During this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival, I was fortunate to participate in a seminar called Next World Chardonnay. Anthony Gismondi (The Vancouver Sun and Gismondionwine.com) and Jackson Family Wines Winemaster, Randy Ullom hosted it. Together, they presented ten 100% Chardonnays, all from California.
COOL OR REDUNDANT?
You’re probably thinking either “that sounds cool!” or “how redundant”. However, Anthony and Randy flowed seamlessly from story telling to explanation of winemaking decisions (in both layman’s verbiage and industry focused jargon) without once exuding a single ounce of redundancy.
I was riveted from the beginning; eyes focused and ears open, absorbing all the detail I could.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Of the ten wines tasted, 4 really stood out to me for various reasons, each one displaying individuality and character.
We began in the Napa Valley, tasting the 2016 Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Chardonnay. A question from the crowd: why are we tasting Freemark Abbey? Well, Jackson Family Wines is an umbrella for 50 different companies, including Freemark Abbey and La Crema. They have a 700 year vision (did I hear that correctly?) which most would view as overwhelming. But when you breakdown one gigantic vision into small and manageable decisions – you get symmetry. From grower contracts to barrel sourcing (amongst hundreds of other decisions) everything is carefully and thoughtfully in sync.
The Freemark Abbey was a fantastic wine to start with. Despite the 82% French oak (15% of which was new), I barely detected any vanilla or wood on the nose. The prevention of malolactic fermentation during winemaking kept the fruit’s natural brightness, setting the wine apart. It was clean, integrated and fresh with distinct pear, apple and apricot flavours.
MOVING ALONG TO THE RUSSIAN RIVER AVA
In the Russian River AVA, La Crema’s Single Vineyard Saralee’s Chardonnay was another favourites. Saralee and her husband, Richard Kunde, were initially one of the grower’s for Jackson Family Wines. They sold their property to La Crema in 2012. The tasting room holds more than a century of history. Built in 1900, it was the property’s original barn. 1991 saw it transformed into Richard and Saralee’s. And today, it stands as an elegantly preserved piece of heritage. The 2016 Saralee Chardonnay is linear with a cooler, mineral structure. I enjoyed the layers of lemon and crisp apple flavour along with a finish that lingered on the roof of my mouth. For more on the history of Saralee and the property, read the three-part article on LaCrema.com.
NOW FOR THE VINTNER’S RESERVE
Next on the highlight reel is the 2017 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. I’ve tasted this wine a couple times over the past few years and it reliably over-delivers each time. Sourced from 4 different regions, 17% of the juice comes from just north of San Francisco in the Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. The remainder of the grapes come from further south in Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. Sourcing grapes from multiple areas, some of which are less costly to grow grapes, allows for a more comfortable shelf price. Here in BC, this wine is a great weekday option at just $23.99. While the aromas are more characteristic of a traditional Cali Chard (i.e. vanilla, butter, oak), the flavours express mouth-watering juicy red apple, ripe mango and papaya with a touch of honey. Yum.
AND FINALLY, THE SECO HIGHLANDS
The last of my fave four was the 2017 Kendall-Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Chardonnay. Friends, this one taught me the biggest lesson of the night: Don’t ever judge a wine by its oak specs. Whenever I taste Chardonnay, I wonder what type of barrel was used and how long it spent napping in said barrel. Let me tell you now and spare the question asking at your next tasting – oak specs don’t matter!
Flavour profile is hugely dependent on terroir (duh) but also on clones (which I also learned a ton about during this seminar) and winemaking decisions. If I had tasted the Seco Highlands Chardonnay blind, I would have said it’s a Muscat Gewurztraminer blend. WHAT? I couldn’t believe it. My mind did flips trying to figure out how it’s possible but the acidity was high and the floral-forward nose was deceiving. It was a beautiful wine, expressive and confident.
I can only hope that as you continue on your wine journey, in whatever facet that is, that from time to time you happen upon bottles that teaches a lesson. A bottle which makes you question what you thought you knew. And that makes you more curious to continue in your quest to gather as much wine knowledge as possible. That’s what this seminar did for me – it turned me from a neutral Chardonnay drinker (neither a fan nor a hater) to a curious Chardonnay drinker. Thank you Jackson-Family Wines!