The last decade has seen vast improvement in the quality and perception of Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley. Unlike Burgundy, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are held in fairly equal esteem and planted in even proportions, Chardonnay plantings are a huge minority. Early in the region's evolution there was much discussion on which 'clones' of Chardonnay to plant; certain ones will ripen earlier than others, which is very important in the cooler climate of Oregon, but may not develop the flavor. There was a large push for California clones that were popular at the time, but when they tended to under-perform in tougher vintages, much of it was changed over to the more predictable Pinot Noir. There was even a recent major Oregon wine symposium called 'The Attack of the Clones' (insert Star Wars reference here). 'Those that chose wisely, like Arteberry Maresh and Eyrie, have become legendary, and now you are seeing a second wave of Chardonnay planting with much more promising results. Omero is an up and coming producer of very solid, unpretentious wines that scream Oregon style. Their fruit comes from both older and younger vineyards planted to French clones, and the winemaking style is straight out of Chablis right down to the use of large new and used casks to minimize the barrel flavor intrusion on the juice.
When first popped, the wine is racy and laser-like focused with racy white fruit, lemon zest and cool rindy melon, but as it opens up it starts to take on some of the pulpy fruit elements that comes from the time in barrel and aged on its lees. The palate also takes on a bit of buttery creaminess, but it is only as a compliment to the vibrant natural fruit, not the dominant character. This is an extremely attractive style of Chardonnay for those of you that are finding it harder and harder to find White Burgundy fitting your budget, or are about to considering the difficult 2015 and 2016 vintages that are approaching.
With the University of Virginia students starting to arrive and area K-12 schools either already in session or starting next week, Summer is all but officially over and the city of Charlottesville is back to business as usual. As everyone returns from their travels all over the globe, it's a good time to remind everyone of the quality wines coming from our state's best vineyards. Though they only started putting in vines in 2008, Bluestone Winery near Bridgewater has quickly earned many accolades, most notably this Chardonnay receiving a Gold at the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup. Named after the colored limestone that is prevalent in the local soil ,as well as a key feature in the architecture of the original James Madison University campus, the Bluestone component brings out an extra layer of complexity that warrants the wine being included in the 'Governor's Case' from last year.
Definitely built in the Californian style of Chardonnay versus a Burgundian approach, the aromas are unabashedly rich and round, loaded with creamy pear and apple tones and a little touch of smoky oak, but surprisingly well integrated and in control as it can take even the best wines some time to absorb their oak. On the palate the wine is even more successful, showing initial mouth-filling fruit and excellent polish with the fruit from the nose, then developing the mineral character on the finish that gives the wine some complexity and interest. This is a very good wine that doesn't need the qualifier 'for Virginia' added, it stands on its own merits.
INSIDER'S PICK: 2011 RASA VINEYARDS/PB WINES SYRAH/CABERNET SAUVIGNON COLUMBIA VALLEY $19.99
This week we are going off our usual white wine selection kick for the warm weather in order to show off an exciting value in a big burly West Coast red. Rasa is a highly regarded boutique house in Washington, founded nearly a decade ago by the brilliant Naravane brothers that both exited very successful technology careers to pursue their passions in the wine industry. While many endeavors like this peak and falter, their wines have been sought after since the start, showcasing the unique vineyard character of their many small production wines. The PB label was constructed as a 'value line' of more affordable wines (for them, anyway), but after some of the contracts for their fruit sources ended they decided to stop making this particular label. So they are having a winery-endorsed blowout of the last cases (barely more than 600 cases total produced, so there can't be THAT many left); it isn't often that the winery encourages the retailer to sell their wines for $12 less than what they initially sold them for, but we're here to help with great deals like this.
From the first pour the wine is the essence of a Washington red, almost completely opaque in the glass and brimming with deep black fruits and hints of sweet vanilla from the oak. For many the nose alone will be worth the price of admission. On the palate the texture is equally rich but isn't an oozing fruit monster either, showing good structure and acidity, lots of cocoa notes at first that build to more of the rich red fruits from the nose showing up as the wine opens up. For the regular $30+ the winery asks for the wine, it's a solid deal; for under $20 it's a screamer.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is considered one of the most important and noble white wines in Italian history (which is saying A LOT!), known by name for over a thousand years and one of the first to be exported across Europe. It was the first region to adopt the new Italian D.O.C. structure in 1966, and is one of the very few white wines to be elevated to the highest D.O.C.G. status. It's a sturdy, complex. and distinctive wine when made from 100% of the Vernaccia varietal, but the tendency has been for the more mass market producers to tart them up with a small allowable (but still sneaky) portion of more aromatic grapes. Blending grapes isn't in and of itself a bad thing of course, as it is the backbone of the majority of great wines from across the world, and the innovation can lead to new expressions of terroir. But this varietal, like Pinot Noir in Burgundy, has such a reputation for standing on its own that tinkering with it for marketability is a bit of dirty pool, especially when it is the drier more savory notes in the wine that make it so special.
Fortunately, this new arrival from one of our favorite Italian importers Diego DeCorte is all about the tradition, and brings a lot of texture and tension out for the price point. A big nose of baked apple, rindy melon and savory aromatic herbs that are very cuisine driven; unless you cook a lot, it's the types of herbs most of us only use in a special dish once a year, but when you pass by the smell you kick yourself for not using them more. You will catch a lot of those types of herbs here every time you swirl the glass. The palate is equally impressive, round and fleshy without any sign of tropical fruit, filling the mouth with a long lingering green apple and crispy skin finish that completely takes over the salivary reflexes. Great with a wide variety of seafood (eel and Vernaccia were said to be a particular hit during the renaissance), and definitely one of the best food oriented wines in the store.
The Best of the Best.
We offering free tastings on these wines in the store every Thursday and Friday, and a 10% discount off the retail price through the duration of the day. Come on by and give them a try!