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Wine of the Week: Ramey 2016 Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay

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This week's blind tasting

Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Ramey

2016 Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay, 14.5% alcohol, $65. ★★★★½

An elegant chardonnay, crisp with high-toned fruit. It has an appealing intensity on the palate. What makes this a standout is its tangy fruit and depth of flavors. It’s complex, with layers of grapefruit, tangerine and tart lemon. Balanced. Lingering finish. Spot on.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Small Vines 2016 Sonoma Coast Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14%, $55. ★★★★: A well-crafted chardonnay with aromas and flavors of green apple, tangerine and a hint of butterscotch. Rich and supple, yet perfectly balanced, from start to finish. Striking.

Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.4%, $40. ★★★★: This is a tasty chardonnay with green apple and stone fruit upfront. Notes of grapefruit and spices play back up. Pitch-perfect balance. Lovely.

Castello di Amorosa 2017 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay, 14.3%, $59. ★★★½: A layered chardonnay with aromas and flavors of ripe apple, pear and toast. Full-bodied and lush.

J. Lohr 2018 Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, 14%, $25. ★★★: An approachable chardonnay with notes of apple, pear, toast and a hint of lemon. Balanced. Solid.

Did you know that chardonnay is the red wine of whites?

That is how vintner David Ramey views this varietal, this peacock of whites, this ever-popular varietal whose homeland is Burgundy.

“It’s the most complex, compelling, interesting white wine,” Ramey said.

The vintner is behind our wine of the week winner — the Ramey 2016 Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay at $65.

It’s an elegant chardonnay, crisp with high-toned fruit. It has an appealing intensity on the palate. What makes this a standout is its tangy fruit and depth of flavors. It’s complex, with layers of grapefruit, tangerine and tart lemon. Rich and supple, this chardonnay is perfectly balanced from start to finish.

Other tasty wines at a lower price point include the Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Chardonnay at $40 and the J. Lohr 2018 Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay at $25.

If price isn’t an issue, Ramey’s lush yet balanced Burgundian-styled chardonnay offers a window into malolactic fermentation at its best.

Malolactic is a secondary fermentation that transforms tart, malic acid into softer lactic acid. Chardonnay is the only white wine that routinely goes through this fermentation.

One of the most esteemed winemakers in Wine Country, Ramey said he’s a good fit to craft wine because he has a well-versed palate. “One needs to know and appreciate the wines of the world,” he said.

Ramey, 68, also has a well-traversed resume. He spent two harvests in Pomerol in Bordeaux with Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1979 and ’89 and one in Australia with Lindeman’s in 1980.

The vintner has a Bachelor of Arts in American studies from UC Santa Cruz, and he graduated from UC Davis with a master’s degree in enology in 1979.

“I started enjoying wine while at UC Santa Cruz, visiting wineries and reading wine books,” he said. “Then I was traveling in Mexico when the inspiration hit me: Why not make wine?”

His winery credits on the North Coast include Simi, Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd. Ramey and his wife, Carla, founded Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg in 1996.

Over the years, Ramey has been a wine consultant for many brands, and he’s well known for raising the bar in Wine Country with his experiments. Today, Ramey serves as a wine consultant for two brands — Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Vineyards and Davis Bynum.

At his namesake winery, Ramey is exploring using dry ice on pinot noir must and whole cluster fermentation on the zinfandel from his Sidebar brand.

“The only way to progress — to make better wine — is through experimentation,” Ramey said. “Just change one variable. You won’t make bad wine, just slightly different — and maybe better.”

Ramey said he’s a good fit for producing chardonnay because he fancies the varietal.

“I love it,” he said. “And practice. I’ve been making chardonnay for 41 years.”

This is Ramey’s 21st vintage of producing the Hyde Vineyard chardonnay.

His strength is that he’s willing to make changes in pursuit of quality, he said. The secret formula for keeping his chardonnay in high demand despite the competition in the marketplace? “Quality, quality, quality.”

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

This week's blind tasting

Chardonnay

TOP PICK

Ramey

2016 Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay, 14.5% alcohol, $65. ★★★★½

An elegant chardonnay, crisp with high-toned fruit. It has an appealing intensity on the palate. What makes this a standout is its tangy fruit and depth of flavors. It’s complex, with layers of grapefruit, tangerine and tart lemon. Balanced. Lingering finish. Spot on.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Small Vines 2016 Sonoma Coast Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14%, $55. ★★★★: A well-crafted chardonnay with aromas and flavors of green apple, tangerine and a hint of butterscotch. Rich and supple, yet perfectly balanced, from start to finish. Striking.

Smith-Madrone 2016 Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.4%, $40. ★★★★: This is a tasty chardonnay with green apple and stone fruit upfront. Notes of grapefruit and spices play back up. Pitch-perfect balance. Lovely.

Castello di Amorosa 2017 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay, 14.3%, $59. ★★★½: A layered chardonnay with aromas and flavors of ripe apple, pear and toast. Full-bodied and lush.

J. Lohr 2018 Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, 14%, $25. ★★★: An approachable chardonnay with notes of apple, pear, toast and a hint of lemon. Balanced. Solid.

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