Posts Tagged ‘unoaked chardonnay’

Sonoma Holiday Wine Market delights with Wine, Food and Local Color

Dane Cellars Santa in "Floods"

The Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Association “Wine Market – Holiday Edition” proved to be a great opportunity to taste from 27 wineries in one place, including small producers not open to the public. Here you could taste, then purchase unique wines at fantastic savings. Excellent food tastings, and food-wine pairing advice was available from local Sommeliers  – in Santa hats no less.  Last not least, you could speak with the winemakers … and see what characters they can be!

Santa in Floods? Bart Hansen, winemaker at Dane Cellars, says he spends most of the year in Bermuda shorts. When Sonoma temps hit 75’ F on December 2, he rolled out to the event in his special Santa Floods.  The Dane Cellars Clarksburg 2009 Chenin Blanc he poured is richer bodied than a Sauvignon Blanc, making it a was a good wine for a sunny winter day and a perfect match for the Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese served up by the girl and the fig.

Santa Sommeliers. What is a sommelier (so-mel-yay)? A “Somm,” or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional specializing in all aspects of wine service as well as wine and food matching.  Three certified Somms in Santa hats roamed the floor at the “Wine Market – Holiday Edition” event, helping guests with wine advice, pairing, and directing them to wine specials.

Eric Ross "Struttin' Red"

Cocky Wine: Eric Ross 2010 Struttin’ Red

Eric Luce, winemaker at label Eric Ross, invites you to taste his red blend of the year. 2010 is a unique blend of Tempranillo, Old Vine Zin and Petite Sirah. It screams out for a really good Cheeseburger. Failing to find any cheeseburgers, this wine was great with the Truffle Gateau chocolates featured at the Market.

Consumers have many benefits to gain from a single-location event like this. To name a few:

  1. Access unique fine wines and local cuisine
  2. Lower prices on quality wines
  3. Remove the driving around from a wine-tasting outing – all the wines and food, all in one place
  4. Access to *Santa Sommeliers* to advise on matching foods with the wines you like
  5. Buy where you taste and take your wine home with you!

I had a conversation with Christopher Sawyer, Somm at Carneros Bistro in Sonoma. I asked Chris how one should go about pairing up wines with a meal. “First of all, the method should be reversed. Decide your menu, then match the wine to it.”  OK, I said, then to break the rules a bit, let’s say I’ve got a Zinfandel from Haywood Winery, which is pouring here today. Chris suggests, “This is a supple, medium body Zinfandel that gives you a lot of flexibility with the food pairing. Game. Duck. Spicy pork with compote on the side. Strip steak. And of course Ribs will go well with Zin.”

Christopher Sawyer "Santa Sommelier"

Wines of note:

Eric Ross 2010 Marsanne-Roussane. Your guests will appreciate when you serve this unique white. Winemaker

Eric Luce blends two grapes from the famed SaraLee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley to make a wine in the Rhone style that everyone’s talking about.  Full-bodied, food-ready, and a great under-$30 wine to diversify your palate.  It paired with the Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese and I would recommend it with any cheese.

Dane Cellars 2007 Jackknife Cabernet Sauvignon. When you are looking for full-flavored, medium-bodied Cab, the Jackknife is a great choice. From a vineyard high above Sonoma Valley, with volcanic soils and generous late afternoon sun, this wine explodes with fruit and complex flavors. Sommelier Sawyer says:  “With a medium-bodied cab like Dane Cellars’ Jackknife you have more flexibility in your menu – you can pair with red meat or you can go with a bigger fish such as sturgeon or tuna prepared with a soy sauce.”

Pip 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.  Undecided between oaked and unoaked? You can’t go wrong with this under $20 wine from Dunstan, from famed Durrell Vineyards blended with nearby grapes, then aged in 1/3 neutral oak and 2/3 stainless steel.  The resulting Chardonnay will please both the oaked and unoaked taste, as the neutral oak imparts lovely vanilla aromas and softness while the stainless steel defines the varietal character and imparts a crisp finish.  Another great match for the Truffle Mac ‘n Cheese.

Abigail Zimmerman of Annadel Estate Wines

Best new wine find: 

Annadel Estate 2008 Anni’s Blend is an instantly memorable red wine that’s also easy to pair with food.  I got rich fruit medleys and a velvety mouth feel from this blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. For a Cab-Merlot blend like this, you could even serve it with a Mac & Cheese dish with toasted walnuts and mushrooms, according to Sommelier Sawyer.  The adjacent “Coppa & Apple Mostarda on Foccacia” from Estate went well.  Annadel Estate Winery is the effort of a family who are restoring an 1880’s vineyard estate in the region. Expect to hear more about their wines soon.

There were many more varietals and examples of great winemaking available for taste. I can’t cover them all here. See what you missed and check back soon for upcoming events at the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance website.

On my Christmas wishlist:






Holiday in Carneros: Festive Food, Pumpkins, Salsa Music and yes – Wine!

The annual Holiday in Carneros is in full swing this weekend. Simple Hedonisms visited a few of the participating wineries yesterday and we share our experiences here. Tickets are still available at the 22 open wineries today from 10am-4pm. They are an excellent value at $40 for a full day of food, wine, and gorgeous fall vistas over the San Pablo baylands spanning southern Sonoma and Napa county.  The list of winery activities can be found here, and a map of participating wineries is here. We’ll also be posting additional coverage after today’s tastings.

Ceja Vineyards

Pulling up at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros, I heard music and laughter. Inside it was warm and I was welcomed, as always, by family members. The crisp, minerally Ceja Sauvignon Blanc was paired with homemade corn chowder, served steaming with queso fresca and a twist of lime. The hot spice in the chowder was tamed nicely by the SauvBlanc.  Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir is paired with noshes of dark chocolate truffle cake from Truffle Gateau of Sacramento. Worth pursuing!

All the wineries are running special offers for Holiday in Carneros guests, and Ceja’s are exceptional values, for example $50 off the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This brings the Sauvignon Blanc to $11/bottle – a great value for this well-made wine.  I didn’t stay late enough, but Orchestra Borinquen was slated to play in the afternoon. This is a great spot to come inside and warm up to artisan wines, homemade soup, chocolate and salsa music!

Ceja also produces Chardonnay, Carneros Merlot and a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a Rosé and blends. They have a central downtown Napa tasting room open 7 days a week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day).

Adastra Vineyards

Adastra's Historic Barn Tasting Room

Adastra is a 20-acre family vineyard open only twice a year to the public. The tasting room is housed in a quaint historic barn, with old photos on the walls, along with large signs detailing special Holiday in Carneros pricing for wine, wine club, and private tours.  All grapes are estate grown and CCOF certified organic. The name “Adastra,” comes from a phrase beloved of the owner’s father: Per aspera, ad astra … through striving to the stars.

Adastra makes both an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay. The labels state this rather simply, as shown in the photos.  My palate gravitated to the crisp unoaked Chardonnay, with a breezy, salty baylands tang coming through in the fruit. Paired with a Boucheron goat cheese, it was divine. Another memorable wine I tasted was the 2007 “Proximus” Pinot Noir. Proximus is Adastra’s reserve designation. Select small lots of wine are classified Proximus, Latin for “closer”… to the stars. Pinots are paired with a fabulous Drunken Goat cheese from a village in Spain. The cheese is dunked in wine then aged 2-3 months, giving it a grapey aftertaste that brings out new layers of flavor in the wine. Besides Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the winery also produces Merlot and a Red blend.

Departing Adastra, I noticed a group gathered around a pile of pumpkins. A sign said “Take home a pumpkin (or two),” so we did!  It was fun to come home with wine and festive pumpkins for display or holiday cooking.

Although Adastra is not open to the public, they offer a private tour and tasting by appointment. For $20/person, guests tour the historic ranch with the winemaker, and sample 7-9 wines paired with artisan cheeses. Fees are waived with wine purchases. Contact the winery for details and to make an appointment. I’m planning to!

Larson Family Winery

It took Holiday in Carneros to get me to visit Larson, and finally I’m relieved of the guilt I’ve felt at driving by on the highway dozens of times without going in.  Larson is a stand-out with their rustic barn barrel room, great food and wine pairings, and live acoustic music and vocals.  The fun starts when you step in the door and spin the “big wheel.” I won a 40% discount on case purchases for the day!

Live in the Barrel Room at Larson Family Winery

Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and a crisp Gewurztraminer – all Carneros grown – were paired with juicy local oysters BBQ’d and served with a choice of hot sauce with lime and salt, or garlic butter (should have been called buttered garlic).  The estate-grown and produced 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir is a rich garnet with vanilla nose, and bright red fruit in the mouth.  Full-flavored yet only 13.5% alcohol makes this a very versatile Pinot at $29.99 retail.

The piece-de-résistance was a rich cheesecake smothered in Larson’s own “Three Lab Cab Chocolate Cabernet sauce.” Of course, the pairing was with Cabernet Sauvignon – I had the 2005 Sonoma Valley which was full-bodied and flavored with only 13.5% alcohol (really). This Cab in a 1.5 liter bottle is currently on sale at $55. Great wine-making, value and hospitality at Larson!

Larson makes numerous other wines, check the website for information. They are  open for tasting daily 10-5, and they are a family- and pet–friendly winery. In fact, two of the 3 labs were fetching a ball out back when I arrived.

Schug Carneros Estate

I’m really glad I had a chance to return to Schug this year. I found their new vintages really exciting and had a chance to taste some of their Reserve wines too.

The 2008 Pinot Noirs were interesting to taste side-by-side. The Sonoma Coast Pinot was ruby colored, with scents of red stone fruit. It opened into many layers on the palate: briar-patch, nettles, licorice and cherry. At 13.5% alcohol and $24 a very versatile wine. The Carneros Pinot was deep garnet with distinct berries and tasty tobacco-y tannins, for $28.

Reserve Tasting in the Cave at Schug Carneros

In the cave, I tasted 2007 Rouge et Noir made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from the Ricci vineyard on the cool Napa side of Carneros.  I was provided with a slender flute to taste the bubbly, which was rose-colored, light and toasty. The 2007 Schug Carneros Chardonnay Heritage Reserve was dry, floral and tasted of golden raisins. Paired with Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel. Yummy!  Another Heritage Reserve wine was the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir. Paired with the 6-month aged El Trigal Manchego cheese it was stunning.

I recommend Holiday in Carneros guests take advantage of this opportunity to taste the Schug Reserve wines paired with great cheeses. It’s a $10 optional fee and well worth it.

Schug makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot and Cab, including some Rosé and Sparkling versions. The tasting room is open daily 10-5.

Plan Your Day!

These are just a few of the wineries participating, to give you a flavor of the event. Each spot on the map offers a unique experience, direct access to the people behind the wines, and dramatic fall vineyard scenery. And it’s all for a good cause, as proceeds help to fund scholarships at Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley College.  To get the most out of your day, don’t forget to read Simple Hedonisms’ advice on planning for a tasting event outing. If you use Twitter, search on hashtag #HiC10 to see posts and tips in real time today.

Simple Hedonisms suggests: “Cool off this summer with some naked chardonnay … and expand your palate” (psst! It’s under $20)

What’s your perspective on Chardonnay? Love it? Avoid it? Or do you regularly try new wines and winemaking styles? If you shun Chardonnay as I did for many years, you may identify as an ABC drinker – “Anything But Chardonnay”. Simple Hedonisms has used this term to describe the backlash against overly oaked “butter bombs” popularly known as “California-style” Chardonnay. Whatever your motivation may be to explore, your understanding and appreciation is sure to benefit from trying new wines and styles.

Food Friendly
If you enjoy a crisp, palette-cleansing white wine with your asian spicy dishes, rich or “stinky” cheeses, oysters or seafood – don’t pass up the “new” Chardonnays made without oak aging or malolactic (ML) fermentation. You won’t recognize these wines as Chardonnay if you’ve only been exposed to the heavy oak and butter style. Think of them more like a new white varietal, and a possible alternative to dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, if you are like me, you may begin to recognize an intense varietal character that you can distinctly identify as Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Grapes, Kopriva Vineyards

Kopriva is a family-owned single-vineyard producer of unoaked, no ‘ML” Chardonnay in the Carneros region of Sonoma county. I first wrote about their wine in my blog, VitaeVinoNote: If you’re in the Sonoma area, meet the winemaker and taste Kopriva Chardonnay at Big 3 Wine Bar, 6pm Friday July 16.

The Carneros Region
One of the charms of Carneros is the growers and smaller producers hidden down country lanes, who grace the landscape with their vineyards. Some of the acreage has been in cool climate fruit or grape crops for decades. Despite being one of Sonoma County’s most southerly appellations, Carneros is one of the coolest. It borders San Pablo Bay, and is subject to marine air movement between the Bay and the Pacific Ocean (a phenomena known as the Petaluma Wind Gap). Carneros AVA is home to 75 growers, 22 wineries, and over 7500 vineyard acres. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes flourish in its’ cool climate, resulting in a concentrated fruit said to represent a “true expression of the varietal.”

So what does that mean in plain English? Also known as “un-wooded”, “stainless” or “naked” — unoaked Chardonnay reveals what the grape itself tastes like minus the oak and butter effects. At 13.5% alcohol, Kopriva’s Chardonnay doesn’t overpower food. Yet its bright acid and crisp minerality can cut through the richest cheesy pasta, the spiciest entree or oiliest fish dish.

Kopriva Unoaked Chardonnay, Carneros Sonoma CA

Hadley Larson in the Kopriva Vineyards

Last week Simple Hedonisms visited the Kopriva vineyard at Cassidy Ranch, and was greeted warmly by Hadley Larson. She and wine-maker partner Myles McMonigle live on the property and perform all duties from running tractor, harvesting and hauling grapes, to marketing and delivering local orders. Myles studied geology and enology and has worked for MacRostie, Domaine Carneros and B.R. Cohn wineries. He is currently Enologist at Groth Vineyards in Napa. His parents purchased the property about 10 years ago. Myles’ father was influenced by an early friendship with the Benziger family (of Benziger, Imagery, and Tribute label fame). At Cassidy Ranch, they maintain the vines using sustainable practices, including minimal tilling of the land to preserve minerals and moisture and allow native cover crops – which return nitrogen to the soil — to thrive. Thus the rustic look of what they call their “shabby chic” vineyard.

The New Unoaked Style
Kopriva started making their unoaked Chardonnay 5 years ago, joining a handful of producers such as Mer Soleil with their “Silver” Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, and Toad Hollow Vineyards of Healdsburg. It was challenging in those days to overcome the stereotypes of California style. Some restaurant and retail buyers didn’t believe they were tasting Chardonnay. Kopriva resorted to introducing their wine by likening it to Chablis.

About 2-1/2 years ago Kopriva’s task became a little easier as recognition grew for the unoaked style. Acclaim for producers Kim Crawford of New Zealand and Toad Hollow helped build awareness. Coverage in Food & Wine magazine of the new style chardonnay and its suitability for food pairing continues the momentum. There is now a thriving community of unoaked chardonnay drinkers centered around a delightfully irreverent blog dedicated to the style at The labor of love for these bloggers has resulted in reviews of 68 wines from 10 regions and countries. Readers regularly suggest new wines to taste, which the bloggers promptly seek out. As well, a few wine competitions are introducing unoaked Chardonnay as a category — the Sonoma County Fair is one.

Get Naked
The vineyards aren’t open to the public, but you can taste Kopriva at Big 3 Wine Bar at Fairmount Sonoma Mission Inn. Big 3 focuses exclusively on Sonoma wines — by the taste, glass and bottle. Several, like Kopriva, are not available elsewhere for tasting. A few retail and restaurant outlets, mostly in the SF Bay Area, carry Kopriva (see the website for a list). In and around Carneros, the wine is available at Whole Foods Market in Marin, Napa and Sonoma.

If you’d like to explore this new style further, another Carneros example is Roche Winery’s “Stainless Steel Chardonnay” ($15.99 suggested retail) available at their tasting room on the Sonoma Square. Kunde Estate in Kenwood produces “Chardonnay Nu,” or what they call their “naked” chardonnay — available for tasting at the winery ($15.99 at Bottle Barn). Using grapes from Lodi, CA, an award-winning producer of Chardonnay in the unoaked style is Passaggio ($11.99 on their website or at Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma). Simple Hedonisms writes periodically on this emerging style – search for “unoaked Chardonnay” to find out more.

At under $20, these wines fit the budget — and the menu as well.

Kopriva Chardonnay


Color: Pale metallic straw, mirror clear

Aroma: Citrus, hint of lactic, with a splash of dry straw

In the Mouth: The appeal of this wine is in it’s tactile complexity – fruity at the front, mouth-filling at mid-palette, with a crisp flourishing acid finish at the back. Leaving the wine in contact with its yeast lees (wine sediment) for 4 months gives this chardonnay its pleasurable mouth feel.

Flavors: Grapefruit, pineapple, and hints of other fruits ranging from tangy to tropical, in concert with mineral notes.

Price: Retail $14-19. Wholesale: $120/ case. (media sample)

Vintages: 2008 currently, 2009 launches in Fall 2010.

Acres planted: 12
Case Quantity: 299
Harvest: September 11, 2008
Alcohol: 13.52%
Average Chemistry: 3.31 pH, .576g TA
Residual Sugar: 0.033
Fermentation: 100% Stainless steel
Aging: 4 months sur lie
Malolactic Fermentation: 0%

Follow Kopriva Website, Facebook, Twitter

Question of the Week: Recommendations for an Every Day Wine (chardonnay in this case)

Welcome to the Inaugural post of “Question of the Week.”

This week’s chosen question is week from a Facebook follower/friend Janey Patton Russell who enjoys wine, and learning. (One of the things I love about wine, is you are never done learning.)

I have a chardonnay question for you. You will laugh or may think my every day choice of chardonnay wine is gross.  I really enjoy Clos Du Bois for my “everyday” wine sometimes I step it up to Rombauer or Sonoma Cutrer. That said do you have a suggestion for me for a nice, dry chardonnay? I like Sonoma, Russian River Valley.  Tried Toasted Head here and there but over that.  Prefer  dry, a little buttery,  but certainly not a lot. Come to think of it I like it dry and oaky!

Great questions. Long time friends of mine may find it ironic I am doing reviews of chardonnay and being asked questions. Until the last few years, I generally shunned chardonnays, my palette not enjoying most of the US made highly oaked, buttery styles. As I have dove headfirst into exploring whites, (especially Rhone varietals) I have learned more and more to be open minded, and explore more styles and countries.

Explore and Branch Out: The many names of chardonnay

I am hardly a Franco-phile, but I have been embracing French wines more (don’t worry Sonoma County, my heart is yours forever), especially white wine from Burgundy…..which is chardonnay. You may hear or see “white burgundy” or “chablis” or “pouilly-fuise” – don’t be confused. All of these are chardonnay, the latter two being appellations (regions) of Burgundy, France. Unfortunately many people hear ‘white burgundy’ or ‘chablis’  still have memories of low quality white jug wines from decades ago, in a travesty of marketing.

How to Pick a Wine, Where to Buy

One of the challenging things of recommending wine to the average consumer outside of this area, is there is little consistency, even in a national chain, of what you can buy. Even Costco varies what they offer by location. There are certainly a few brands you can find many places, but I have to say as a general rule, I shy away from a bottle of wine that had one million cases made. I am buying and tasting more larger production wines for review (my personal cellar still stays mostly small producers) to assist with this, but it will always be a challenge.

(It is worthwhile to note that even the million+ case wineries will bottle a release in much smaller scale. I was amazed at a visit to the La Crema winery (not the tasting room) to taste through 5 pinot noirs and 5 chardonnays. I knew of their massive scale releases, but was pleased to enjoy bottles of limited small lot production as well.)

So when asked, in addition to exact bottle/wine recommendations, I am will often give you some broader guidelines.

My answer to this enquiry:

” I generally drink a newer style of chard, which is unoaked and non ML (not buttery)…odds are you won’t find many of these in a every day retail store. Rombauer and Sonoma Cutrer are definately higher end better chards. If you ever see say, a Lynmar or Hartford Court (won’t be at Safeway) try them, although more pricey. They will have the oak and ML components, but be beautifully balanced.

One you could try, that should be easily found, is La Crema…they have several mass produced chardonnays that are widely distributed and decent, and they also have some great ones here that don’t make mass market. I haven’t tasted through Kendall Jackson’s chardonnay releases entirely, but enjoyed some of their whites at the Heirloom Tomato Festival this fall.

My best suggestion – try your local wine shop. Explain your tastes, and what you like, and what you want to spend. for the same money you will get something from a smaller winery. Let them recommend a few and buy 2-3 of those for comparison.

Be opened minded to other countries as well:  French, Australia, Chile. I shunned France for years, but have re-opened that, especially now that I drink more chardonnay. Chardonnay from Pouilly-Fuissé region of Burgundy tend to be reasonable. I had one last night actually that I really enjoyed, I picked up at K and L Wines.

Don’t apologize for drinking chards, its one of the world’s most planted and consumed varietals, and the French still make really great, original style. The bad name came from the over oaked US garbage. Instead embrace it, and see what you can learn about styles, different areas. Australians’ make good chards as well.

My friend responded back with one more comment I thought worth sharing.

Thanks so much! I will try your suggestions. I had a feeling you being a real wine person would not drink chardonnay. I was told by a guy at the store to try this one French but I did not….I will go back and ask him again what it was. I’m going to embrace my love of chardonnay and learn as much as I can. Thanks for the boost of confidence! I’m told by my wine  friends that real wine drinkers don’t drink anything bit reds.

I’d tell her the wine friends are clueless, but frankly I was one of those for 12+ of my 20 years drinking wine.  It took some pushing and exploration at first, but once my mindset and palette cracked, and I discovered gems like Viognier, Torrontes, Rousanne, Marsanne, and now some chardonnay, pinot gris, chenin blanc and more – my experience and enjoyment of wine has increased many fold – so many more options, things to learn, and tastes, aromas to experience. Open your minds and palettes, try things, wine is a never ending journey, or should be.

And as I will constantly repeat, do not drink your white wine overchilled. (Unless its not very well made, then by all means drink it right from the fridge.) You can not experience the aroma, mouthfeel, and nuances of a wine if you drink it out of the fridge at 52 degrees.

Hope you found this useful, I’d love comments. You can also reach my on Facebook, Twitter, or the Contact Me, tab.


Wine Review – 2007 Mayo Chardonnay “unwooded” (aka unoaked)

I visited Mayo for the first time a few weeks ago, during the Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House, as reviewed earlier this month.

When I learned they had a unoaked chard, I bought a bottle, blind as it wasn’t available for tasting. I have written several recent articles on unoaked chardonnay and discussed the nature and flavor profile of this style of chardonnay. I am planning a review soon, of a side by side comparison of many, so if you produce one, or know of one, let me know soon.

The marketeer in me doesn’t jazz on the term ‘unwooded’ but the description on the back label captures perfectly the essence of this style. “Ever wonder what chardonnay really tastes like underneath all that oak? We’ve made this wine for ourselves for a few years, loving the fruit forward, mineral…qualities if offers. We thought it was time to let it loose on the public.”

And I am glad they did, although its no longer on their website, so wondering if they are sold out.

This is another great expression of pure chardonnay fruit.  It doesn’t specify it did not undergo malolactic fermentation, but my guess is it didn’t.

The 2007 vintage is from the Sonoma Coast, Risk Vineyards. 454 cases made. 13.9% alcohol.

Color: Pale to medium yellow, good clarity

Aroma:  Scents of wet stone, grapefruit, and a hint of peach

In the Mouth: Bursting with citrus when it first hits the palette, pleasant taste of kiwi and peach on the mid palette,and a pleasant finish that lingers citrus and a hint of minerality.

I will repeat my mantra on drinking quality white wines: DO NOT OVERCHILL. If its been in the fridge, take it out for 15 minutes. If the glass is cold to touch, warm it in your hands. Cold masks all the aroma and flavor profiles the winemaker worked so hard to achieve.


Wine Review – Branham 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (no oak or ML)

Is your mantra about white wine  ‘ABC’. (Anything but chardonnay.) Do you enjoy sauvignon blanc, or other white wines with crisp acidity, and bright fruit? If so hunt out the slowly growing category of chardonnays that are made without oak aging or malolactic (ML) fermentation.

There is nothing wrong with a chardonnay that is well made, and seen some oak and ML, but many have been turned off by the overly oaky, buttery chardonnays that have been being cranked out for years – we love to take a good thing to excess in the U.S. Its also a personal palette preference.

I discovered sauvignon blanc years ago, before the New Zealand craze caught on, and as a result of palette fatigue (kinda like wine ADHD) was hunting something else, and was pleased to discover this slowly emerging category of chardonnay in the US. (This is nothing new to Aussies.) I was inspired enough this was one of the two varietals I crushed this year, to also experiment with this style.

The Sonoma County Fair for the first time, amidst some controversy, had a category this year for unoaked Chardonnay, which I hope they repeat.  Like any wine, not all of these unoaked, no ML chardonnays are stellar, and a few poorly made entries seem to have portrayed the category negatively.

I generally try and/or buy any in Sonoma County I find, and have tasted quite a few. Sometime early next year, I am planning to taste through a number in comparison, so if you have suggestions, send them on.downtown wine

One that I discovered this year, and enjoy regularly is from Gary Branham, a local boutique wine maker. Gary shares a tasting room with Kenny and Lynn of Hobo Wines, (I am a big fan of Kenny’s wines.)  Both of their wines are poured and available for purchase in downtown Healdsburg, at Downtown Wine. More often than not, you will be attended to by Aaron – a very knowledgeable wine aficionado. Talk less than I do, and you may learn a few things. Downtown Wine is also part of the Wine Road, and will be taking part in the Winter Wineland next month.

Color: Pale yellow, light straw, good clarity

Aroma:  A wonderful nose – full of  green apple, citrus

In the Mouth: Left on the lees (wine sediment) for 4 months gives this chardonnay nice mouth feel.


A bounty of fruit in the mouth; pineapple, green apple, grapefruit. Needless to say, a mouth watering finish, that lingers nicely.

Only 325 cases made, get some before its gone, but save a case for me!

Around $22, You can find this wine at the Downtown Tasting room, or Vine Tastings in Windsor, by the glass or bottle. (Unfortunately like most restaurants its served over chilled, masking its nuances. Cup your hands around the glass for a minute.)

Wine Geek Info

  • Harvest: September 30, 2007
  • Average Chemistry at Harvest: 25 Brix 3.20 pH .68 TA
  • Whole Cluster Pressed
  • Fermented in Stainless Steel for 25 days @ 55 degrees F
  • No Malolactic fermentation ~ Left sur lie for 4 months
  • Bottling: January 2007
  • Chemistry at bottling: 14% alcohol 3.20 pH .68 TA
  • Varietal percentage; 100% Chardonnay
  • Vineyards: Foppoli Family Vineyard
  • Production: 325 Cases
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