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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…

2011 Alpha Omega Chardonnay ($64)

2011 Alpha Omega ChardonnayThis wine is made using numerous clones and cool climate vineyards. Fermentation is in barrels (100%), and the wine went through full malolactic fermentation. The winery strives to accomplish the best of both worlds — high acidity and minerality along with a rich, round palate.

2011 Franciscan Estate Cuvee Sauvage ($40)

2011 Franciscan Estate Cuvee SauvageThis wine has an opulent, complex bouquet of honeyed Fuji apple, ripe pear, honeysuckle, vanilla, and a hint of fresh citrus, with creamy undertones of melon and minerality. This wine is both full-bodied and elegant.

2012 Chardonnay Brown Estate Vineyards ($55)

2012 Chardonnay Brown Estate Vineyards This silky smooth Chardonnay offers a touch of wildflower honey in addition to pineapple and flint. Tropical fruit notes dominate, mingling with Meyer lemon and bergamot and leading to deeper notes of guava and subtle caramel.

2012 Carneros Chardonnay Frank Family Vineyards ($34.75)

2012 Carneros Chardonnay Frank Family VineyardsWell known as a world-class producer of Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Frank Family’s 2012 Carneros Chardonnay is fruit forward and balanced. It delivers scents of pear, apple, butterscotch and pineapple, laced with delicate floral notes of honeysuckle.

2012 Chardonnay, Oakville Ranch Vineyards ($50)

2012 Chardonnay, Oakville Ranch Vineyards The winemaking team at Oakville Ranch Vineyards works tirelessly to understand each vineyard block and each wine blend. Their “Bobcat” Chardonnay, named for the wild cats sometimes spotted at Oakville Ranch, has tropical blossoms, toast and vanilla on the nose. The wine follows through with the perfect balance of crisp fruit, a touch of oak and lively acidity on the palate, leading to a lush, full finish.

2012 Chardonnay Trefethen Family Vineyards ($32)

2012 Chardonnay Trefethen Family VineyardsWith a long history in the Valley, the Trefethens continue to define the region with their wines and personalities. The 2012 Chardonnay has a spicy nose that highlights apple, pineapple, lemon cream and floral aromas. A rich body lingers with flavors of vanilla, apple pastry and lemon zest.

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