In a blind tasting, there’s always something that surprises you.
Sometimes it’s the complexity of a bottling, with layers that seem like the melding of instruments in an orchestra. Other times it’s the texture that seems like silk.
Or sometimes you taste a racy, bagged bottle, and scribble “voluptuous” in your notebook.
This is the case with this week’s wine-of-the-week winner — the voluptuous Frank Family Vineyards, 2016 Carneros Chardonnay.
The bottling over delivers; it sells for $38 but it could easily go for $50. The chardonnay has rich aromas and flavors, but they are kept in check with its crisp acidity. It has a lush texture and complex notes of lemon curd, brioche and mineral in the mix, which play out in its lingering finish.
Todd Graff, general manager and winemaker, said his focus is always on improving wine from one vintage to the next.
“It’s not like one year we catch lightening in the bottle or rub the genie,” he said. “Every year we’re getting a little better.”
The house style, Graff said, is one that strives for balance.
“We want to pinpoint the balance between richness and acidity and between the fruit and oak so no individual component stands out by itself, “ he said. “It should be more of a circle, rather than a star.”
Graff said he’s well suited to be a winemaker because he loves the challenge.
“I don’t have an alarm clock,” he said. “I come to work because I want to come to work … winemaking is science and art, one is not over the other.”
Graff, 57, who grew up in Petaluma, said he’s one of the few who can root for both sides of the county line.
The winemaker got his start at the Santa Rosa Junior College, later studying at UC Davis. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in plant science and viticulture.
“The light bulb went off for me when I was studying at the junior college,” Graff said. “I was lucky. When I went to UC Davis, I went there with a purpose to study grape growing and winemaking, and I had to compete at a high level.”
Graff’s credits include Napa Valley’s Schramsberg Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Winery and Joseph Phelps Vineyards. He joined Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga in 2003.
“My strength is my experience and intuitiveness,” he said. “I work off a gut feeling and, knock on wood, most of the time it’s right.
“With our chardonnay, at its price point,” he added. “it’s not a roll of the dice.”
Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
-Frank Family Vineyards
Frank Family Vineyards, 2016 Carneros Chardonnay, 14.4% alcohol, $38. ★★★★
A voluptuous chardonnay with rich aromas and flavors, kept in check with its crisp acidity. Notes of lemon curd, brioche and mineral in the mix. Lingering finish. A steal for the price for a complex chardonnay of this caliber.
-Anaba, 2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 13.5%, $36. ★★★★: A lovely chardonnay with pitch-perfect balance. Notes of lemon custard married with citrus and mineral notes. Bright acid. Finishes crisp. Smart.
-Olema, 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.8%, $15. ★★★★: An easy-drinking chardonnay, with notes of apple, pear and a touch of oak. Citrusy finish. Perfect balance. Definitely over delivers. Impressive.
-Outlot, 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.5%, $22. ★★★1/2: A toasty chardonnay with notes of baked apple, peach, a kiss of vanilla. Full bodied. Juicy.
-Cambria, 2015 Katherine’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, 14.5%, $22. ★★★1/2: Toffee aromas and on the palate rich notes of ripe apple and melon. Lush texture, yet balanced. Nice length.