29th Annual Best of The Best:
QRW Tasting Team
Over the last several years, we have been hesitant about including Chardonnay in our “Best of the Best” California blind tastings. The wine had become mundane. Major producers seemed to share in its mundanity. Over-production was the major cause, along with a few average vintages. Even when we did include it in “Best of the Best” tastings, we could find only very few exemplary examples. But with the latest vintages (2010 was a good year, and few are complaining about 2011) much of this has changed. The new Chardonnay has texture and flavor and finish. Many similar flavors are found in Chardonnay — citrus, apple, tropical fruit, brioche — but it is the intensity, richness, and finish of these flavors that make this vintage engaging. There is nothing flabby here. For us, another factor that makes this Chardonnay interesting is the fruit: it’s rich, deep, and delicious. Second is the judicious use of oak. Another is subtlety — the finish is intriguing and complex. Passion and texture are back. Nature has provided, and it hasn’t been lost on winemakers. We offer the following as evidence from the 55 we blind tasted.
CO-BEST OF SHOW
2010 Cakebread Cellars Reserve Chardonnay,
2010 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay,
Top 10 Wines
2011 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $40. Tropical fruit, creamy, hazelnuts, with rich pastry and baked apple finish.
2010 Cakebread Cellars Reserve Chardonnay, Carneros/Napa Valley, $55. Butterscotch, creamy, peach, well rounded, rich, lush apple, brioche, with a complex finish. CO-BEST OF SHOW
2010 Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, $28. Melon, peach, firm, steely, brioche, with lingering elegance.
2010 Darioush Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $43. Lemon, citric, apple, custard, brioche, and crème brûlée notes.
2011 Fess Parker Ashley’s Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, $25. Pear, peach, honey, lemon curs, brioche and apple tart finish.
2010 Ferrari-Carano Reserve Chardonnay, Carneros Napa Valley, $32. Creamy, apple, caramel, butterscotch, figs, with pear notes.
2010 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $38. Well defined. Apple, honey, yeast, rich pastry brioche and firm long finish. CO-BEST OF SHOW
2010 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands, $30. (From Caymus family.) Citric, apricot, and grapefruit aromas, with tropical fruit emerging, meringue flavors, coconut and soft cedar finish.
2011 WALT “Dutton Ranch” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $60. Poached pear, lemon curd apple, intense, long, stylish and elegant.
2010 William Hill Bench Blend Chardonnay, Napa Valley, $30. Baked apple, honey, lush notes, creamy, rich bread feel, well structured, stylish and long.
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• 29th Annual Best of The Best: California Pinot Noir
• 29th Annual Best of The Best: California Zinfandel