2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Price: $16.99 @ Friend/Gift

What They Said:

2007 La Crema Sonoma Coast ChardonnayPer La Crema “The 2007 release of our Sonoma Coast Chardonnay bursts with vivid citrus and fresh green apple aromas, laced with subtle notes of honeysuckle and clove. On the palate, flavors broaden into rich spiced apple and crisp lime zest, with vanilla and caramel tones adding richness and texture on the finish.” – Melissa Stackhouse, La Crema Winemaker

90 points Robert Parker: “There are 6,200 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Russian River. It exhibits plenty of tropical fruit and honeysuckle along with a touch of spice, full-bodied, rich flavors, and a subtle note of oak. This wine was 100% barrel-fermented and was put through 100% malolactic fermentation, but the oak is kept in the background.” (12/08)

90 points from Wine Enthusiast: “A beautiful Chardonnay, with a chalky minerality that anchors and braces ripe fruit flavors of Bosc pears and pineapples, subtlely accented with new smoky oak. Bone dry, this polished wine shows lots of finesse and complexity.” (02/09)

What I Think:

First off, for those that may have find this posting by accident (as well as for those that may have forgotten), please be aware that I am not a fan of the vast majority of California Chardonnay. I prefer fruit to oak and find that for my taste many come across as unbalanced. This leads me in the direction of those that are made using stainless steel or in some other unoaked fashion. The Catch 22 here is that my wife loves California Chard and in an effort to keep a happy household it is a good idea for me to put my personal wishes aside and “suck it up” every now and again. And that is the long way of telling you how the La Crema found its way to my table recently.

The wine was medium gold in color. The nose made me immediately step back as I was overtaken by oak. When I put my nose back in the glass I found some white fruit notes. On the palate, you get the rich, creamy texture (which usually lets me know secondary malolactic fermentation occurred) with subdued apple/pear flavors and the faintest hint acidity. The finish delivers the oak barrel in spades with buttery caramel and vanilla flavors that linger for a bit before fading away. My take here is that either the fruit is slightly underwhelming or the oak is overwhelming. That said on my “butter scale” this one is not on the popcorn side and when paired with food (roasted chicken) had its merits, perhaps I am getting accustomed.

To prove I’m not in the majority here let’s see take a peek at what the critics had to say. Parker said “…a subtle note of oak. … but the oak is kept in the background.” And the Enthusiast this “…subtlely accented with new smoky oak.” And they both scored it 90 points. Yip, I guess I am way overly sensitive to oak. Guess I’ll keep trying to refine my palate though, for the good of my marriage!

Rating: Pricey

For those out there that want to give this one a try it is available at wine.com.

2008 Crane Lake Down Under Chardonnay

Price: $2.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Crane Lake

What They Said:

2008 Down Under ChardonnayPer Wall Street Journal “One other wine stood out. In our notes we wrote: “Crisp, with crackling acidity and good, lemony fruit. Quite fruity, especially on the finish, with a summery mix of fruits like grapefruit and pineapple. Lovely, fresh wine.” When we took the bag off, this was a new wine to us: Down Under by Crane Lake, from the 2008 vintage. When we checked our notes, we were surprised and pleased to see that we had paid just $5.03. As we looked further into this wine, we were even more surprised: It is a wine imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S. The producer: Bronco Wine Co., the very same people who brought you Two-Buck Chuck. This did indeed turn out to be, in effect, Down Under Chuck, the liquid affirmation of one of our theses.”

What I Think:

Have you met Two Buck Chuck’s big sister Three Dollar Koala? Perhaps the first ever Bronco Wine Co. international offering, this one makes its way to your local shelves via an unordinary journey. It arrives from Australia where the grape market is experiencing a serious grape glut which is being widely reported. Some see disaster, others see opportunity. So Fred and his friends have descended, bought some quality product and had it shipped back stateside. That is where it gets interesting. You see 99.99% of wine that arrives on the shores of the United States does so in a bottle. This one however arrives in the equivalent of an oil tanker. Once on shore they “blend, finish and bottle” it before sending it on to Trader Joe’s while preaching to the press that you have been paying too much for Australian wine (read Yellow Tail). And for the record, in Fred’s words, the Bronco Wines aren’t cheap they are “right-priced”.

Now let’s get to the wine. Soft, white fruit that hardly shows on the nose. Nectarine and apples appear on the early palate with a vanilla, oak component appearing mid stream. The finish has a very nice fruit crispness that doesn’t show a hint of acid. To the aforementioned oak, it isn’t overpowering but is certainly noticeable in a subtle way. For someone with oak defenses on high alert this is just enough to trigger the alarm. Given that, I won’t be picking another bottle of this up as I prefer a different Bronco offering, the Blue Fin . That said, if you like a little bit (or a lot) of oak this one is worth a try. After trying it, if you like it, grab a case or two. This is the first batch and you can be certain they have bought the best of the best of the affordable and available grapes. Come batch two, the lowest common denominator might be a couple floors away. For those that remember the original vintage of Two Buck Chuck we know how this saga plays out. Enjoy it while you can…

Rating: 12th Bottle

If you’re interested in another take on this one check out what Jeff had to say about this one on Viva la Wino!

2008 Blue Fin Chardonnay

2008 Blue Fin ChardonnayPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer “For a number of years, we sold a great-tasting Chardonnay called Blue Fin that was made for us by one of Napa’s oldest wineries. And then they decided to “retire” the label. Bad. Then, fortuitously, one of our long-term wine partners bought the label, and offered us a great deal on Blue Fin Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Good. As we mentioned, this is a label we (and you) know and love, so quality and consistency are key. After all, what good is a low price if the wine doesn’t taste good? We guarantee Blue Fin Wines taste as good as ever. Blue Fin Chardonnay features elegant flavors of fig, tropical fruit and spice, with just a hint of vanilla. This is a truly refreshing wine.”

What I Think:

An unnamed long-term wine partner? Do tell… it has now proven to be yet another offering from Bronco Wine Co. most famously known for lavishing the world in Two Buck Chuck. With that out of the way let me try to remain objective. Couple that with the fact that I usually don’t get along with Chardonnay and that may be a difficult task. With the wine in the glass I was greeted with a bouquet of nectarines. On the palate the wine was fresh and crisp. At this end of the price scale the only oak you get is toasted chips which they thankfully passed on for this offering. The palate is filled with white apple flavors leading to a steely balance on the finish. This one brings an old saying to mind; “Simple is as simple does.” Chalk this one up as a surprise, a nice, easy going picnic wine.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Benson Ferry California North Coast Select Chardonnay

2005 Benson Ferry California North Coast Select ChardonnayPrice: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This delicious Chardonnay showcases the vibrant fruit the grape develops in the North Coast’s coolest vineyard locations. Fresh aromas and flavors of green apple and citrus are accented by understated barrel spice. The light, lithe palate is enhanced by a crisp, lingering finish.”

What I Think:

After my day job gave me a reason to celebrate my wife decided to splurge on some wines and asked for some recommendations at the local Trader Joe’s. This was the 2nd choice as a comparison wine to the La Crema Chardonnay which is soon to be reviewed. I’m not going to dally much on the topic here. This one was unexpected. It was like a Sauvignon Blanc in a Chard bottle. Cutting lemon, citrus notes on a heavy stainless steel backbone courtesy of the barrel. Not for me. Perhaps if you love Sauv Blanc and like Chardonnay you could enjoy this. Just set your expectation accordingly before opening. I’ll be looking past this one in the wine aisle when I visit again to see what’s next.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay

Price: $5.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “The Two Vines Chardonnay offers fruit-forward apple and pear aromas with a hint of lemon citrus leading into a balanced crispness and creaminess on the palate and a lingering, lushly fruity finish. This Chardonnay, crafted in a lighter style designed for immediate enjoyment, perfectly captures the varietal intensity indicative of Columbia Valley wines.” -Ray Einberger, Winemaker

What I Think:

And the varietal tour rolls on! After enjoying the Cabernet I mentioned that I would give the Chardonnay a go. As a man of my word I am here to report on the results. To make it brief, lots of barrel, too much. This wine might work for others but not for me. I like my Chard in stainless steel or somehow else lacking the toast and barrel flavors that are overly prevalent in North America. That sounds disparaging but that is my opinion. This is a wine worth drinking and still serves as an excellent introductory bottle for those experiencing new grapes. As for me I’ll be sticking to the Callaway and hoping it can back up the results from my first tasting!

Rating: Skip It

2006 Callaway California Chardonnay

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “The aromas of this wine are reminiscent of baked apples. The smooth mouthfeel brings forward fruit flavors of apples, pineapple and lemon peel, which are highlighted by toasty oak and vanilla characteristics that lead to a silky finish. Our Coastal Chardonnay is a wonderful companion to a wide variety of foods. Try it with stuffed pork chops, lemon herb chicken, pasta Alfredo or sea scallops prepared in just about any fashion.”

What I Think:

I grabbed this one because I read positive coverage about it somewhere in the websphere but can’t find it now for the life of me. On the nose I could tell this one has some potential as I could actually smell something besides just barrel. On the palate the wine was nice and crisp with barely a hint of that buttery, barrel taste that is so typical of California Chardonnay. As for the fruit the majority seemed to be apples that settled nicely on top of a tangy, minerally backbone that lead to a toasty finish. As you may know I am not a huge Chard fan (but keep trying to be) so it is nice to be pleasantly surprised. A perfect companion for the crab cakes that were on the table and a bottle that will be sure to find its way to my house again!

Rating: Buy It

2004 Mazzocco Sonoma County Chardonnay

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Fragrances of crème brulee, pears and iris blossom tantalize your nose while rich creamy butterscotch coats the palate. This crisp Chardonnay finishes with spice, vanilla bean and hints of chamomile.”

What I Think:

Not sure why I bought this one. I am on the record as not liking Chardonnay. That said I’ve had some red wines from this label that I did enjoy so thought I would give it a try. Mistake! California Chardonnay, 99% of the time, is exactly what I expect it or be. Either too buttery or barrelly. This one on the side of oak. Not for me but if you are a Chard fan feel free to give it a go!

Rating: Skip It

2006 Rosenblum Rust Ridge Napa Valley Chardonnay

Price: $20.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “This beautiful vineyard sits at 1,000 feet in elevation on a ridge above eastern Napa Valley. Planted in the 1970’s it is a part of a small sub-appellation of Napa known as Lower Chiles Valley. This wine shows fresh green apple and key-lime pie with elements of flint and spice. It pairs well with pan-seared trout, fettuccine alfredo, or roasted fowl. Drink now or cellar 1–3 years”

What I Think:

We opened this one up to pair with the cheese plate before dinner on New Year’s Eve. For those that don’t frequent this site a few quick disclaimers. 1) Whites aren’t my favorite so I have a bias to ranking them towards mediocrity. 2) Chardonnay is at the bottom of the list for whites. Now back to this bottle. It was one of the two Rosenblum wines we opened to welcome in 2008. Overall I would describe it as light, not robust in the fruit department and lacking the typical heavy butter notes that I associate with California Chardonnay. That said, at $20 you wouldn’t find me buying this again, this Martin was far better and adds a fiver to your wallet. I likely wouldn’t buy this for $10 either, even at a lower price I may just try my luck searching for gem at TJ’s.

Rating: Not for Me

2005 Martin Estate Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

Price: $14.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “From the home ranch in Dry Creek Valley, this rich and creamy chardonnay is a big favorite with our customers. Made in a rich ebullient style with hints of butter and caramel, this lovely chardonnay has a great mouthfeel and long lingering finish.”

What I Think:

When tasting in Dry Creek some week back I decided to drop into Martin Family Vineyards, good decision. I still have the flyer here and am likely to join their wine club in the near future. While there I picked up this Chardonnay. Sadly, it appears this was the last time the Chardonnay will be available. Most of the fruit was usually sold, I believe to Clos du Bois, and apparently the business plan had changed and these vines were uprooted. Perhaps I will order more before the last of it disappears…

From the get go an impressive wine. Crisp, rich, opulent mouth feel with white spicy fruits edging on citrus followed by traditional vanilla and butter flavors on finish. I recently learned that the butter is not the barrel as I have long thought. Instead it is malolactic fermentation. Not sure if that is true but worth following up on. That said these flavors aren’t overbearing and the fruit shines through. From someone that would never be confused with a Chard fan I was quite impressed. Should have saved some more to enjoy!

Rating: Wow!

2005 Navarro Mendocino Chardonnay

Price: $13.30 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “There is a distinct reason that winemakers like making Chardonnay. It puts their craft, and consequently them, front and center stage. Unlike other white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, which is herbal and grassy or Gewürztraminer, which is heady with floral aromas, ripe Chardonnay is more chameleon. That means the winemaker’s choices in the cellar become paramount. These decisions include whether to encourage a secondary malolactic fermentation that adds buttery tones, the length and temperature of the fermentation and perhaps above all the choice of oak cooperage including which cooper, which forest the wood should come from, how long the wood should dry, the toast level, whether to toast the head of the barrel, not to mention how long the wine should rest on the yeast, if it should be stirred and how much time it should spend in oak.

This Mendocino bottling is less buttery than the Première Reserve and the lovely apple-melon flavors and moderate price tag entitle Navarro’s winemaker Jim Klein, to take a bow. Gold Medal winner.”

What I Think:

Another bottle from Navarro, as many of you I am a big fan of theirs (full disclosure: I am a member of their wine club). They called this one “What’s the difference?” My history with their Chardonnay’s has been decent. Given that I don’t have an inclination to this style to begin with they haven’t been able to create one for me. Given that I use their basic Mendocino Chardonnay as an annual benchmark to make sure that my overall opinion towards these wines hasn’t evolved since our last encounter. That being said, they have an Anderson Valley Reserve label that I have been showing to the cellar for the last three or four years, maybe one of those could change my opinion.

Now, let’s get back to this bottle of wine. On the nose you think typical chardonnay; there is butter at the forefront followed by the aromas of the barrel with some fruit lingering way off in the distance. On the tongue, it dances a little before starting to show some apple flavors. The wine is rich and full bodied through the mid-palate before finishing slightly tart on the backbone. A nice wine to drink but given my general disdain for the butter and barrel that dominate these wines I won’t be signing up for more. Above you can see some of the many decisions that go into making these wines. I wonder how they could be made to suit my palate profile. Seems like me the first thing I would do is barrel them in stainless steel. I have had a few of these unwooded chardonnays that let the fruit do the talking and while I haven’t loved them I have enjoyed them better than most. Let the fruit do the talking! The second thing I may do is skip that secondary malolactic fermentation which introduces the buttery tones. Once I get a hint of these I think I almost mentally shut down on giving the wines a real chance, quickly chalking them up as typical. Lastly, I’d play with the degree of toasting. I am guessing that for me less would be more. No all I have to do is get someone to hire me as a winemaker and we could my theories to practice. Who’s got connections for me?

Rating: Pricey