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Friday, 18 July 2014 13:47

July 18, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Sanctuary Chardonnay bottle Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay



Russian River Valley

Alcohol: 14.2%

Suggested Retail: $30


“High quality fruit and solid winemaking practices provide an unbeatable combination in this Sanctuary Chardonnay. Grapes were sourced from the Heintz and Dutton vineyards in the cooler Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County. With only 30% malolactic fermentation followed by sur lie ageing there's an attractive combination of good acidity, yet creamy fullness.

“Pear and peach aromas precede full and rich feeling in the mouth. Those pear and peach aromas evolve to flavors of apple, vanilla and crème caramel.”

Food Affinity: “There's enough acidity to make it a versatile food-pairer and not so much oak as to overwhelm delicate dishes. Lightly-sautéed abalone. Chicken with morels. Roasted pork prepared with apples.”

Friday, 11 July 2014 17:22

July 11, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Ch St Jean Cold Creek Ranch Chard Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay,

Cold Creek Ranch


Chateau St Jean

Sonoma Coast

Alcohol: 14.4%

Suggested Retail: $30


“Lively acidity in this Chardonnay from a cool vineyard in western Sonoma County. Pineapple, white peaches and lemon complemented by vanilla and spice from substantial oak aging. There's texture to the wine, almost a viscosity. This is a big Chardonnay—not subtle, but we liked it.”

Food Affinity: “Dishes playing off the creamy citrus personality would be the direction we'd take. Baked lemon chicken would work, as would salmon croquettes in cream sauce. Grilled Portobello mushrooms might be a tasty vegetarian option.”

Friday, 27 June 2014 10:05

June 27, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Wente Riva Ranch bottle Picmonkey

2012 Riva Ranch Chardonnay


Wente Vineards

Arroyo Seco/Monterey County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $22


“Wente really pioneered this variety in California. The family first planted it early in the 20th Century and brought out the first varietally-labeled bottle of Chardonnay in 1936. Since the 1960s this Livermore-based winery has also been developing vineyards in Monterey County.

“Riva Ranch is located in Monterey County's Arroyo Seco appellation and is the source for this wine—one of four different bottlings of Chardonnay from Wente. The color is golden and aromas tend to be floral and just a little bit spicy. There is a base of apple and pear flavors, but layered on top of that are definite tropical fruit aspects—papayas and mangoes, mostly. The 2012 Riva Ranch shows a creamy richness which is offset by some bracing lemony acidity. A bit of vanilla character from the oak shows through, but we don't find it excessive. Earlier this week the 2012 Riva Ranch was awarded a Gold Medal at the State Fair judging. Its appealing style will please many. ”

Food Affinity: “Traditional lobster with drawn butter and other rich shellfish dishes. We enjoyed it with garlic-marinated chicken, served with grilled spears of fresh pineapple.”

Saturday, 03 May 2014 12:56

May 2, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Ch St Jean Sonoma Coast Chard Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay


Chateau St Jean

Sonoma Coast

Alcohol: 14.2%

Suggested Retail: $20


“Chateau St Jean is one of California's best known and most consistent producers of Chardonnay. The Sonoma Valley winery offers an array of what are called vineyard-designated bottlings, each one displaying the attributes of the fruit produced from a single vineyard property.

“This week's 'Pick,' however, is a blend of grapes from multiple vineyard sources in the cool Sonoma Coast appellation. A winemaker familiar with the attributes of fruit from different vineyards has an advantage and Margo Van Staaveren, who has been with Chateau St Jean since 1980 and the winemaker in charge for over a decade, obviously knows what the vineyards in this area are capable of giving her.

“The 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a good example of a balanced style that is neither 'too buttery or oaky' nor too 'austere.' We found some citrus aromas with just a hint of spice that were followed by flavors evocative of stone fruits and more citrus. These were somewhat creamy (like a bite of lemon pie, maybe), but had a nice counterpoint of acidity. This is a good quality California Chardonnay, fairly priced at $20.”

Food Affinity: “A free-range chicken with root vegetables roasted around it. Or maybe have some fun celebrating this grape variety's French heritage with Escargots de Bourguignons (snails with garlic, butter and parsley) or Rognons de Veau (veal kidneys).” 

Friday, 28 February 2014 19:01

February 28, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week


Souverain 2011 Chardonnay

2011 Chardonnay


Souverain Winery

Appellation: North Coast

Alcohol: 13.8%

Suggested Retail: $13


“Souverain is one of the storied California winery names, dating back to the 1940's when Lee Stewart had his vineyards and winery up on Howell Mountain, just east of the city of St. Helena. The winery has gone through several ownerships since Stewart's time, but through it all has produced good wine at fair prices. We've always thought of it as one of those (too-few) brands that 'over-delivers.' After moving from its original digs in Napa, Souverain operated for years in Sonoma County, occupying the Geyserville property now home to Francis Ford Coppola's winery. In 2006 Souverain built a new winery just a bit north of there at Asti, itself a name with deep roots in California's wine history.

“Through various corporate parents, Ed Killian has guided more than two decades of Souverain winemaking. Current owner Treasury Wine Estates has begun taking a more aggressive marketing posture, emphasizing both the Lee Stewart connection and the steady hand of Ed Killian. The winery also produces some reserve wines at substantially higher prices, but has decided to concentrate on providing good quality wines in the $15 and under category. Their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc carry a suggested retail price of $13, the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are each $15.

“The 2011 Chardonnay from Souverain is sourced from grapes in grown in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. It's perhaps a bit understated, but is balanced and offers a lot for those wanting a sophisticated style of this variety at a relatively modest price. Our first impression was aromas of citrus and pineapple; then came a subtler note of hard butterscotch candy (nice childhood memory). We found flavors of Bartlett and Comice pears with a creamy mouthfeel. There's a little toasty brown spice character, but not too much. Roughly two-thirds of the juice was fermented in stainless steel, the balance in French oak. The wine was aged 'on the lees,' with frequent stirring of the spent yeast cells at the bottom of the vat or barrel in a process the French call battonage. This brings a richness and complexity we like. That creamy aspect is offset/balanced by a crisp lemony character in the finish.”

Food Affinity: “We served this Chardonnay with fettucine in a creamy sauce of smoked salmon, dill and Crimini mushrooms, a pairing we liked. We think it would also be fit companion to grilled chicken wings marinated in a teriyaki sauce or the clean flavors in a dish of diced chicken served with almonds and pea pods.”

Friday, 14 February 2014 11:12

February 14, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Estancia-2012-Chardonnay revised Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay


Producer: Estancia

Appellation: Monterey County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $12


“There are many serviceable examples of Chardonnay for $2-3 dollars less than the 2012 Estancia, which we purchased in a supermarket for $10. Most of them are recognizable as the variety, but are otherwise undistinguished. Though still relatively modestly-priced, this bottle, sourced from Pinnacles Ranches fruit, is an example of getting a much better product by paying just a bit more.

“Color is a golden straw hue, a little deeper than most wines from such a recent vintage. Aromas of Bosc pear and pineapple on first impression. The predominant flavors evoke tropical fruit—pineapple again and guava, though we find some more pear characteristics and maybe just a hint of green apple. Subtle cinnamon and toast notes from just the right amount of oak aging gives the impression of a more expensive wine. Flavors are fairly rich, yet clean and crisp.”

Food Affinity: Chicken and leek vol-au-vents. Baked salmon. Big shrimp sautéed with garlic and rosemary. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013 11:31

November 22, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Bonterra Chardonnay Picmonkey2012 Chardonnay

Producer: Bonterra

Appellation: Mendocino County

Alcohol: 13.8%

Suggested Retail: $13.99


“Chardonnay can come in many styles. At opposite ends of the taste spectrum would be the lean, perhaps subtler, wines like French Chablis and the big oaky and creamy versions more common in California. This Bonterra wine strikes a nice balance between the two. Made of organically-grown grapes, it exhibits tasty green apple and Bartlett pear flavors which give it a richness. This is offset—perhaps complemented would be a better way of saying it—by a bit of minerality and some bracing citrus qualities. Seventy percent was fermented in oak barrels and the balance in stainless steel. The stainless steel fermentation tends to let the fresh and crisp aspects come through and the small percentage of new oak (winery says 16%) gives some vanilla characteristics.

“The 2012 Bonterra Chardonnay isn't a 'stunner,' but is a good example of a versatile style that will please many and is well-worth the $14 price.”

Food Affinity: “Some sort of baked chicken dish involving a creamy sauce and served with morels and topped with sliced almonds.”

Friday, 13 September 2013 11:20

September 13, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Kunde Sonoma V Chard 2012 Picmonkey

2012 Chardonnay


 Producer: Kunde Family Estate

Appellation: Sonoma Valley

Alcohol: 13.9%

Suggested Retail: $18


“Nice combination of creamy and crispy aspects in this Sonoma Valley Chardonnay (Other, more expensive Chardonnays are produced at this winery, but the Sonoma Valley label is what we're reviewing here). Though it's fairly priced at suggested retail, we purchased it at a considerably lower amount. Opens with some appealing floral aromas. Has a creamy vanilla quality (crème caramel? crème brulee?) and also some melon on the palate. Drinks easy, but shows some complexity when it has been open for a while and is not too chilled. Offsetting/complementing the richness was a subtle, lemony acidity.”

Food Affinity: “After tasting, we decided to pair with a roast chicken, prepared with garlic, herbes de Provence and covered with thin slices of lemon. It seemed a successful marriage."

Friday, 26 July 2013 18:35

July 26, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Jekel 2011 Chard bottle Picmonkey

2011 Gravelstone Chardonnay


Jekel Vineyards

Appellation: Arroyo Seco, Monterey

Alcohol: 14.4%

Suggested Retail: $15.99


“Aromas of pineapple and guava prominent, with some white peach, too. From first sip, this Gravelstone Chardonnay exhibits a lush, creamy personality. Flavors of melon and a bit of citrus predominate. The winemaker says he used mostly neutral oak barrels, but there's still a vanilla presence from that smaller amount of new oak cooperage. This is a big wine (14.4% alcohol) and is a relatively inexpensive option for those who favor the full-blown California treatment of this variety.”

Food Affinity: “Seared scallops finished in brown butter and served with mandarin orange sections. Boiled/steamed halibut served in a white sauce with chopped, hard-boiled egg and fresh parsley. Spicy green curry chicken.” 

Sunday, 14 April 2013 22:38

April 12, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Edna Valley chardonnay  Picmonkey


2010 Paragon Chardonnay


 Edna Valley Vineyard

 Appellation: San Luis Obispo County


 Suggested Retail: $15.50


“This review marks a departure. In years past we would taste dozens—sometimes hundreds—of new and current releases every week. The 'Pick' was always the wine we liked best, regardless of grape variety or category. The tasting of new wines and subsequent note-taking really is time-consuming and has taken a back seat lately to other business needs. Henceforth, we'll use our 'Pick' to select a wine and discuss it, not necessarily laud it.

“To oversimplify, Chardonnay tends to reflect either crisp citrus and green apple characteristics or lush, tropical fruit qualities. We prefer the former category. This 2010 Edna Valley Chardonnay is an example of the latter. Aromas of ripe Bartlett pear and pineapple are the first impression. Flavors of pear, mango and very ripe pineapple predominate, though there is definite 'brown spice' presence reminiscent of cinnamon and/or nutmeg. The finish evokes vanilla and seems quite sweet. For our tastes, it doesn't have the qualities that would make it a good pairing with most fish or fowl dishes. Though Taste California Travel prefers leaner and more austere Chards, that doesn't mean that the Edna Valley is a bad wine or a badly-made wine. It will please many who like to drink Chardonnay in lieu of a cocktail and might even seem to be good accompaniment to dinner for those who like this style."

Food Affinity: Hard to say. Maybe with a scalding-hot Asian curry that features some mango or papaya?

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