In the right sites, chardonnay is a white wine with a red wine mentality.
It’s got tannin.
It’s got structure.
It’s got depth.
The Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard is one such site. It’s where Jeff Mangahas groomed the grapes for our wine of the week winner –– the Williams Selyem, 2016 Lewis MacGregor Estate Chardonnay at $65.
The winemaker at Williams Selyem in Healdsburg refers to the roughly 20-acre vineyard as the “quintessential site” for chardonnays with a red wine mindset.
“Through diligence and farming we captured the perfect balance of richness and brightness,” he said. “There’s a lot of fog in the Russian River Valley and it’s the perfect climate for chardonnays. They tend to develop thicker skins, so there’s more natural tannin, minerality and structure –– more balance.”
The chardonnay’s pitch perfect balance is what makes it a standout. It’s lush, yet crisp, a conundrum of sorts. It teases your palate, enticing you to take another sip to figure out its true nature. It’s complex, with notes of apple, pear, crème brulee, a hint of toffee and refreshing mineral. It has a supple texture, and the entire wine buoyed by its bright acidity. It’s a knockout.
Mangahas, 47, was a research biologist in the Princeton Biology Department when a trip to Bordeaux in his mid-twenties reconfigured his career plans.
“I found wine so interesting,” he said. “I spent more time exploring wine. That’s when I thought maybe I was done with science as a career.”
Mangahas enrolled at UC Davis in 2000 and graduated in 2003 with a Master’s degree in Enology, after finishing his thesis.
As a winemaker, he considers himself a minimalist; he wants the vineyard site to call the shots.
“What does the wine want to tell you?” he asks. “And how can you get out of the way and not intervene in the process? Ultimately we’re trying to make wine with a sense of place… I love the uniqueness of many pieces of land.”
Mangahas said his strength as a winemaker is to keep tabs on the details that will enhance a wine’s inherent qualities.
“This is where the scientist comes out,” he said, with a laugh. “A brain could get cluttered, but I’m able to manage and execute. And I have a great production team to help me.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Uptown Chardonnays
2016 Lewis MacGregor Estate Vineyard, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14.7% alcohol, $65. ★★★★★
This chardonnay’s pitch perfect balance is what makes it a standout. It’s lush, yet crisp, a conundrum of sorts. It teases your palate, enticing you to take another sip to figure out its true nature. The Williams Selyem is complex, with notes of apple, pear, creme brulee, a hint of toffee and refreshing mineral. It has a supple texture, with the entire wine buoyed by bright acidity. It’s a knockout.
Ramey, 2015 Rochioli Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 14.5%, $65. ★★★★1/2: This is a blousy chardonnay with great complexity. It has aromas and flavors of bright apple, melon, creme brulee, brioche and a toffee finish. Impressive.
Benovia, 2016 Three Sisters Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.1%, $50. ★★★★1/2: An elegant chardonnay with generous fruit. Complex, with layered notes of apple, toast, mineral and a hint of tangerine. Lovely. Well Crafted.
Balletto, 2016 Twin Ridges, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 13.9%, $42. ★★★★: This is an elegant chardonnay with some intensity. It has notes of green apple, melon and brioche, all riding on crisp acid. Delicious.
Duckhorn Vineyards, 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.1%, $35. ★★★1/2: A rich chardonnay with a lush texture. It’s layered with notes of ripe apple, creme brulee and brioche. Nice length.