An end to Californian Chardonnay

Photo by Enotourist

It usually starts off innocently enough at a California winery tasting room, “Here, try our Chardonnay.” I shake my head in a vigorous, whiplash-inducing “no” to which the tasting room employee invariably says, “It’s good, not like your typical Chardonnay.” At this point, my mind always says, “Bullshit. You lie. It’s all the same…”, but then I go and taste it anyways only to find that yes, it is yet another over-oaked, brash insult to this otherwise majestic grape.

Now, not everything is as dreadful and tree-filled as Clos du Bois (the selection of yuppies on their homepage perfectly illustrates how I feel about their brand.) Out there, you will encounter the occasional Flowers Chardonnay that I admit to liking a great deal, although I refuse to drop $50 on a bottle in a restaurant. But, between those two there is little else on offer in California that I’ve ever found. And of course, the question must be begged as to why you would bother.

Old World Chardonnays are, in a nutshell, honest. They’re typically aged in stainless steel and you can actually taste the grapes because yes, there is white grapey goodness behind all that barrel you get in a California Chardonnay, but you wouldn’t know it. These Chardonnays you find in Europe, while often young wines, are bright, fruity, tasty, and most all less than 10€. If a European winery were to try and get 30€ for a white wine, its doors would not likely stay open long.

There are however those rare exceptions that are both expensive and oak-aged, but infuriatingly delicious. The prime example of this was a Chardonnay with a touch of Muscat from Mas Romeu, the very last winery to (barely) make it in to our Empordà guide.

Fitó Blanc 2010 has an expressive, floral nose with a hint of violets and raw cane sugar. It’s plush in the mouth with the violet aspect from the nose coming in to play. As it decants, a touch of pear grows as well. The finish brings up a bit of acidity with and a light hint of fresh mint. While it would be easy to pair with many dishes, it’s almost a waste to do so, given that it’s quite impressive all on its own. 13% 18€


Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
97+ 3 Stars

Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
95 3 Stars

Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
95+ 3 Stars

Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
94 3 Stars

AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
93 2 Stars

Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
93 2 Stars

Terroir Sense Fronteres - Guix Vermell 2017
Crisp red cherry fruit, touch of spice, flecks of pepper, baking spice, compacted, wet earth. Delicate on the palate, stays fresh, surprising high wealth of tannins, long finish.
100% Grenache · 13% · 250EUR
93+ 3 Stars

Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
93+ 3 Stars

Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
93 2 Stars

Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
93 2 Stars