Today's bottle comes from Northern California's Chandon Winery, a proud maker of an exceptional sparkling red ($30). This Pinot Noir and Zinfandel blend is currently exclusively available at the winery, making a visit to the gorgeous Yountville location all the more enticing, and here's why.
The wine's cherry and rose scent coaxed us to pour a glass on the heavier side, and as we sipped, the flavor bloomed on our palates. Smooth yet smoky, jammy yet peppery, and floral yet earthy: each sip built upon itself with new notes. Although many Pinot Noirs are thinner bodied and lower in tannins, this wine held its own without being overly acidic. We'd pair it with rich, crispy duck confit or a vegetarian entrée with portobello mushrooms.
Upon opening, the Chardonnay held so much promise. A robust perfume of toasted wheat, brown butter, and toasted oak filled the air. Yet on the tongue, it was sharp, citrusy, and pucker inducing, much like preserved lemon. While this particular style of Chardonnay might be too overwhelming for daytime drinking and light salad lunches, a well-chilled bottle would play nicely with creamy Gruyere, or butter-slathered seafood, spritzed with fresh lemon wedges. The 2010 Landmark Overlook Chardonnay may not have the exact smoothness of the Chardonnays I crave, but it's a worthy bottle to pair with late Summer and early Fall suppers.
Thinking we were in for a heavy, tannic Cab, I reached to open the 2008 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70) for a little office tasting. To our surprise, the wine was surprisingly mellow, with brandied cherries, cinnamon, and chocolate hitting the nose and palate. I was fully anticipating a mouth-puckering, fuzzy-sweater finish, but the tannin finish was velvety, leaving only a subtle trace of its presence behind.
Midtasting, I noticed something very rare take place: tasters lingered around the bottle, refilling their glasses with another splash until the bottle reached its last drop in record time, a clear indicator that the wine is worth its weightier price tag. I returned to my desk a little warmer — and with a greater understanding of the potential of an Alexander Valley Cabernet.
As an educated consumer, I try not to read too much into labeling (after all, it's often naught but a marketing ploy) but was nonetheless intrigued by the 2010 Caricature Red Wine's ($15) claim to be a "wine of character with great legs." While from the outset that statement may seem glib, the LangeTwins Family Winery wasn't joking around: we unanimously agreed that this Cabernet Sauvignon-Zinfandel blend possessed great "legs" and a silky smooth mouthfeel to boot.
I don't generally find big reds to be very drinkable on their own, and prefer to enjoy them with a meal, but was surprised by how smoothly the sips went down, despite Caricature's earthy flavor profile and 14.2 percent alcohol content. Perhaps it was due to a case of the Tuesdays (far more vicious that the Mondays, one might argue), but the wine's velvety texture largely contributed to our copious consumption. Still, I'm pretty sure this bottle would be equally appropriate enjoyed under celebratory circumstances, whether sipped solo or enjoyed as part of a sumptuous meal with friends.
Customarily, winemakers add yeast to the grapes to propel fermentation, but this Chardonnay is a cuvée sauvage. Sauvage in French means "wild" or "natural," indicating the grape juice, stored in a barrel, slowly developed natural yeast strains and fermented on its own. The fermented wine is then aged in oak barrels sur lie — meaning "on the yeast" — which contributes to added flavor complexity.
The wine pours out a golden hue, a sign that our palates are in for a strong, heavy white that holds its own and offers enough depth and intricacy to appeal to red-wine drinkers. On the nose and tongue, the scent and flavors sync harmoniously. Vanilla bean, butter, caramelized sugar, hazelnut, and toasty oak swirl together for a hefty, rich combination. Perhaps there's a slight hint of apple and lemon, but the fruitiness of the wine subtly lingers in the background. With each swallow, the velvety tannins from the oak coat the tongue and throat but don't stick there relentlessly. Red-wine drinkers, I challenge you to taste and enjoy this Chardonnay.
This 2009 Chardonnay is a layer cake indeed. Aged in stainless steel tanks, rather than French oak barrels, the aroma of the Chardonnay is clean but also distinctly buttery. On the tongue, vanilla, tart lemon, and frothy meringue come to mind, and it swallows with a roasted flavor like popcorn and a hint of a warming spice, such as nutmeg. On a hot day, I'd pair this wine with a lightly sautéed white fish. However, I'd love to store a few of these bottles for the Winter, when I'm making creamy, rich fettuccine alfredo.
The Rosé is tart and astringent on the nose, like sour cherries, yet its ripe, syrupy watermelon flavor is unexpected. The slightly tannic quality makes it thirst-quenching, particularly on hot Summer days. While the days stretch long into the evenings, sip this Rosé on your patio with a large platter of manchego cheese, olives marinated in crushed red peppers, and Carr's Water Crackers. This wine has me thinking it's never too temprano ("early" in Spanish) for Tempranillo Rosé!
Photo: Susannah Chen