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Wine of the Week: Marimar Estate 2018 La Masia, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay

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This week's blind tasting

Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Marimar Estate

2018 La Masia Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14% alcohol, $39. ★★★★½

This is a lush chardonnay with notes of apple, creme brulée and brioche. And it has a toffee finish. Rich yet balanced, it’s buoyed by bright acidity. This is a chardonnay lover’s chardonnay. Lovely.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Sangiacomo 2017 Home Ranch, Carneros Chardonnay, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★½: A lovely chardonnay with notes of ripe apple, lemon zest and tangerine. It has crisp acid and a hint of minerality. This chardonnay is irresistible and begs for another glass.

Ramey 2016 Richie Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★½: A striking chardonnay with gorgeous aromas and flavors. Notes of apple, melon and brioche, all riding on crisp acid. Great complexity. Nice length. Extremely well crafted.

Williams Selyem 2017 Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.9%, $65. ★★★★½: An impressive chardonnay with a range of flavors –– crisp apple, ripe pear, tangerine and creme brulée. Pitch perfect balance. Finishes crisp. Just lovely.

Olema 2018 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.8%, $15. ★★★★½: Creamy with rich notes of apple, lemon curd and ripe pear. Hint of roasted hazelnut in the mix. Lingering finish. A steal for the price.

A winery set amid vineyards — rolling hills ribbed with vines — has a clear advantage when it comes to harvesting the grapes.

During picking season, transporting grapes to the press is always a sprint.

“I am literally a three-minute walk to the closest chardonnay block,” said Tony Britton, cellar master and vineyard manager of Sebastopol’s Marimar Estate. “If the grapes have to travel a great distance, they’ll juice in the bins, and you can get an oxidized effect … our grapes retain acid and stay intact.”

The sprinter is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– the Marimar Estate, 2018 La Masia, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay at $39.

This is a lush chardonnay with notes of apple, creme brulée, brioche and a hint of toffee.

It’s rich and complex yet masterfully balanced, buoyed with crisp acid. It’s a chardonnay lover’s chardonnay, and it’s just lovely.

“One of the benchmarks of this property is we’re able to get complex flavors and aromas but still retain good acid,” Britton said.

Over time Britton discovered that this benchmark extends beyond Marimar Estate to the sum of Green Valley.

“With Green Valley in the Russian River Valley, there’s a commonality between ourselves and our neighbors,” he said. “The microclimate and soils are so well suited for chardonnay and pinot noir. When we taste our neighbors’ wines, I see a common thread. There’s a great acid structure in Green Valley wines.”

The cellar master said the winery’s philosophy is for winemaking to have “minimal intervention” and use a “judicious amount” of new oak, Britton said. This bottling only had 31% new oak.

“We actually have four different chardonnay blocks and within that three different clones,” he said.

“We obviously monitor each block as maturity happens and pick when they are physiologically ripe.”

What gives him the edge, Britton said, is his experience. He has worked on the property for more than two decades.

“I’ve been here since 1994, so I know the blocks intimately and how the clones express themselves at different maturity levels,” he said.

It was, incidentally, in the vineyards at Windsor’s Martinelli Vineyards & Winery in 1982 where Britton first began his winemaking odyssey.

Two years later, he began a 10-year winemaking stint making sparkling wine at Kenwood’s Chateau St. Jean before joining the team at Marimar as cellar master.

“I learned early on how important vineyard care is,” Britton said. “I know great wine is made in the vineyard. In 2012 at Marimar, I also became the vineyard manager.”

While Britton doesn’t have a degree in viticulture or enology, he took many courses at the Santa Rosa Junior College as well as weekend courses at UC Davis.

“It’s been on-the-job training for me, with many wonderful mentors,” he said. “The most challenging part of making chardonnay is trying to achieve the maturity of the grapes without making high-alcohol wines.”

With founder Marimar Torres, a noted cookbook author, it’s important to craft wines that are a suitable match for her dishes, Britton said.

“Our team,” he said, “has always had the goal of making elegant chardonnay that works well with food.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week's blind tasting

Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Marimar Estate

2018 La Masia Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14% alcohol, $39. ★★★★½

This is a lush chardonnay with notes of apple, creme brulée and brioche. And it has a toffee finish. Rich yet balanced, it’s buoyed by bright acidity. This is a chardonnay lover’s chardonnay. Lovely.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Sangiacomo 2017 Home Ranch, Carneros Chardonnay, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★½: A lovely chardonnay with notes of ripe apple, lemon zest and tangerine. It has crisp acid and a hint of minerality. This chardonnay is irresistible and begs for another glass.

Ramey 2016 Richie Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★½: A striking chardonnay with gorgeous aromas and flavors. Notes of apple, melon and brioche, all riding on crisp acid. Great complexity. Nice length. Extremely well crafted.

Williams Selyem 2017 Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.9%, $65. ★★★★½: An impressive chardonnay with a range of flavors –– crisp apple, ripe pear, tangerine and creme brulée. Pitch perfect balance. Finishes crisp. Just lovely.

Olema 2018 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.8%, $15. ★★★★½: Creamy with rich notes of apple, lemon curd and ripe pear. Hint of roasted hazelnut in the mix. Lingering finish. A steal for the price.

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