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The Northwest Chardonnay Renaissance

Thursday, September 25, 2014

There is no question that Chardonnay is in the midst of a renaissance in the Northwest. As I wrote last year, you can’t call it a comeback because Chardonnay never really left. Despite the Anything But Chardonnay movement of years past and a swing in styles from butter bombs to sleek stainless steel offerings and everything in between, Chardonnay has consistently been the most consumed wine variety in the U.S. (by far). Increasingly, however, numerous Northwest vintners are showing a renewed commitment to creating high quality offerings.

In Washington, this revival is perhaps best embodied by Chardonnay-dedicated projects from Array CellarsAshan Cellars, and Sixto – a new brand from Charles Smith scheduled to have its first releases this fall. However, other Washington wineries are showing a renewed focus on the variety as well. Meanwhile in Oregon, Chardonnay quality is on the rise and the grape is beginning to take its rightful place alongside Pinot Noir, the state’s signature variety. A number of the state’s winemakers are downright giddy about Chardonnay’s long-term prospects in the state – if vintners follow the right path. Tasting these wines, I share that excitement.

In two print articles out this month, I take a look at the Northwest Chardonnay renaissance. The first, in Washington Tasting Room magazine, looks at Chardonnay in Washington. The second, in Vineyard & Winery Management, looks at the rise of Oregon Chardonnay. Reviews of some recent Chardonnay releases are below.

Enjoy!

NB: For those interested in Oregon Chardonnay, I highly recommend checking out the Oregon Chardonnay Symposium and its all Chardonnay Grand Tasting. 

Bergström Wines Sigrid Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012 $85
 (Exceptional) An aromatically intoxicating wine with notes of squash, hazelnuts, toast, spice, and mineral. The palate shows an exquisite sense of balance with the flavors undulating in waves, showing great deftness and finesse leading to a supremely long finish. 100% Chardonnay. 14.1% alcohol. 1,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 $25  (Exceptional) An aromatically appealing wine with notes of corn silk, peach, mineral, and toasty spices showing a lot of complexity and detail. The palate is medium bodied with a creamy feel, showing a lot of subtlety, depth, and elegance with an exquisitely long finish. 100% Chardonnay. 14.5% alcohol. 5,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Abeja Chardonnay Washington State 2012 $36
 (Excellent/Exceptional) Whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented, it’s moderately aromatic with notes of candy corn, spice, corn silk, and stone fruit. The palate is medium-plus bodied with sweet fruit flavors and a hyperextended finish. 100% Chardonnay. 13.9% alcohol.

Array Cellars Chardonnay Dijon Clone Yakima Valley 2012 $32
(Excellent/Exceptional) Moderately aromatic with notes of pumpkin, peach, and spice. The palate is medium-plus bodied with a textured, supple feel showing a lot of grace and elegance. 100% Chardonnay. 13.6% alcohol.

Maison Bleue Au Contraire Chardonnay French Creek Vineyard Yakima Valley 2012 $25 (Excellent/Exceptional) A flat out gorgeous wine that draws you into the glass with pear, light barrel notes, cream, hazelnut, and an assortment of complex spices. The palate walks the balance beam between textured, creamy fullness and cleansing acidity with a long, drawn out feel and a finish that seems almost infinite in length. Far and away the best this winery has made and a wine that stands up equally well by itself or at the dinner table. 100% Chardonnay. Aged nine months in French oak (20% new) with full malolactic fermentation. 13% alcohol. 461 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Ponzi Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2011 $35
 (Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatically mesmerizing wine with notes of buttery spices and summer squash. It’s medium bodied and textured showing exquisite balance and a lingering finish. 100% Chardonnay. Aurora, Avellana, and Alloro vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak (25% new). 13.2% alcohol. 800 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Sparkman Cellars Enlightenment Chardonnay Yakima Valley 2012 $50
 (Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatic offering of Chardonnay with notes of apricot, peach, cream, barrel spices, melted butter, and lees. The palate is full bodied and rich, redolent with stone and tropical fruit flavors speckled with oak accents leading to a long, 30 second finish. 14.5% alcohol.

Adelsheim Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012 $45
 (Excellent) Lightly aromatic with notes of hazelnuts, lees, apple, and Meyer lemon. The palate is medium bodied with a vein of puckering, green apple-like acidity that runs throughout. 100% Chardonnay. 13.5% alcohol. 697 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Bergevin Lane She Devil Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $20
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with pleasing notes of fresh pear, pumpkin, and spice. The palate is medium bodied with a light spritz showing a good sense of balance leading to a lingering finish. 13.9% alcohol.

Cote Bonneville Estate Bottled Chardonnay DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 $50  (Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of corn on the cob, stone fruit, and an assortment of buttery spices. The palate is rich in feel, coating the palate from end to end with stone fruit and tropical flavors. 100% Chardonnay. 14.3% alcohol.

Chehalem Wines Inox Estate Grown Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012 $19
 (Excellent) An appealing wine with notes of peach, flowers, and mineral. The palate shows good concentration of its grapefruit flavors with a touch of sugar sweetening the finish. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Ridgecrest, Stoller, and Corral Creek vineyards. 14.1% alcohol. 0.3% Residual Sugar. 5,050 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Dunham Cellars Shirley Mays Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $25
(Excellent) An aromatic and appealing Chardonnay with abundant stone and tropical fruit notes along with butterscotch, straw, and barrel spices. The palate is full bodied with the fruit flavors running down the middle, painting along the edges. 14.0% alcohol.

JM Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $35
(Excellent) Lightly aromatic with buttery spices, pear, and peach. The palate is medium-plus bodied, soft and textured with much of the appeal about feel. 100% Chardonnay. Stillwater Creek (55%) and Conner Lee vineyards. Aged in French oak (15% new). 13.7% alcohol.

Novelty Hill Chardonnay Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 $23
 (Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with notes of buttered popcorn and spice mixed with stone and tropical fruit. The palate is medium bodied with a creamy texture and a lingering finish. 100% Chardonnay. 13.5% alcohol.

Rex Hill Dijon Clone Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2011 $38
 (Excellent) An aromatically alluring wine with subtle, complex notes of corn silk, straw, white peach, candy corn, and spice. The palate is medium bodied, showing a lot of tension between the acids and fruit flavors that keep you on the edge of your seat through the lingering finish. 100% Chardonnay. 14.0% alcohol. 185 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Saviah Cellars Chardonnay Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2012 $25
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of pear, pineapple, and melon. The palate is textured in feel with abundant melon flavors. 100% Chardonnay. 13.7% alcohol.

Stoller Family Estate Chardonnay Dundee Hills 2013 $20
 (Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with pure notes of apple, pear, and flower blossom. The palate is full bodied in feel, clean and fresh with a very pleasing sense of balance and tension with the acids. 100% Chardonnay. 12.5% alcohol. 2,100 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Anam Cara Cellars Unoaked Chardonnay Nicholas Estate Chehalem Mountains 2012 $22
 (Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with white peach, freshly boiled sweet corn on the cob, and lightly perfumed floral notes. The palate is medium bodied with a real sense of texture, grace and freshness. Lingers on the finish. 100% Chardonnay. 13% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Array Cellars Chardonnay Washington State 2012 $25
 (Good/Excellent) Moderately aromatic with notes of pear, stone fruit, and toasty spices. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied, showing restraint and elegance. 13.8% alcohol.

The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay Original Vines Reserve Dundee Hills 2011 $45
 (Good/Excellent) An aromatically unusual wine with notes of apricot, lemon, mineral, and nutty spices. The palate’s tart acidity frames an assortment of lemon and pear flavors that keep the interest high. 100% Chardonnay. 11.80% alcohol. 126 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Anam Cara Cellars Reserve Chardonnay Nicholas Estate Chehalem Mountains 2012 $32 (Good) The winery’s first reserve level Chardonnay, it’s moderately aromatic with notes of stone fruit, melted butter, and light toasty spices. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied looking for a bit more concentration to keep it all together. 100% Chardonnay. 12.9% alcohol. 290 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards Three Hill Cuvee Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2012 $38 (Good) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of nectarine and lees. The palate is medium bodied with a creamy feel to the biscuit and stone fruit flavors. 100% Chardonnay. 13.3% alcohol. 281 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Swiftwater Cellars Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2011 $28
(Good) An aromatic wine with overt notes of toast, spice, butter, and peach. The palate is medium bodied with a creamy feel and abundant oak flavors, trailing off on the finish. 100% Chardonnay. Carabella, Durant, and Elvenglade vineyards. Aged 16 months in French oak (32% new). 13.5% alcohol. 220 cases produced.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2011 $45
 (Good) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of peach, apple, and spice. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied with a creamy, drawn out feel. 100% Chardonnay. Aged 10 months in French oak (53% new). 13% alcohol. 186 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.


Select Recent Wine Enthusiast Reviews (review text freely available at winemag.com)

Ashan Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2012 $45 (92 points)

Foundry Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia Gorge 2012 $24 (91 points)

Tranche Chardonnay Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2011 $45 (90 points)

Browne Family Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012 $32 (90 points)

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