Napa trend for ‘leaner, less-oaked’ Chardonnay

In a review of current vintages of Napa Valley Chardonnay, a local panel of winemakers preferred the 2012 vintage over 2011, and sought greater acidity and less oak- influenced flavors in the wines they tasted, writes By Catherine Seda Bugue and Tiffany van Gorder.

Lightmatter_napa_valleyThe St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel met this past month to review current vintages of Napa Valley Chardonnays priced over $30. With almost two dozen wines to review, the room was divided into two and panelists in each section tasted three flights of five to six wines.

The Chardonnay wines ranged in price from $30 to $70 and came from a variety of appellations throughout Napa Valley, including Carneros, Oak Knoll, Oakville and Rutherford.

Panelist’s preference for the 2012 vintage stemmed from more noticeable fruit, acidity and balance. A majority also found the wines, overall, to be sweeter than they expected–especially for Napa Valley Chardonnays.

“I was quite surprised in the amount of sugar I found in these wines, especially in the 2012 vintage,” said Stacey Vogel, winemaker at Miner Family. Todd Graff, with Frank Family Vineyards, agreed and commented that he found the wines to have an “element of Moscato in them.”

In addition, panelists mentioned their disappointment in the absence of minerality and acidity. “Many of these wines were lower in acid than I prefer, and I found them to be a bit flabby,” said John Skupny of Lang & Reed.

Some of the panelists were surprised with the prevalent oak flavours in the wines. “I generally found both vintages to be fat, oily wines and I really couldn’t distinguish between those that were 2011 and 2012,” said Kristin Belair, winemaker at Honig.

At the conclusion of the tasting, Josh Luhn of Conn Valley Vineyards made a good observation. “I find it interesting that the majority of the wines that scored better among the group underwent little to no malolactic fermentation.”

Big, lush wines with dollops of oak flavours have been the preferred style of Napa Valley chardonnay for some time now. It appears as if the tide is finally turning and there is a desire for leaner, more refreshing Chardonnays with restrained oak flavours.

Scroll through to see which wines were the favourites of the panel…

2 Responses to “Napa trend for ‘leaner, less-oaked’ Chardonnay”

  1. Steve Knight says:

    Oh no, the worlds last bastion of fully worked chardonnay succumbs to the lure for “Chablis Style” wines.
    Trouble is that most of the “Chablis Style” that is offered here, in Australia, and in most regions other than Chablis is simply an acid bath. In Chablis they somehow manage to get body and flavour without the oak and New World wine makers just aren’t up to the mark.
    Another dumbing down of a regional style. Sad to see, and maybe needing a rethink. Who agrees?

    If your region has established a style that consumers like, why change it to please “out-of-touch” style specialists?

  2. Catherine Seda Bugue says:

    Hi Steve, I am a big fan of Chablis and agree they get wonderful body and flavor without heavy oak flavors, but Napa Valley’s current Chardonnay wines are not trying to be in that style. There are some great examples of that style here, as with Stonyhill’s Chardonnay, but that is still not the style chosen by most producers here. Most of the current Chardonnays in NV still show medium to medium plus intensity of oak influenced flavors. It was the opinion of many winemakers in the room that this intensity be reduced. The current preferences in Napa are evolving and the the style, in any event, will evolve over time.

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