Chardonnay is a malleable grape, one that should be free of fingerprints.
That’s according to Bo Felton of Migration Wines.
“I often feel like it’s my job to protect the grapes that show up on the back of the truck,” Felton said.
“You need to trust the quality of the vineyards, the work of the growers and the quality of the fruit,” Felton added.
Felton is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week — the Migration, 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay at $32.
It’s a layered chardonnay with aromas and flavors of pear, honeysuckle and crème brulee. Rich and complex, the chardonnay still manages to be vibrant. It has a lush texture and nice length.
The wine is balanced, which is crucial, Felton said.
“The quality of the fruit was so great in 2012 it was almost an embarrassment of riches,” Felton said. “The trick was finding that ideal balance between the elements.”
Chardonnay, Felton said, is a winemaker’s wine.
“It can be gently shaped to accentuate certain characteristics, but this is a delicate balancing act,” he said.
“You also have to be very respectful,” Felton added, “to maintain the qualities that drew you to the vineyards in the first place.”
One thing the uninitiated don’t know about chardonnay, Felton said, is how picking decisions play to complexity.
“When to pick is a huge decision, and we make these decisions based on the individual vineyards, blocks, and sometimes even rows,” Felton said. “You can build complexity by picking some grapes a little earlier, and others a bit later.”
Felton was raised in Colorado and he was introduced to wine by his grandfather, who was an avid home winemaker.
“Each vintage, after he’d driven a van full of grapes from California to Colorado, my family would help de-stem the fruit by hand and ultimately help turn it into wine,” Felton said.
“These early experiences left me with a fascination for wine,” Felton added.
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com.
Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest chardonnays.
Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of chardonnays, ranging from refined to full-bodied with everything in-between. Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Migration, 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay at $32.
TOP PICK: Migration, 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.3 percent alcohol, $32. ★★★★
This chardonnay is striking, with notes of white flowers, stone fruit and lemon custard. It’s rich and has a lush texture, but it’s buoyed by its bright acid and crisp finish.
Other impressive wines
Etude, 2012 Carneros Estate Chardonnay, 14.3 percent, $32. ★★★★
This is a lovely, layered chardonnay. It has aromas and flavors of pear, apple and quince. It has great minerality and wins you over with its delicate floral notes.
Inman, 2012 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 11.6 percent, $35. ★★★★
This is an elegant chardonnay and what makes it a standout is that it’s spare. It has high-toned fruit, crisp acid and nice minerality. It’s a terrific summer white.
Chateau St. Jean, 2012 Belle Terre Vineyard, Alexander Valley Chardonnay, 14.4 percent, $25. ★★★ 1⁄2
A lush chardonnay that’s rich and smoky. Notes of pear, apple and creme brulee. Lingering finish.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Cabernet Sauvignon, the venerable statesman
Rodney Strong, 2015 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5% alcohol, $20. ★★★★
This is a cab that clearly overdelivers. It has generous fruit — black cherry and black raspberry — with herbs and spicy oak. It has good structure with firm tannins and a nice length.
J. Lohr, 2015 Hilltop, Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $35. ★★★★: This is a pretty cab with black raspberry fruit, herbs and spice, and the flavors meld together seamlessly. The cab has good balance, ripe tannins and a lingering finish. It’s well-crafted.
Duckhorn, 2014 Three Palms Vineyard, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.9%, $98. ★★★★: This is a gorgeous cab with notes of black raspberry fruit, and notes of cinnamon and clove in the mix. It has a soft and supple texture, with ripe tannins. Nice length. Striking.
Cliff Lede, 2015 Stag’s Leap District, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15%, $78. ★★★★: This is a striking cab with complex aromas and flavors. It has notes of jasmine, black currant, blackberry, cinnamon and black pepper. The Cliff Lede has bright acidity and great balance. Top rate.
Justin, 2015 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5%, $25. ★★★1/2: This is a savory cab with dried herbs at the forefront, while cherry and black currant fruit play backup. What melds it together is a hint of caramel. Smart.