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
Monterey County and its sub-appellations hold an increasingly prominent place in California’s wine history. Currently, Monterey is re-affirming itself as a world-class winemaking region for grapes like chardonnay, pinot noir and other warm-climate haters. Santa Lucia, without a doubt, is the premium growing region in Monterey, and one of the best producers there is Morgan Winery. Founded in 1982, Morgan’s quest for shocking Chardonnays and perfect Pinots has produced wines that are heads, shoulders and torso above much of the surrounding wineries. The 2004 Morgan “Metallico” Chardonnay ($16.99) is a laser of a wine, made in stainless steel, no ML, yet clean, bright, crisp fruit with superb minerality and focus. The richly dressed 2004 Morgan “Twelve Clones” Pinot Noir ($24.99) jumps out of the glass with sumptuous aromatics and rounded vanilla and cherry notes. Double L, short for Double Luck, named for the owner’s twin daughters, is an organically grown vineyard that is probably one of the best pinot/chardonnay vineyards in the Central Coast. Each effort, the 2003 Morgan “Double L” Pinot Noir ($46.99) and the 2004 Morgan “Double L” Chardonnay ($27.99), reflects the exquisite purity, power and refinement that come from meticulously cared for, pesticide-free vines planted at the right place with the right grapes. Farther south, we run into Graff Family Vineyards, the family that started it all in Monterey. What, you say? Never heard of them before? The family only co-founded Chalone! Now, the same winemaker whose deft hand makes world-class pinot noir is making wine from the old family estate. The 2003 Graff Family Chalone Pinot Blanc ($15.99) shows the classy, elegant and supple side of this lovely grape while the 2003 Graff Family Chalone Mourvèdre ($15.99) shows the softer, sexier side of this otherwise powerful, husky grape. In fact, it’s one of those rare bottles that appeals to the entire spectrum of wine appreciators, from beginners all the way up to our own store manager! I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Incredible! Take a bow, Monterey. You have superstars in your midst. Enjoy! —Martin Reyes
Spring hits us this month, and it’s about time! I’m ready for some fresh sauvignon blanc on the patio, and I’ve found just the wines! The 2004 St. Supéry Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($13.99) is a great backyard quaff. Crisp and clean on the nose with notes of tangerine and sweet chalk, the wine has a touch of Asian pear filling out the palate of bright and crisp lime peel, lemon, sweet fresh hay and a smooth lemon curd touch. Absolutely refreshing. I stole the 2004 Morgan Monterey Sauvignon Blanc ($10.99) from Martin’s article on Monterey, and I’m not sorry! Creamy in texture with exotic fruits, Mexican papaya, white peaches and apricot. It’s lifted a bit with notes of citrus and a lively acidity and finished clean and crisp. Everything you want from an everyday SB, varietally correct, easy to pair and a crowd pleaser. If you really want to wake up your palate, try the 2004 De Sante Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($16.99). Leading of with a bright figgy/grassy noted nose, this zippy and lively sauvignon blanc is absolutely mothwatering! White grapefruit, guava, fresh grass, lemon blossom and a chalky/fine mineral edge combine to perfection. I love this wine. It’s a bit like a cross between New Zealand and classic Napa. If I were Jim Barr I would give this many cat faces. The 2001 Spring Ridge Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay ($12.99) breaks the SB rule for this article, but this wine is a steal so I’m putting it in anyway. The rich nutty/praline nose reminds me of the Burgundian notes found in expensive Chardonnay. A palate of exotic pear and Fuji apple mingles with hazelnut, orange rind and fine minerals. Rich and opulent, but not overbearing, the oak is fully integrated and simply complements its fantastic fruit, and the acidity forms a wonderful complement to the supple textures. —Shaun Green
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