Schug 2007 Sonoma Chardonnay

104472-1-7 proofThis is a cool climate chardonnay which was fermented in steel and given no oak flavor of any kind – oak being one of those things folks have come to expect in chard. So what does it taste like?  Yummy.  Okay, there’s citrus – orange and lemon peel – and minerals – flint and graphite – in the nose and in the mouth.  There are also the peach and slight spice notes that good growing conditions and careful winemaking can give a badly abused grape like chardonnay.

The wine has a lush mouthfeel that could be enough of a draw, if you’re looking to suck some back at the local wine bar or big party.  But the moderate alcohol is very well balanced (14.5 percent, slightly higher than the standard for Schug wines) makes it a great food wine, whether summer salads, winter bisques and cream-based sauces and gravies on chicken and pasta.

BV Coastal Estates 2008 Chardonnay

We served the wine at a brisk 61 degrees with fish and chips.  The color was clear and golden like a chardonnay should be, and Michael got citrus and melon in the nose. The first taste had a nice medium weight and crispness that suggested the wine had been fermented in steel tanks. Nonetheless, there was the spice of applied oak, meaning oak used as an ingredient instead of to cover one or more faults. The finish was decent but not long.

Just like the cabernet we mentioned earlier, these are decent wines for midweek meals or occasions where wine may not receive the time and attention it deserves. When was the last time you really noticed the sea salt or extra-virgin olive oil in the meal you bolted down before the PTA or town hall meeting?  But these wines do fill that gap in your palate when you want a glass as part of a relaxing meal before dashing off to that next committee meeting or the kids’ latest recital.  Or both.

Three Sticks Winery and a (Sigh) Mess-Up

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Oh, deep and profound annoyance!  We had gotten turned onto Three Sticks Winery at the Family Winemakers event in Pasadena last spring.  Then, after several rounds of phone tag and other missed opportunities, Anne finally got a chance to to talk to winery owner Bill Price.  Then Anne spent two weeks….  Two whole weeks, mind you, trying to find the note book pages on which she’d written the interview notes, only to find them on the hard drive of her computer.  She’d typed them rather than hand written them, which is better because Anne types faster than she writes.

What attracted us to Three Sticks were the lovely Burgundian-style wines that Price’s winemaker, Don Van Staaveren, was making.  Price told us that’s on purpose.

“We try to make a more classicly Burgundian style,” said Price, who is also the owner of Durell Vineyards in Sonoma County, California.  He’s got roughly 150 acres in Sonoma, with about 40 acres planted in chardonnay, 40 acres in pinot noir, and then 10 acres planted in syrah, with the rest in a few of the Bordeaux varieties of grapes, including cabernet sauvignon.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get that there’s a big difference between the soil in Sonoma County, California, and the Burgundy region in France.  That’s what’s called terroir, and Price agreed that it does make a difference.

“We reflect what the land gives us,” he said.  “Though maybe in a more subtle way than… our extreme coastal competitors.”

The result is food-friendly, though perhaps not for the budget-conscious.

The Three Sticks Winery website is here.  They do expect to be releasing a cab sauv soon, but, hey, check us out on Wednesday, when we post the pinot noir notes.

Syncing up with Fetzer Chard

Overall, the Fetzer Vineyards 2008 Valley Oaks Chardonnay is a pretty basic chard. It’s light – the sort of wine that’s good with salads, a simple roast chicken, perhaps, or a light sole or even some creamy pasta sauces. You just don’t want to pair it with anything terribly strong-flavored, like a dish heavy on the garlic.

Here’s what we found:

The color was a clear, straw-colored yellow. The nose (or aroma) turned up some hints of melon, a little bit of citrus and light oak. The mouthfeel was fairly lush – it’s not the sort of wine we’d call a gulper. But there wasn’t much of a finish, as in the flavors didn’t hang around in the mouth once the wine was swallowed.

The taste followed through on the hint of melon, with some tropical fruit flavors added to that. There was a bit of oak, some nice light acid and light tannins – that dry, almost rough feeling on the back of your palate.

Now, it’s your turn. Find the Fetzer chard, or if you can’t, try some other light chardonnay. Don’t spend a lot of money. Taste it, then post comments on what you found.

Anne Louise Bannon
Michael Holland

It’s Calibration Week! Start Your Bottles

The winery’s tasting notes called the smell in their wine “gaminess.”  Michael wrote down “barnyard.”  Anne just wrinkled her nose and said, “Ooo.  Ick.”  Someone could have said, “Wow, that’s great!”

All of us would be right.  Or correct.

Tasting wine is an inherently subjective process.  And Napa-centric snobs notwithstanding, any wine you like makes it a good wine.  True, there are certain characteristics that most people seem to agree make wine taste good.  And there are certain smells and tastes that distinguish different grapes (aka varietals).  But the way we might describe a basic cabernet sauvignon is not necessarily the way you would describe it.

So this week  we will be doing a calibration tasting.  We have purchased two wines that should be available around the U.S. (we got them at Target – although we recognize not every state in the Union allows wine to be sold there).  The first is a Fetzer Vineyards, Valley Oaks Chardonnay, 2008.  It should retail between $10 and $15,  unless you catch it on sale, like we did.  The second (coming in around the same price point) is a Blackstone Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

You are invited to buy the same wines – or as close to them as you can get and taste along with us.  On Wednesday, we’ll post the chardonnay notes and you can compare what you tasted to what we tasted.  The idea is that if we say, “this chard has a nice pineapple tang,” and you tasted peach, then you’ll know that when we say pineapple about some other chardonnay, you’ll probably taste peach.  And if you like peach, then you’ll possibly like that wine.  And, of course, Friday, we’ll do the cab sauv.

Now, what if you taste the wine and you taste… wine.  It’s good, or possibly not.  But peach?  Pineapple?  Barnyard?  Bacon fat?  What in bloody tarnation are these wine geeks talking about?  It’s wine, for crying out loud.  Exactly, we say.  Seriously – the genius behind our tasting notes is Michael.  Anne can seldom taste all the more subtle flavors.  That doesn’t mean she can’t tell a good wine from a bad wine – or more importantly, that her impressions of a wine are any less valid.  It just means that she evaluates a wine in a different way.

So the first thing to remember is that tasting notes are supposed to be fun.  Unless you’re judging wines for a competition (something Michael has actually done many times), the only real reason for tasting notes is to communicate something – usually to yourself and/or life partner.

Maybe you just want to remember what it was about that syrah you tasted at your local wine bar that made you want to buy the bottle.  Maybe you want to pretend you’re Uber-critic Robert Parker.  And why not?  He is, in our not so humble opinion vastly over-rated.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that you get to choose what words you use, your preferred short-hand, whatever.  Just write down your impressions.

Then we invite to post your comments so we can all share what we thought about the wine.  Just remember, no snarking on anybody else, because all of our impressions are valid.  And maybe we’ll come up with a new way to describe that soft, creamy feeling on the back of the palate as something besides buttery.

Slainte!

Anne Louise Bannon and Michael Holland