By Celia Strong
Every week! Amazing, when you stop to think about it for a moment, that, week in and week out, we can find something to talk about and to taste. Sometimes, it’s a brand new wine. New to us, and the shelves, and new to you. But, even in those cases, where a few of us have seen the wine before, we have to admit that the learning part of our time together is productive for all of us. And, see? Doesn’t that just make all the tasting that we’re doing seem more reasonable? Truly, it’s not like we’re just drinking for the sake of drinking. We are really tasting for the sake of learning. Lucky us.
For our wine this week, we get to visit California. One more time. Sonoma County, in particular. And a Chardonnay, precisely. As most of us know, Chardonnay is a green skinned variety that makes white wine. It is grown in every wine producing region in the world. Partly because it can grow in a wide variety of climates and soils. Partly because it is the most sold white wine in the world. Partly because it is grown in every wine producing country in the world. Yes, it is a self-sustaining cycle. All of which is way too much for us to cover in one short lesson. So, today, we will concentrate on Sonoma County Chardonnay.
For many in the wine industry, Sonoma is considered to be this country’s most exciting source for Chardonnay. The whole of Sonoma County is about one and a half times the size of Rhode Island. And, Chardonnay is grown all over it, and comes in a wide variety of styles – creamy, buttery to bright, fruit-forward to big, blockbusters. Sonoma starts just north of San Francisco Bay, in an area called Carneros. (Carneros was named for the sheep that used to graze there, and is partly Sonoma and partly Napa.) The Durell and Sangiacomo vineyards are both in the Sonoma side of Carneros and make rich, vineyard designated wines. The city of Sonoma is just north of Carneros. It was here that Spanish monks first planted California grapes in 1823. Traveling northward, Sonoma runs parallel to Napa, and this is when we start to see different climates, hillside vs valley vineyards, and more. In the southern part of Sonoma County, the breezes off the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay keep temperatures cooler. Further north, it becomes more important to be judicious when choosing elevation and exposure for the vines. In the town of Kenwood, in the 1970’s, the Chateau St. Jean winery was the first to make specific, vineyard-designated Chardonnay wines. Like the Chateau St. Jean Durell Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay.
These are the surroundings from which our Chardonnay for this week comes. The MacRostie Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Just so we all know. Sonoma Coast is an AVA within the larger Sonoma County AVA. It is larger than five hundred thousand acres, mostly along the Pacific coast, and extends from San Pablo Bay north to Mendocino County. It is known for its cool climate and high rainfall, more than the rest of the county. Actually, there are so many microclimates here that petitions are in the works to establish more sub-AVAs within the Sonoma Coast AVA. MacRostie is considered to be one of the best wineries in this AVA. MacRostie Winery and Vineyards was founded in 1987, by Steve MacRostie. For his first wines, Steve reached out to growers he knew, and respected. His wines were soon recognized for the balance between their cool climate structure and their vibrant fruitiness. First was Chardonnay, followed about five years later with Pinot Noir. After several years, Steve felt he could make even better wines if he could grow some of his own grapes. He found a “perfect” piece of land in a mountainside ranch. Volcanic soil, not overly nutritious, and windswept. This became his Wildcat Mountain Vineyard – the cornerstone to their current vineyard program. We’ve already said that the vineyards and climates across the Sonoma Coast AVA vary widely from each other. Some, like the Russian River, produce lusher style wines, some, like right along the ocean coast, produce wines with nerve and ethereal aromatics. For Steve, who wanted to express all that his AVA could be, this meant ending up using Chardonnay grapes from over thirty different vineyards and Pinot Noirs from more than fifteen. Even in the winery, when they make their wines, he and his staff are diligent about having their wines highlight the diversity of the Sonoma Coast. In any given vintage, they do as many as one hundred thirty different, individual fermentations. Different vineyards, different blocks within the vineyards, different clones – all done separately. Once his winery was established, Steve was able to get away from the administrative side of the business and return to his vines and winemaking.
All of which gets us to our wine! The grapes for this Sonoma Coast AVA wine come from multiple vineyards. Sangiocomo and Champlin Creek in Carneros. Dutton and Martinelli from the Russian River. Some from the Wildcat Mountain Vineyard. All these were crushed as whole clusters to keep their wines delicate and bright. After settling, most of the juice is put into French oak barrels (twenty percent of them new) for the first fermentation. Then, a secondary, malo-lactic fermentation is done, followed by “sur lie” aging for six months. During this aging, the wines are occasionally stirred with their lies to augment their richness and body. A few select lots of grapes are fermented in stainless steel so that they can be used to emphasize the fruit aromatics. The final blend is done before bottling, about nine months after the harvest. All very detailed and very high quality. (Meaning we might need to be wary of the price?)
Our wine is a pale, straw-gold color. It has delicate floral aromas with hints of lemon citrus and peach stone fruit. Its texture is soft as you take your first sip that brings baking spices, like pie crusts, and candied orange peel flavors with it. It gets noticeably heavier in the middle of your mouth and still finishes with a crisp acidity. And, yes, this is a very food friendly wine. Poultry (roasted or grilled, with Béarnaise sauce or a creamy cheese sauce), white fish (like sea bass), rich shellfish (including lobster and scallops), cream sauces, creamy soups, creamy cheeses. Geez! I’m all hungry again. And there’s still some good news to come. This wine is usually more than twenty dollars retail. Our regular price is $17.99. And we have plenty of it. For those of us who like to sip and taste more, we have a three bottle price. That means, if you buy three (or more) bottles, we have a $14.97 price. Now you can smile. Enjoy.