love affair with Chardonnay, both the boat and the wine, began.
Without any in-depth knowledge of the wine regions of the world, except, knowing that most wine came from France or California, I decided on a half case of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay and a half case of Far Niente chardonnay, both out of Calinfornia. Once we set sail out of a harbor located on the southern coast of Nassau, we popped the cork on our first bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay. Much like my mothers chardonnay, the toasted oak flavors and full bodied, buttery, creamy mouth-feel brought me back to the Thanksgiving dinner where I had my first experience with white wine. For a couple years, Chardonnay-the boat and the wine- and I were tied at the hips. But once I decided to return to the main land, my unfaltering love for the creamy, oaky and buttery nuances of chardonnay was interrupted when I was introduced to a lighter, crisper white wine: Pinot Gris.
Fast forward to just this last year, and you couldn’t catch me at any restaurant, wine bar or winery ordering a glass of chardonnay; in fact, I’d skip it altogether when samples were offered to me. My desire for chardonnay had completely diminished, or so I thought. During a winemakers dinner at LaVelle Vineyards in Elmira, Oregon last summer, my glass was filled with LaVelle’s 2009 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, the wine that was selected to pair perfectly with our second course. Images of the island life and chardonnay-filled glasses tainted with salty sea spray took over my senses, and I was fully expecting a trip down memory lane. But, my first sip was not familiar at all. This chardonnay was delightfully tropical with fruit forward flavors of fresh pineapple and star fruit. It was crisp and refreshing and showcased a tiny hint of oak on a lingering, yet light, finish. There was no memory of my first sip of chardonnay or warm days on the bow of the sailboat…nothing. Stainless steel fermented, then lightly oaked in neutral oak barrels for three months, this was not my momma’s chardonnay, and I absolutely loved it.
Now, whenever I’m visiting a winery or attending a wine tasting, I eagerly accept samples of chardonnays, and I’ve discovered an array of notable Oregon and Washington chardonnays that are absolutely stellar.
Benton Lane ’09 Oregon Chardonnay – Although this wine displayed a lot more oak than the LaVelle chardonnay, the front had that same fresh pineapple that I found to be extremely pleasing. Mid-palate was rich and complex, and the caramel finish was everlasting. I really enjoyed this limited quantity chardonnay (318 cases produced), and have kept several bottles to see how it ages each year.
Evening Land Vineyards ’09 Seven Springs La Source Chardonnay – Vibrant acidity, intense flavors and a smooth creamy texture captured my full attention when I tried this highly acclaimed chardonnay out of Eola-Amity Hills. Wine Spectator Magazine’s highest score ever given for an Oregon chardonnay was given to this wine, well deserving of the 97 points it received. It’s perfectly balanced, perfectly complex, and perfectly pleasing on the palate. If you see it on the shelves, don’t go home without it.
Domaine Drouhin ’09 Arthur Oregon Chardonnay – Floral notes with a hint of vanilla on the nose, the bright, clean, crisp flavors of pear, apple and, yes, pineapple are heavenly in this refreshing, slightly acidic and delicious chardonnay. Not much oak detected in this beauty, which made me love it even more.
Woodward Canyon ’08 Washington State Chardonnay – Lean and crisp, yet fully packed with flavors of pears, peaches and cream, this was the first Washington chardonnay I had ever tried, and it’s still the best that I’ve had out of Washington. 70 percent of the fruit in this classy chardonnay comes from their estate vineyard in Walla Walla, and 30 percent comes from the Columbia Gorge Appellation.
Pudding River Wine Cellars ’08 Willamette Valley Chardonnay – Dijon clone 76 chardonnay grapes, 100 percent stainless steel tank fermented, whole cluster pressed and no malolactic fermentation created a wine that’s extremely vibrant. Aromas of pineapple and freshly sliced honeycrisp apples lead to a refreshing flavor profile packed with similar fruit and a hint of nuts and vanilla. Pudding River Wine Cellars is a 4 acre vineyard located in rural eastern Willamette Valley outside of Salem, and only 100 cases of this refreshing chardonnay were produced.
Ponzi ’09 Willamette Valley Chardonnay – This was one of the best value Chardonnays I’ve ever had. I believe I paid under $20, and the flavor profile was dynamic. Another 100 percent stainless steel fermented chardonnay that has won over my taste buds with loads of citrus and tropical tones and a balanced finish.
Pfeiffer Vineyards ’09 Oregon Chardonnay – true to the chardonnay grapes characteristics, this wine showcases Oregon’s fruit with finesse. It’s elegant, fruity and crisp with bright acidity and a well rounded finish.
For years, I would turn my nose up to chardonnay while turning down all tasting offers. I truly had no idea what I was missing with the chardonnays of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve discovered that chardonnays true characteristics come alive when its made to showcase the actual grape, unmanipulated. The end result is truly nothing like my mothers chardonnay.