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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Thursday
Feb162006

Trey’s March Chardonnay Picks

People in the wine industry have a tendency to generalize California Chardonnay. It is perceived by many as over-oaked, heavy and lacking acidity and balance. While this may be true for some it is unfair to say all California Chardonnay is in the same style. There are many that could easily be confused with a great White Burgundy if tasted blind. Two of these wines I believe are the 2003 Varner “Home Vineyard” Santa Cruz Chardonnay ($28.99) and the 2003 Varner “Bee Block” Santa Cruz Chardonnay ($29.99). Both really show what California Chardonnay is capable of. The Home Vineyard is made up of vines that are 23 years old. The Bee Block's vines average about 15 years old. Both wines are made in a truly “hands-off” approach. Owners Jim and Bob Varner both believe the wine is made in the vineyard and not in the cellar. New oak is kept in check, 50% new French on the Bee Block and 40% on the Home. Both wines show great acidity and freshness, along with rich mid-palates and long spicy finishes. I think with a couple more years in the bottle both will gain even more complexity and richness. Another wine in a similar style is the 2003 Hanzell Sonoma Chardonnay ($54.99). Minimal new oak and very little malolactic fermentation makes this a precise and pure Chardonnay worth lying down for a while. This wine shows mineral-driven fruit aroma with flavors of white pear, green apple and citrus notes. Subtle hints of toast and spice notes remain in the background and linger on the finish. For those of you looking for that “typical” California style, I would recommend one of the best. The 2003 Sbragia “Gamble Ranch” Napa Chardonnay ($34.99) is for those of you who are looking for that rich, lush and creamy texture in a white wine. Owner Ed Sbragia, the current head winemaker at Beringer, has created this wine with all his signature techniques. The wine is rich and opulent with a buttery, nutty quality that seems to linger on the palate for several minutes. —Trey Beffa

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