America’s favorite wine well-represented in Northwest
Ripe Chardonnay grapes await harvest in a vineyard north of Prosser in Washington’s Yakima Valley. (photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)
Chardonnay is, and continues to be America’s favorite wine. Of course, California leads the way, with 675,000 tons crushed in last fall’s harvest, Chardonnay made up a full 16 percent of the state’s total.
In Washington, while Chardonnay is the No. 1 white grape and No. 2 overall, winemakers crushed about 45,000 tons in fall 2016. This is a number that has steadily risen in recent years. As of 2017, acreage in Washington has nearly topped 7,700 acres, up from 2,600 acres as recently as 1993.
Chardonnay arrived in Washington in 1963, and has steadily grown since then. Of course, leading the way is Ste. Michelle Vineyards, which reportedly makes more a million cases a year, rivaling its production of Riesling.
Chardonnay can be made in several styles, from heavily oaked to clean, sleek styles made in stainless steel tanks, and combinations of both. This exploration of styles is injecting newinterest in Chardonnay among wine lovers. Here are a few examples from Washington, Oregon and Idaho we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at you’re favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Ponzi Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay Reserve, Willamette Valley, $40
Luisa Ponzi will be among the second-generation winemakers selected to pour at the 2018 Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, and her 2014 reserve Chardonnay represents a selection of four renowned sites in the North Willamette Valley — Avellana and Aurora in the Chehalem Mountains, Sunset View Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills and organically farmed Thistle Vineyard in the Dundee Hills. Here’s a classic Chardonnay nose with butter and toasted filberts leading into dusty Asian pear and sugar cane. Complexity is created as beaming acidity, combined with the 18-month barrel program of less than 10% new French oak, preserves flavors of starfruit, clementine and Granny Smith apple.
Production: 1,200 cases
Buty Winery 2015 Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $42
One of the Northwest’s leaders for work with whites from cool-climate sites, Chris Dowsett creates a complex and fascinating Chardonnay from historic Conner Lee Vineyard near the Columbia Basin town of Othello, Wash. By blending lots fermented in predominantly neutral French oak with nearly equal amounts that spent time in concrete, Dowsett showcases fruity aromas of Granny Smith apple and lemon with jasmine. Inside, there’s impeccable balance to the flavors of white peach, Bosc pear and starfruit, backed by toasted almond and capped by lingering lemony acidity. It’s quite an achievement consider this was a record-setting warm vintage, and Dowsett showed precision with his three picks from two blocks in a 10-day window that closed Sept. 7.
Production: 330 cases
Long Shadows Vintners 2015 Dance Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $37
One of the most recent additions to the Long Shadows Vintners portfolio is the Dance project that fulfills a passion for Chardonnay shared by Allen Shoup and his founding winemaker, Gilles Nicault. The duo seems to have found their mark, starting with warm-climate Wente clone from California planted at two cooler Yakima Valley sites near Prosser, Wash. — Boushey Vineyard and Crawford Vineyard. Half of the lot went through Nicault’s prized concrete egg, while the other half went through French oak, 30% of those barrels were new. That keeps the fruit at the forefront, launching with aromas of a lemon bar, starfruit and baked Bosc pear, backed by brioche and light toast. The craftsmanship is precise with fruit-forward flavors of Asian pear and more starfruit, leading to a medium weight and lingering lemony finish.
Production: 425 cases
Airfield Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, $15
Best Buy! The maturity and abundance of the Miller family’s 860-acre planting continues to pay dividends for consumers, and particularly in the case of Chardonnay lovers with this lightly oaked example. There’s typicity in the aromas of Pink Lady apple, Asian pear, banana and lemon, which make their way on to the palate in delicious accord. Additional hints of Bananas Foster add to the pleasing texture, that’s balanced by a crisp finish of lemon and pineapple. It pushes all the buttons.
Production: 3,013 cases
Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2016 Chardonnay, Washington, $19
Dusted Valley’s team has grown its Boomtown project to 20,000 cases, keyed by its relationship with Wahluke Wine Co., and Chardonnay ranks as the smallest production in their lineup of five standalone varieties. They haven’t strayed from their winning formula of 59% barrel fermented in neutral oak, which went through full malolactic fermentation and bâtonnage for four months. That combination with the 41% stainless steel fermentation creates complexity, opening with aromas of pear, lemon curd, crushed banana, butterscotch and light toast. There’s mouthwatering acidity among the flavors of starfruit, fresh lemon, mango and lime pulp, making it an easy drinker and great match for spicy seafood dishes.
Production: 275 cases
Spindrift Cellars 2016 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, $22
Among the legacies of California researcher Harold Olmo is Chardonnay clone 108, material that’s also referred to as a “Davis” clone or the Wente clone. Willamette Valley producers largely have replaced this with Dijon clones from Burgundy, but longtime grower/winemaker Matt Compton enjoys working with the now-obscure clone 108 for his Chardonnay program. It’s easy to see why, and there is still a large swath of wine lovers who adore Chardonnay offered with such hugely tropical notes. Aromas of POG (passion-orange-guava) juice and peach taffy are mirrored on the palate, making for a delicious oak-free, fruit-forward quaffer that’s lively with a finish of lemon and orange. Enjoy it well-chilled with pork, seafood and creamy dishes, and look for it at wine shops and grocery stores in Oregon, Washington and New York.
Production: 345 cases
Horan Estates Winery 2015 Bottoms Up Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $22
This tiny producer in Cashmere enters its second decade of operation with winemaker Dennis Dobbs and his wife, Diana, delivering a string of stellar wines since taking over from her McDougall cousins in 2012. This luscious Chardonnay reveals aromas and flavors of citrus, apple peel, ripe pear and melted butter, making for a round, delicious white wine. It captured a gold medal and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.
Production: 420 cases
Drumheller Wines 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $12
Best Buy! Ste. Michelle Wine Estates targeted this young bargain brand for sales in restaurants, and winemaker Tim Jones almost immediately began earning acclaim and amassing gold medals for the reds wines. (The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon won best of class at the 2017 Washington State Wine Competition.) And the 2015 Chardonnay shows a lot of style, thanks in part of the grapes that come from the surrounding Horse Heaven Hills where it is made. Named for the Drumheller Channels carved out near Moses Lake by the Ice Age floods, Jones deftly uses a blend of 50/50 blend of stainless steel fermentation and 10 months of oak barrel fermentation to create a charming Chardonnay. Aromas of caramel corn, and butterscotch are matched on the palate, where fruitiness of honeydew melon and lemon create a bright and zippy finish to accompany fresh crab, herb-crusted halibut, veal or wild mushrooms. While these wines are made near the Horse Heaven Hills community of Paterson, there is no tasting room for Drumheller. However, look for them near you with this Find Our Wines search module.
Production: 12,000 cases
Ste. Chapelle Winery 2016 Panoramic Idaho Block 16 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $20
Boise native Meredith Smith took over as head winemaker a few weeks prior to the start of the 2016 harvest, and her debut vintage for Ste. Chapelle serves notice of delicious things in store. Grapes for these eight barrels of chardonnay came from 400-acre Skyline Vineyard, and there’s light oak with toast and nuttiness alongside apple and lemon/lime acidity. This earned a gold medal and best of class at the 2017 Idaho Wine Competition, and these Panoramic Series bottlings are available at the Sunnyslope tasting room and can be found in throughout Idaho.
Production: 200 cases