Outstanding Napa Valley Chardonnay That Drinks Like Aged Burgundy

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He re-christened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena on a few occasions, reviewing the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Chardonnay, Twenty Year Ruby, and 1995 Chardonnay from magnum which I am revisiting again today.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 1995 Chardonnay is deep gold in color, beautifully radiant in the glass. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, leaping from the glass in an incredibly complex nose of golden apple, ripe pear, pineapple, orange marmalade, dried apricot, flint, honeysuckle, white truffle, wet stone, a hint of butter, raw almond, and dried vanilla. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, as the palate offers up similar and equally complex notes of crisp yellow apple, pear, charred pineapple, apricot, tropical citrus, dill, white truffle, white pepper, crushed rock, almond, and a touch of brioche. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with still-lively medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish that goes on for almost a minute. Absolutely outstanding.

Price: $90 for 750ml or $180 for this magnum direct from the winery. This is my second time reviewing this wine (first was also from magnum January 2021), though I thought this bottle showed so incredibly well I’m writing about it again. I’m left speechless here, as this is remarkably intense, deep, complex, balanced, and long. Truly on par with some of the greatest white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed, and while my last bottle was incredible this takes it even higher. Insane value here, if you can find an immaculate bottle.

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