The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2016

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august 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  83 Russian River Valley, and the balance came from Napa, including the historic John Muir Hanna Vineyard in Oak Knoll—a vineyard source the winery continues to use for its Chardonnay. So while planting new Cabernet Sauvignon vines on the estate property the following year, the Barretts began looking for new fruit sources for Chardonnay in southern Napa Valley. And by the end of the 1970s, the focus of the white wine program shifted towards Oak Knoll, a tranquil agricul- tural zone north of Napa, known for warm days, cool nights, foggy mornings and alluvial soils that add additional layers of complexity to the finished wines. In the cellar, the family has stayed true to the style of Chardonnay they started making for their first vintage in 1972. As a fan of the sophisticated white wines from Meursault in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, Jim and the wine- makers used a very minimalist approach to fuse together the classic structure of Burgundy with the ripe and delicious flavors of Chardonnay grapes grown in California. Today, Bo and Winemaker Matt Crafton use a very similar method by picking when the ripe fruit flavors are balanced with natural acidity, using no malolactic fermentation in the cellar, then aging the wine for ten months primarily in more neutral barrels and only ten percent in new oak. For this reason, Crafton compares the annual release of the Chateau Montelena Estate Chardonnay to painting a mosaic with watercolors. "Every decision you make in the vineyard or the cellar is another brushstroke. So it's about the judi- cious use of paint on that canvas, or else you can completely overwhelm the wine." While this hallmark style shines through in the current release of the youthful 2013 vintage, similar traits can be found in the Chateau Montelena library selections as well. To follow the maturity of wine inside the bottle, the winery typically holds back 10 to 15 percent of the Chardonnay from each vintage and then re-releases these library wines at a very similar price-point five to ten years later. "It's about learning how each vintage ages over time," says Crafton. "It allows you to buy a bottle of wine that really has perfect provenance and has never left our care." To celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Paris Tasting and the achievements of the winery over the past decade, earlier this year Chateau Montelena released a magnificent new set of six Chardonnays from the 2007–2012 vintages. The 12-bottle (SRP $797) offering includes two bottles of each vintage, available through the winery and distribution channels. At a special seminar held at the Silverado Resort in Napa in early spring, Crafton talked about what he's learned about the vintages he's made since joining the team in 2008. Following the philosophy of the winery, he says the ultimate goal is to showcase the purity of the fruit and the transparent nature of the vineyard. As a result, the green apple character is consistent with each vintage, and the flavors are crisp and clean with an alcohol level typically 14 percent or lower. "We want you to taste the best aspects of the vineyard in every vintage that we make," says Crafton. "While we look at the stylistic differences and the nuances that each wine has, you should still be able to pick up the Chateau Montelena signature in all of them." As an example, Crafton poured the 2009 Chardonnay for guests attending this sold-out event. In hindsight, 2009 was a cool vintage for the Napa Valley. Consequently, the clusters had longer hang time due to the abundance of fog leading up to harvest. The result was a beautiful combina- tion of high acidity and a flavor profile that leaned more towards citrus and tropical notes to complement the classic green apple profile. In this new vertical, these subtle yet tasteful differences are also very apparent. For example, the 2007 has hints of stone fruits, tropical nuances and roasted hazelnut, whereas the use of a little more stainless steel instead of oak in 2008 resulted in unique flavors of pear tart and exotic tropical fruits. The same is true with the young and energetic offer- ings from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages, which feature bright and fresh aromatics leading to admirable notes of ripe white peach, fresh-picked nectarines and citrus, vibrant acidity and hints of flint and mineral on the finish. "For us, it really comes down to asking the question 'Is the wine delicious?'" says Crafton with a smile. "Every time we release a wine, we want people to want to come back for more and want that second sip, a second glass and, ultimately, a second bottle and to follow our brand from that point on." To celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Paris Tasting and the achievements of the winery over the past decade, earlier this year Chateau Montelena released a magnificent new set of six Chardonnays from the 2007–2012 vintages.

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