Tag Archives: chardonnay

Chardonnays and pinot noirs reflect Patz & Hall’s vintage year

Even the most liberal wine drinkers, when pressed, will admit to having their favorite varietals.

Many white wines fans still lean heavily toward chardonnay, with its bright flavors and vanilla notes from its full, oaky backbone. Red drinkers split evenly among several varietals, but more of them seem to be turning to pinot noir, which manages to be both subtle and delicate while retaining a robust palate of dark fruit and full mouthfeel.

Some of the best of both come from Patz & Hall. The Sonoma winery produces nothing but chards and pinots, which founders Donald Patz and James Hall admit are their personal favorites. Their affinity for the two varietals has served the winery and its customers well since 1988, when the two combined forces to produce their own wines.

As in all good partnerships, each winemaker has his own duties: Patz is the businessman, Hall is the winemaker. Together, they produce some exceptional vintages that have attracted a large crowd of loyal followers. They recently shared their thoughts with the Wisconsin Gazette, as well as giving some insights on their most recent wines and personal favorites.

Patz & Hall only produces chardonnays and pinot noirs. Why?

Donald Patz: It’s important, I think, not trying to be all things to all people. There’s a discipline to focusing on just one white and one red wine variety. We love drinking California chardonnay and pinot noir and, by focusing on just these two varietals, we better understand the needs in both the vineyard and in the winery for each. It makes our wines better.

I know that the two-varietal concentration has changed the nature of the winery itself. How does your winery differ from others?

James Hall: It was only logical to focus our design around optimizing the facility to produce these two varieties at the highest quality level possible. That meant installing small open-top pinot noir fermenters, large cooled barrel rooms for chardonnay fermentation, blending and racking tanks sized to hold our single-vineyard wines and all of the appropriate winemaking equipment scaled and geared toward pinot and chardonnay, including a large sorting table, large chardonnay presses for whole cluster pressing and small-scale de-stemmers for careful de-stemming.

By not having to accommodate other grape varieties, we didn’t have to compromise any tank configurations or equipment styles. This specialization has led to higher wine quality by having just the right equipment to meet our stringent standards of excellence.

Can you compare several of your chardonnays, specifically the 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros ($60) and the 2014 Sonoma Coast ($40)?

DP: It’s an interesting contrast. Hyde Vineyard wine always has great acidity and a purity tension on the palate. It has great concentration but also a delicacy. It would certainly be a “grand cru” if we had them in California. The aromas swing more toward exotic citrus fruits and minerality. It’s a very serious chardonnay that benefits from additional aging to show the complete set of flavors buried within.

The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, on the other hand, is focused on floral and pretty perfume aromas. Whereas the Hyde is serious, the Sonoma Coast is playful and delicious. It is the most “California” of the chardonnays we make.

Can you do the same comparison for the pinot noirs, specifically the 2013 Chenoweth Ranch ($60), the 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros ($70), and the 2013 Sonoma Coast ($46)?

JH: 2013 was an excellent vintage year. The long, moderately warm growing season produced profound wines of great depth, intensity and character. The wines tend to show excellent balance and structure, with juicy ripe flavors moderated with smooth tannins and higher-than-typical acidity.

Our Chenoweth Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir shows wonderful cherry, boysenberry, clove spice and dark chocolate aromas coupled with an exceptionally smooth, rich and flavorful mouthfeel. The Chenoweth Ranch consistently produces one of our finest single-vineyard wines and 2013 is proving to be one of the best years ever.

The 2013 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir had an equally fine year. The wine shows wonderful aromas of dried roses, cinnamon spice, dried cherry and delicate layers of moist fresh soil and black tea. This was a great year for Hyde Vineyard, which tends to produce wines that are lighter and more elegant, with higher acidity and leaner, more focused textures than Chenoweth Ranch’s broad more powerful structure.

Overall, the success of the 2013 vintage shows most clearly in the 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The wine is a blend of 18 vineyard sites stretching from Sonoma Valley through Russian River Valley to the far Sonoma Coast. Having such a broad collection of vineyards, and having them all succeed at startling levels of quality, is proof of how special the 2013 vintage is.

Of all your wines, which is your personal favorite?

DP: I don’t really have a favorite among any of the wines we make. I do drink a lot of the Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($44). It seems to marry well with everything I eat at home.

JH: I like all of our wines and believe they each have a distinct reason to be bottled. Just like music, there are many different styles and modes, with no single type being the best for every mood or situation.

That said, if I were forced to choose one wine and drink that alone for the rest of my life, it would have to be our Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir. To me, the complexity, subtlety and flexibility match with many different foods, and the overall grace and style of the Hyde Vineyard, makes it my favorite … at least until I’m in the mood for something different.

7 sassy chardonnays to brighten your summer

We all know that summer and chilled white wines go together. And few whites are more reliable than chardonnay, one of the country’s top white choices.

The adaptable chardonnay grape has flourished in cooler as well as warmer places, such as its native southern France. When other countries discovered chardonnay, an unintended hybrid of the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grapes, its status and availability grew.

Once chardonnay crossed the Atlantic, the market exploded. Growers began to clear their slopes of many lesser-known varietals to plant chardonnay. Acres of historic vines and entire enological legacies were lost to make way for the upstart. The result was an eventual market glut that made chardonnay somewhat passé.

Fortunately, the varietal is regaining popularity. Consider the following seven sassy chardonnays produced by U.S. vineyards.

Winemaker Philippe Coquard does not produce his Wollersheim Chardonnay ($17) from grapes grown on his estate just south of the Wisconsin River. Instead, he contracts for a custom-grown grape from Washington State, which he uses to create a fine example of chardonnay in his winery near Prairie du Sac. 

Two-thirds of Wollersheim Chardonnay is matured in French oak barrels and one-third in stainless steel containers. The wine captures the vanilla-and-spice essence of the oak while tempering it with the cleanliness of the stainless steel. The result is a dry, crisp, clean wine with a pleasant fruitiness and subtle acidity.

California wine country has no shortage of chardonnay producers. In Sonoma County, Joseph Carr 2012 Chardonnay ($18) was made according to a method known as the Dijon clone. The grapes were cold-pressed and then the juice was aged sur lie — in new French oak barrels along with the sediment that settles to the bottom during fermentation. The result is a wine with more complex character. Carr’s chardonnay offers a nose hinting at apricot, vanilla and peach, as well as a palate with overtones of apricot, strawberries and citrus.

The Ferrari-Carano 2012 Chardonnay ($21) was made with fruit from 60 different chardonnay lots. These were cold pressed and aged sur lie in two ways — 30 percent in new French oak, 60 percent in older cooperage. The result is similar in character to the Carr wine, featuring a slightly different flavor profile of peach, lemon and a hazelnut. In neither case does the wine disappoint.

The Flowers 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($41) was produced using a similar sourcing pattern, including cold pressing and a variety of oak cooperage, but with slightly different effect. The wine exhibits a slight flintiness thanks to its terroir, providing an interesting edge to its flavor profile that’s reminiscent of Honeycrisp apples. Flowers’ chardonnay also has an abundant mouthfeel and a fine acidity.

The Laguna Vineyard Ranch in the Russian River Valley has been producing chardonnay for some 40 years, and the Laguna 2012 Chardonnay ($28) was made using the same approach as the Sonoma vineyards. The wine, once again cold-pressed and oak-aged, opens with delicate notes of apple, pear and tangerine. The wine is well balanced, with supple mouthfeel and a fine lingering finish.

The winemakers at Frog’s Leap, located in Napa Valley, take a different approach, placing emphasis on the soil in which the grapes were grown. The Frog’s Leap 2012 Chardonnay ($26) was made with fruit from the Carneros district, whose soil often yields chardonnays with a more vibrant acidity. Ninety-five present of Frog’s Leap 2012 Chardonnay was aged sur lie in concrete vats, and only 5 percent of the developing wine was exposed to wood.

The Frog’s Leap profile is crisp and very clean. The acidity blends nicely with the flavors of fruit. Slate and hints of lemongrass on the nose give way to a palate of peach and citrus with an underscoring mineral quality that make this wine stand out.

Much further south, the winemakers at Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard in California’s Santa Barbara County follow similar a technique, but one that leads to yet another unique result. The Fess Parker 2012 Ashley’s Chardonnay ($28), produced from grapes harvested in Ashley’s Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, was also barrel-aged in French oak. The wine offers aromas of pear, peach and honey that give way to a palate featuring pear, green apple and pastry crust, along with a hint of vanilla courtesy of the French oak.

Chill any of these and serve and you will quickly see the chardonnay, sassy or not, is no longer passé.

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