June 12, 2012
The simple pleasure of unoaked Chardonnay is obvious if one has had his fill of the richer, woodier, malo-y versions.
In the case of the ole Chardonnay switcheroo, though, choosing stainless steel is like turning your cell phone off while you’re on a date with your wife: you’ll be thinking only about the last tweet you missed, the date will end, and your twitchy fingers will be grasping for the on-button faster than you can say uncle.
There is a middle path, however. Chardonnay is one of the most noble grape varieties because when it is done exquisitely well, there are few wines that can match its elegance, richness, and sense of vivacity. In an earlier post, I wrote about wines that show balance and life by the momentum with which they move through the mouth; great Chardonnay has this “alive” quality, with richness, too, to make it even more compelling.
The La Rochelle 2010 Chardonnay – Dutton-Morelli Lane is absolutely one of these wines. Grown in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation, this Hyde selection (of an old Wente clone) Chardonnay is farmed by the renowned Dutton family. We only got 2 tons each of the first two years and made just over 100 cases of wine. I wrote in my original tasting notes:In the nose, this Chardonnay has a staid elegance to it that is driven by the aromas of pear, peach, and subtle orange marmalade. The wine was sur lie aged for an extended period of time, and the notes of brioche and fresh bread are in great balance. This offering was aged in 100% French oak barrels, 40% of which were new (Billon, Rousseau) for about 18 months. In the mouth, this wine shows a wonderful tension between fruit and acidity. On entry there is a magical liveliness to this wine; its momentum through the mouth is compelling, lean but not austere. The purity of fruit, mineral-laden mid-palate, and gorgeous acid contribute to one of the finest Chardonnays we’ve yet made.
Above all, a wine should be balanced. There should be a sense of momentum through the mouth too. Balance is about fruit and acid and
wood and tannin working in harmony (not necessarily of equal measure) to create a sense of beauty and inevitability. While balance might be understood as the Apollonian father, Momentum is about Dionysus; it is what puts the sex in sex-appeal
We know that wine is a living thing. What should be explicit in this, but is often unacknowledged, is that living = energy = purpose. If only in the microcosm of one’s mouth, there should be an energy inherent in the wine (its Momentum) and a purposefulness as it moves from lip to gullet (its Balance). The best of wines tell a complete story. Though a marvel in their youth, these wines (and their stories) only gain in richness and complexity as they evolve and mature.
With the 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay – Ferrington Vineyard, Tom Stutz was able to craft a wine with great elegance and intent. The Ferrington Vineyard in the Anderson Valley is perhaps better known for Pinot Noir at this point, but it is, as Tom has shown, a wonderful place for Chardonnay too. Made from the Robert Young clone, this wine has a propriety to it. This Chardonnay doesn’t jauntily flaunt its fruit, and its youthful reticence now is in great service to the honed acidity and persistent length. Proper storage will allow this wine to continue to bloom for years.
Great wines compel. La Rochelle – Ferrington is such a wine.