Mouthwatering Single Vineyard Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Rivers-Marie

Last week I enjoyed the 2015 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir from Rivers-Marie so much that I decided to revisit the producer for a Chardonnay.

To recap from my post last week, Rivers-Marie is a family-owned winery established in 2002 by husband and wife duo Thomas Rivers Brown and Genevieve Marie Welsh. Thomas and Genevieve work with vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast (especially in Occidental-Freestone) and produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa fruit as well. All of the Rivers-Marie wines are meant to be refined and terroir driven, showcasing each unique vineyard site through single vineyard bottlings. This being said, they produce some appellation wines as well.

Today’s Wine: 2012 B. Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.8% ABV

The 2012 B. Thieriot Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was singing right out of the bottle but blossomed further as it opened in the glass and warmed slightly. The nose showcases aromas of golden apple, crisp pear, stone fruit, honeysuckle, flint, toasted nuts, sea shell, saline mineral, and dried vanilla bean. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of green apple skins, mango, lemon zest, tropical citrus, toffee, slight smoke, dill, wax, saline, and brioche. This is medium-bodied and well-rounded with high acidity and a long, lingering finish.

Price: $100. This is pricey for a California Chardonnay no doubt, but I would certainly buy this again. While clearly a California Chardonnay thanks to the fruit profile, there are a lot of characteristics of Burgundy here and both the quality and depth are compelling. Pair with roasted chicken, lobster, or asparagus and shaved hazelnut.

Breathtaking Chassagne-Montrachet

Today’s Story: Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey

To say Pierre-Yves Colin was a rising star turned legend in Chassagne-Montrachet over the last decade or so might be an understatement. Pierre-Yves started working with his father Marc Colin (the Burgundian legend in his own right) in 1994 and became winemaker until the 2005 vintage when he decided to branch out into his own venture. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey was established by Pierre-Yves and his wife Caroline Morey (daughter of Jean-Marc Morey) and spawned out of a negociant business the couple started in 2001. Pierre-Yves inherited 6 hectares from his family and purchases fruit from carefully selected growers, but there is no question he knows all of this terroir like the back of his hand. When making his wines, Pierre-Yves presses the fruit very slowly and at higher pressures than normal, racks directly into 350L barrels for natural fermentation, never stirs the lees, and diverts his wine by gravity into his cellar. Pierre-Yves’ wines spend two winters aging in the cellar before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Whether it be thanks to the intense attention to terroir, his winemaking practices, or any minute decision he makes throughout the year, there is no question that Pierre-Yves’ wines are something special.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet is transparent pale gold in color with water white variation near the rim. I recommend decanting this wine due to its youth, but try to keep it a few degrees below cellar temperature as you do. The nose showcases aromas of ripe golden pear, yellow apple skins, white lily, matchstick, incense, cotton candy, white pepper, and crushed stone minerality; the matchstick and incense are most pronounced. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of lemon, honeydew melon, stone fruit, white wildflowers, smoke, white tea, and saline mineral. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with beautiful and vibrant high acidity into a long, well-rounded finish. This continued to get better as it opened up over a couple hours, but will be unbelievable with a few more years of cellaring.

Price: $100. Though not an inexpensive bottle of wine, the PYCM Chassagne-Montrachet is actually quite a good value because it drinks significantly better than even the highest quality village wines. Though I certainly popped the cork too soon on this, the precision, depth, complexity, and quality are all there to make this a necessity in your cellar. Pair with lobster, foie gras, or blue cheese.

Lean Chardonnay That Begins With the Farmers

Today’s Story: Matthiasson Family Vineyards

Matthiasson Family Vineyards is a small winery established in 2003 by Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson. Steve grew up passionate about farming, passing time as a gardener and cook while in college before co-writing the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices in 1999 after graduate school for horticulture. Jill is also passionate for farming, particularly the sustainability side of it, and she studied botany at Penn before ultimately attending UC Davis for grad school studying traditional methods for soil health.

Matthiasson is probably most well-known for their Napa Valley White Wine (an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ribolla Gialla, and Tocai Friulano), but they also either grow or source (often by lease) Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc amongst other varieties. Steve and Jill maintain their own vineyard in the West Oak Knoll area, while sourcing from others throughout the Napa Valley and Sonoma County including Red Hen, Bengier, and Linda Vista amongst others. All of the vineyards are either organically farmed or transitioning to organic viticulture, and as you might guess Steve and Jill believe great wine starts in the vineyards. Steve is pretty involved in each vineyard they source fruit from, catering farming practices to each specific one so that no matter the source their fruit is healthy and fully ripe. Coupled with his traditional winemaking methods, the Matthiasson wines come out beautifully balanced with lower levels of alcohol and gorgeous acidity.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.2% ABV

The 2018 Linda Vista Chardonnay is transparent pale straw/gold in color with water white variation near the rim. Once this opens up in the glass, the nose emits aromas of golden apple, underripe pear, lemon citrus, honeysuckle, chamomile, vanilla, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, golden apple skins, melon, tropical citrus, white lily, brioche toast, crushed stone mineral, and light spice. The wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity into a long, refreshing finish.

Price: $28 ($32 direct from winery). This is an outstanding value for Napa Chardonnay. While many competitors can be flabby or have far too much oak, this is lean and drinks with beautiful precision (almost feels Burgundian). Pair with roasted chicken, oysters, or salmon.

Mouthwatering Village Level Chablis

Today’s Story: Domaine Moreau-Naudet

Domaine Moreau-Naudet is a small estate located in the Chablis region of northern Burgundy. Though Moreau-Naudet has been a family-run domaine for quite some time, it was 1999 when Stéphane Moreau joined his father and drastically shifted the winemaking practices. Stéphane transitioned to fully organic viticulture alongside biodynamic practices, started harvesting his vineyards completely by hand, and practiced a minimal intervention winemaking style that includes natural yeast fermentation, slow élevage in large oak barrels, and minimal added sulphur. Stéphane was a nonconformist for Chablis in this sense, and took significant inspiration from Vincent Dauvissat, Didier Dagueneau, and Nadi Foucault. Sadly, Stéphane passed away incredibly too young (in his upper 40s) in 2016 and the future of the domaine fell to questioning. Shortly thereafter, however, Stéphane’s wife Virginie and his assistant winemaker displayed great adeptness by stepping in and remaining steadfast to Stéphane’s philosophy and style then and to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Chablis

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Chablis is medium gold in color with water white variation near the rim. Give this 30 minutes to an hour to open up and you will be handsomely rewarded. The nose showcases aromas of white peach, lemon peel, stone fruit, summer melon, honeysuckle, and chalky mineral. On the palate, I get notes of lemon zest, baked pineapple, quince, green apple skins, white florals, flint, and saline mineral. This is medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity and a well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, mouthwatering finish. While the wine doesn’t have as much depth as I was hoping for, its precision makes up for that and makes me excited to try it again in a few years.

Price: $35 (though you can find this cheaper, especially in Europe). This is a great value and it’s hard to believe this is a village wine thanks to its finesse and precision. Would love to try this again in a few years. Pair with oysters, snails with garlic butter, or gougères.

Stunning California Chardonnay – for Half the Price it Should Be

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

I recently wrote about Chanin when I reviewed the 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir in Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County, though if you missed it I recreated the winery’s background below.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Bien Nacido Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was beautiful out of the bottle, but really opened up after an hour in the glass and continued to change with the nose showcasing aromas of lemon zest, white peach, golden pear, stone fruit, white florals and honeysuckle, dry/dusty gravel, brioche, faint dried vanilla bean, spice, and stone minerality. On the palate, I get notes of golden apple skins, baked pear, peach, lemon and lime citrus, white lily, crushed rock, hazelnut, exotic spice, saline minerality, and very light toasted oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful medium (+) acidity and a remarkably well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, lingering finish that makes you yearn for another sip. 23 barrels produced.

Price: $39. This wine is a ridiculous value. Not only are the complexity, precision, and depth something to write home about, this stands up to a significant amount of high-quality white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years. I truly must applaud Gavin Chanin for this exceptional bottling. Pair with hazelnut-crusted roast chicken, smoked whitefish, or lobster.

Beautifully Refreshing Bourgogne Blanc

Today’s Story: Domaine Pierre Boisson

Domaine Pierre Boisson is one of three family domaines who all work together and make their wines in the same cellar located in Meursault. Pierre, alongside his father Bernard (Domaine Boisson-Vadot) and sister Anne (Domaine Anne Boisson) watches over the family domaine which encompasses 8.5 hectares primarily situated in Meursault but with smaller holdings in Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie, Pommard, and Beaune. The family doesn’t use any chemical fertilizer or pesticides in their vineyards and, at time for harvest, everything is accomplished manually. Pierre, like Bernard and Anne, practices traditional Burgundian winemaking methods and accomplishes fermentation using only native yeasts. Though the wines will see some new oak (typically never more than 25-30% for the high-end and lower for village bottlings), there is no set percentage and it varies vintage to vintage and wine to wine with the goal of never masking a wine’s true character. All wines are bottled unfiltered at the domaine.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Bourgogne Blanc

100% Chardonnay; 13% ABV

The 2017 Bourgogne Blanc is a beautiful pale gold in color with hues of straw and water white. On the nose, this emits aromas of lemon zest, white peach, pear, tangerine, white florals, hazelnut, saline minerality, and light oak. Once on the palate, this displays notes of lemon and lime zest, green apple skins, golden pear, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, saline mineral, and dried vanilla bean. The wine is medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity into a crisp and refreshing finish.

Price: $40 (much cheaper in Europe). I thought this was an outstanding value for White Burg and this bottle was perfect for the hot weather I enjoyed with it yesterday. Pair this with roasted chicken, Dover sole, or crab.

Exquisite Chardonnay From a Violent Terroir

Today’s Story: The Hilt

The Hilt is a small, relatively young winery located in the rough, rugged, and windswept Santa Rita Hills AVA about 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Hilt is a sister winery to Jonata, whose wines I reviewed three times prior, and falls under support of Stan Kroenke who owns the LA Rams and Screaming Eagle. The Hilt shares an adept winemaker in Matt Dees with Jonata, and similarly provides him a vast and difficult terroir ranging in soil type, altitude, and microclimates to craft wine. The Hilt’s fruit, consisting only of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, comes from vines that are forced to dig deep for nutrients, face brutal maritime winds, and yield small numbers of concentrated grapes.

The Hilt consists of three vineyards named Bentrock, Radian, and Puerto del Mar. Bentrock is made up of long, rolling hills roughly 400-500 feet above sea level and totals roughly 92 acres of which just under 80 are planted to Pinot Noir and just over 13 are planted to Chardonnay. Radian differs greatly in that its terrain is rugged and steep where, at its highest point, grapes face fierce winds at 700 feet elevation. Consisting of just over 100 acres, Radian is planted to 95 acres of Pinot Noir and only 6.1 acres of Chardonnay. The Puerto del Mar vineyard sources much of the fruit for The Hilt’s Estate wines, and also houses the winery where Matt Dees goes to work in the cellars. Typically Bentrock fruit sits at the core of The Vanguard bottlings, Radian at the core of The Old Guard bottlings, and a blend at the core of the Estate bottlings.

You can read more about the winery and their offerings (including tech sheets) at the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Cuvée Fleur Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.2% ABV

The 2016 Cuvée Fleur is vibrant medium to deep gold in color. Once this opens up in the glass, the incredibly expressive nose showcases aromas of melon, yellow apple, jackfruit, white florals, vanilla, beeswax, exotic spice, and saline mineral. In the mouth, this beauty displays notes of lemon, pineapple, stone fruit, honeysuckle, almond, dill, flint, saline mineral, and mild oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity and a well-rounded, lengthy finish. This is a beautiful Burgundian-style Chardonnay made exclusively for Wally’s in Los Angeles and will only get better with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $45. This is priced closely with the standard Hilt Chardonnay and delivers similarly great value, however it is more difficult to acquire since it appears Wally’s is the only carrier. Pair this with lobster, herb-roasted chicken, or halibut.

Pioneer of the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Gary Farrell is one of the great pioneering winemakers in the Russian River Valley, playing a big role in marketing the area and Sonoma County as a whole as one of the greatest regions for Pinot Noir before the Russian River Valley even had its own AVA status. During the 1970s, Gary apprenticed under legends including Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, Davis Bynum, and Tom Dehlinger before landing his first winemaker gig at Davis Bynum Winery in 1978. Though Gary shortly became involved in early releases at Rochioli Winery, Limerick Lane, and Moshin Vineyards, he produced his first namesake wine, a Pinot Noir, in the 1982 vintage using fruit from the famed Rochioli Vineyard. Making a name for himself by producing quality RRV Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Gary expanded his winery during the 1990s by developing the Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge vineyards before ultimately constructing a production facility in Healdsburg. Gary sold his namesake brand in 2004, however, and later sold his vineyard properties and started Alysian Wines focused on small quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2014 Westside Farms Chardonnay is medium gold and almost straw in color while being completely transparent. On the nose, this wine showcases aromas of golden pear, apricot, white peach, lemongrass, honeysuckle, butter, toast, vanilla, and some white spicy minerality. Once in the mouth, this Chardonnay displays notes of green apple, tropical citrus, lemon and lime zest, starfruit, jasmine, vanilla cream, and saline minerality. This is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity leading into a crisp finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $50. I could see almost any California Chardonnay drinker enjoying this wine for its classic notes while being not too overly butter-bombed, however I think at this stage it seems to be a little out of balance and needs a couple more years of cellaring to settle. Pair this with lobster, crab, citrus-spiced chicken, or asparagus salad.

The Wine That Shocked the World

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 rechristened 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 reviewed the 2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in my first ever blog post here if you would like to read tasting notes for a red offering in their portfolio. Further, if you’d like to learn more independently about Chateau Montelena’s winemaking process check out the website here. If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.6% ABV

The 2009 Chardonnay is a beautiful deep gold in color while being fully transparent. On the nose, this showcases aromas of green apple, stone fruit, golden pear, white lily florals, lemon citrus, cream, honey, refreshing minerality, dried straw, and a hint of toast. Once in the mouth, this beauty displays notes of dried apricot, white peach, pear, lemon zest, dry gravel, grass, light caramel, white pepper, and shaved hazelnut. This is drinking incredibly well right now while being full-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a fully rounded finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $80 direct from winery after visiting last September. Montelena Chardonnay is always one of my favorites, and you can typically find current release vintages in the $55 price range at a wide range of stores. You must try this wine of historic origin at least once. Pair this with shellfish, a lobster roll, roasted chicken, or assorted cheeses.

Buttery Surprise

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.

They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of this cult winery before or read my prior post Cult Cali Pinot back in October, 2019 when I reviewed the 2014 Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir. If you haven’t read my prior post or Williams Selyem is new to you, check it out for the remainder of their story including the explosion into cult status.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Three Sisters Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.9% ABV

The 2016 Three Sisters Chardonnay is pale to medium gold/straw yellow in color and completely transparent. The nose showcases aromas of yellow apple, pear, melon, white wildflowers, hazelnut, spice, vanilla cream, and buttered toast (which is a little strong in my opinion). Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of green apple, white peach, lemon peel, beeswax, snap peas, white pepper, white lily, vanilla, and butter (again, a little strong). This Chardonnay is full-bodied with high acidity and a lush, medium length rounded finish.

Price: $65 direct from winery upon release. Perhaps this needs more time to come together, but for now I’d suggest taking a look at their Chenin Blanc or Unoaked Chardonnay due to the surprisingly high butter notes in today’s bottling. Pair this with lobster, crab, or roasted chicken.