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Tasting Notes

Cali Chards: Still Packin' Wood

California Chardonnays @ Far Niente. March 2007

In a "preview" tasting of 19 higher end chards, there were a lot of nice surprises and here are my favourites. The fact that the Bay Street restaurant where the tasting was held (seriously good now following its recent revamp) shares the same louche Italian name as my favourite Cali chard is entirely coincidental. Yet, in both cases, there's nothing to do but taste.

The Top Ten
Far Niente. $74.95
Pricey but terrific: appealing nose, smooth on palate, nice integration of light vanilla and butterscotch over a hint of melon, medium to fuller bodied, not over oaked, and a great finish. 92 points.

Newton Vineyard, Red Label. $30.00
Rather round, but nicely smooth, with well integrated oak and apple fruit. Good acidity and decent finish. 91 points.

Gallo Family Vineyards, Laguna Vineyards, RRV. $29.95
Medium bodied, with vanilla, toast and lemon notes, this wine is smooth. I was surprised to learn the alcohol level is 14.5% - usually bad news flavour wise, but they managed to balance it well. 90 points.

Tandem, Porter-Bass, Sonoma Coast. $55.95
This in-your-face wine hits you with a pronounced nose that's very characteristic of an oaky New World chard. It's a little round on the palate, but citrus notes add some zest. Very nice oak/vanilla after notes. 90 points.

Greg Norman Estates, Santa Barbara. $19.95** BEST VALUE **
Aussie Greg Norman established a California beachead in the up-and-coming Central Coast area between LA and San Francisco. Some citrus notes in the relatively low-key nose followed by a nice surprise of crisp acidity and more citrus on the palate. It's a bit oaky, and the sweetish vanilla is almost annoying, but you forgive it after the decent finish. 89 points.

Sonoma - Cutrer, Les Pierre. $54.95
This one's more in the Old World style, with an odd nose of anise. The anise hint carried through on the palate, which was creamy and also had caramel notes. Acid levels good, leading to a nice finish. 89 points.

Nichols Winery, Edna Ranch Vineyard. $44.25
The very butterscotch nose tells you you're in California, but even though you worry that it might be over-oaked, there's a nice balance on the palate and the citrus notes are there. Good finish. 89 points.

Schug Carneros, Sonoma Coast. $31.95
Good nose of not just apple, but even a hint of tropical fruit. Edging towards Old World in style, with more fresh fruit on the palate, nice body and an OK finish. 89 points.

Francis Coppola, Director's Cut, Russian River. $29.95
No celebrity worship here: it was a blind tasting and we didn't see the cool label until afterwards. The nose isn't overly impressive, but there's good vanilla on the palate. Smooth and not fruity, this wine is very fresh with good acidity levels. 88 points.

Frog's Leap, Napa Valley. $37.35
The nose is a little odd but certainly not oaky. It's smooth on palate, with apple and pear notes. Acid level is good, yet it still feels round. Just a hint of vanilla as it's delicately oaked. Refreshing finish. 88 points.

see also: Chardonnay; Summer of Riesling


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