Monday, May 18, 2009
A California Chard I Like
The words "California" and "Chardonnay" in one sentence do not naturally excite my interest. I imagine a big, oaky, butterball; wince; and then reach for the Riesling.
Shafer's 2007 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, however, is an impressive exception. The white by the famed Napa producer of Cabernet is hardly low-key: it clocks in at 14.9% alcohol. And it's got plenty of oak; the wine spent 14 months in 75% new-oak barrels, of which 85% were French and 15% American. (The overall barrel regime includes 25% stainless steel barrels.)
But there are some important deviations in the viticulture and vinification that make all the difference. The wine is drawn from small-clustered clones selected for low yields. The juice matures on the lees for the entire 14 months, resulted in more varied and profound flavors. But most importantly, the wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation. I believe the lack of malolactic allows the Chard to keep a lot of its natural acidity, and prevents it from combining with the effect of the wood to become too smooth, too buttery and slick.
The color is sunshiney, yellow crossed with green. It's a full nose: yeast, some butter, and grass in equal amounts, with touches of tropical fruit, guava and ginko. The palate has melon, tangerine, green apple and white flowers, and it all stands up straight due to the wonderful acidity. It's a great wine with outstanding structure and solidity. Almost worth the $48 it costs to buy a bottle. Bring it down to $35 and I'd call it a bargain.