Renee Ary fell in love with wine while working her first harvest as a lab technician at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. That was 1999, said Ary, the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Duckhorn Vineyards, 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay at $35.

“I remember being able to feel the energy change in the valley when harvest started and the first grapes hit the winery,” she said.

“I knew immediately the excitement that accompanied smelling and tasting the juice was something I’d never forget, and that this would be a life-long passion and career.”

The 2012 bottling is this St. Helena winery’s first chardonnay, and it’s striking. It has a lush texture, with notes of apple, pear, toast and a hint of butterscotch. It’s rich, yet it manages to be balanced.

Ary credits that to plenty of behind-the-scenes effort.

“An incredible amount of tasting and attention to detail goes into making barrel fermented chardonnay,” she said.

“We spent years leading up to the release of our 2012 vintage, finding the right vineyard sources, experimenting in the cellar and refining our style to make it what it is today.”

Fruit from each block in the vineyard is kept separate and is broken down into smaller lots in the cellar, where the experimentation with oak and blending options takes place.

The goal is to make a house style that’s full-bodied, balanced and food-friendly.

“The balance between oak and fruit is extremely important,” Ary said. “We strive not to overpower our chardonnay with oak. We seek harmony among the components and rely on oak to enhance the weight and roundness of the palate rather than provide overt toastiness.”

Chardonnay is a bit of a quandary.

As Ary puts it, “The varietal is extremely malleable and yet very expressive on its own. Chardonnay has taken on many forms over the years, from the old world burgundies to the nouveau 100% stainless chardonnays, to the super rich, buttery styles that are so prevalent in the market today.

“There is something to be said about a classic wine, and for me that means never chasing trends. The pendulum will continue to swing, and we will remain true to our style.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest chardonnays.

Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of chardonnays, and the flight was of great quality across the board. Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Duckhorn Vineyards, 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay at $35.


Duckhorn Vineyards, 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.1 percent alcohol, $35. ★★★★ A striking chardonnay with a lush texture. Notes of apple, pear, toast and a hint of butterscotch. Lingering finish. Exceptional for the price.

Other impressive wines

Bacigalupi, 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.1 percent, $56. ★★ 1⁄2 A gorgeous chardonnay, with great complexity. Notes of pineapple, creme brulee and mineral. A toasty oak finish. Rich. A chardonnay to savor. Impressive.

La Follette, 2012 Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.5 percent, $38. ★★1⁄2 A complex chardonnay with gorgeous fruit and a lush texture. Notes of lemon, mineral and brioche. Nice length. Rock star.

Dutton Goldfield, 2012 Dutton Ranch, Walker Hill Vineyard, Green Valley of Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.1 percent, $38. ★★A tasty chardonnay with a lot going on. Aromas and flavors of pear, guava, tangerine and Meyer lemon. Great minerality.

Gracianna, 2013 Suzanne’s Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.3 percent, $34. ★★★1⁄2 A creamy chardonnay that’s rich, yet manages to have good balance. Tasty notes of apple, butter and toast. Solid.