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by Fred McMillin
for September 20, 2000

 

The Survivor...


Hawk Crest

Hawk Crest: "One of the contestants"


We had eight California Chardonnays aboard our virtual vessel. After one sip of each wine, the crew (tasters) had to toss one overboard. Then, they took a second sip of the seven survivors, followed by jettisoning another bottle. I collected the tossed, wrapped bottles. So we will unwrap them as I write and we'll all learn who won...the sole survivor. (Note: 4 bottles are '97s, 4 are '98, all under $20.)


First Sip

We lose a '97 from the Chardonnay-friendly Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County. It's the Chalone Group's Edna Valley Vineyard winery, $16.50.


Second Sip

Out goes another '97, this one from the Napa Valley. Crisp, nice nose. Shame to lose it...Clos LaChance Chardonnay, Bottle #8269, $17.


Third Sip

OUCH! A nice Napa '98 goes overboard. We're losing some fine wines. This is the Sattui, Carsi Vineyard, $18.50.


Fourth Sip

Let's unwrap the next...another '97 gone...attractive lemon, apple, cinnamon...Guenoc North Coast, $15.50.

There's only one 1997 left. Will it whip the 1998 upstarts?


Fifth Sip

A '98 is gone. It's the younger version of the first Chardonnay overboard, the '98 Edna Valley Vineyard winery, both from the esteemed Paragon Vineyard, $18. The '98 had more zip than the '97.


Sixth Sip

A second label made it this far. We've finally tossed the '98 Hawk Crest, produced by Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, $15, (pictured).


The Last Sip

The final '97 is gone, but not forgotten. It's wearing its three years beautifully, the '97 Bouchaine Chardonnay, Carneros, $19.

So, the survivor must be a '98, and it is...


Our Wine of the Day

1998 Clos du Bois Calcaire 100% Chardonnay
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Character—Classic California creamy Chardonnay
Stature—I've poured it for over 10 years, and can't recall a failure from the Calcaire Vineyard. I see a review of the 1983 vintage: Well-defined pear, honey, and spice. The good news is that while there were only 900 cases of the '83, there are 10,000 cases of the '98!
Price—$19.90


Conclusion

Exactly one year ago we compared 1997 California Chardonnays with their 1995 counterparts. The more recent vintage (1997) was the overwhelming choice. Today, we see the younger vintage again is favored, the 1998 over the 1997. I conclude that if I'm buying a California Chardonnay to pour for guests, I'm going to buy a fresh, recent release.


Postscript—The Beat Goes On

The popularity of California Chardonnay is not fading. Some numbers:

  • It is the state's most widely-planted wine grape. There are about twice as many acres (90,000) as there are of either Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • More acres of Chardonnay were added in 1998 (6,000) than in 1997 (4,700).
  • And last, the astonishing growth is indicated by the fact that today Sonoma County alone has more acres of Chardonnay than all of the Golden State twenty years ago.

 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 
 


This page created September 2000

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