The Last Wines of Summer

by artfuldiner on August 22, 2016

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Opinion, Wine

Summer will be with us a while longer; officially, until the 22nd of September. So here, for your libationary pleasure, are the “Last Wines of Summer,” a few more vintages perfectly suited for warm weather quaffing and dining…

Chehalem INOX Chard 2014Chehalem INOX Unoaked Chardonnay, 2014 (Oregon): Chehalem – pronounced Chuh-hay-lum – is a local Calapoola Indian word that may be translated as “gentle land” or “valley of flowers.” And these phrases accurately capture Chehalem’s reverence for the land, as the winery is dedicated to reflecting, as purely as possible, the fruit of the vine with minimal processing.

Chehalem traces its history to vineyard operations initiated by Harry Peterson-Hedry in 1980 at Ridgecrest Vineyards. Bill & Cathy Stoller became partners in the winery in 1993 and subsequently began Stoller Vineyards – a densely planted 125 acres on Stoller family farmlands at the southern tip of the Dundee Hills. Corral Creek Vineyards, adjacent to the winery facility is Chehalem’s third estate vineyard. The winery’s first release was its Ridgecrest Pinot Noir in 1990.

Chehalem is well-known for its complex, structured and intensely fruited varietals. Both their Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are rich & full and very much in the style of Alsace; while their Riesling is intense and bone dry.

But the 2014 Chehalem INOX Unoaked Chardonnay – INOX, by the way, takes its name from inoxydable, the abbreviation of the French word for stainless steel – is unique among unoaked Chards. Most are rather harsh and austere upon the palate and exhibit little or no fruit. But, as the Wine Enthusiast notes: “The fruit shines brightly in this all-stainless cuvée. Ripe golden apples are at the core, with hints of peach and papaya. It’s a lovely forward, ready-to-drink style that brings extra concentration and detail that is all too rare in unoaked Chardonnays.” The Enthusiast went on to bestow 91 points and an “Editors’ Choice” designation. I’ve never warmed up to unoaked Chards, but the 2014 Chehalem is certainly the exception. And the price is right. Goes for about $20.00 in Pennsylvania State Stores, but I’ve seen it online for as low as $14.00.


Chateau Montelena Chard 20132013 Château Montelena Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California): In 1882, entrepreneur Alfred Loving Tubbs bought 254 acres of land just north of Calistoga at the foot of Mount Saint Helena. He planted vines; and by 1896, Château Montelena was the seventh largest winery in the Napa Valley. With the onset of Prohibition, winemaking ceased at the Château and in the period that followed Tubbs sold grapes but did not make wine. In 1958 the winery was sold to Yort Wing Frank, a Chinese electrical engineer, and his wife, Jeanie, who were looking for a retirement home. In 1968, Lee and Helen Paschich bought the property and partnered with attorney James L. Barrett and property developer Earnest Hahn. Barrett replanted the vineyard, installed winemaking equipment in the historic buildings, and the Chateau began producing wine again in 1972.

Four years later, the 1973 Château Montelena Chardonnay won first place in the white wine section of the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine event. Château Montelena’s Chardonnay was in competition with nine other wines from France and California under a blind tasting. All 11 judges awarded their top scores to either the Chardonnays from Château Montelena or Chalone Winery, another California wine producer. A bottle of Château Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History… And a fictionalized version of Château Montelena’s historic victory was featured in the 2008 film Bottle Shock.

Several years ago, while dining at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, New Jersey, I asked sommelier Terri Baldwin if she would recommend a California Chardonnay that tasted more like a French white Burgundy. Château Montelena was her immediate choice… and I’ve been a fan ever since. Forty years after the historic “Judgment of Paris,” the 2013 Château Montelena Chardonnay remains one of the very best Chardonnays you can buy. It is marvelously focused, intense, and beautifully balanced. Lusciously rich, it beguiles the palate with hints of apple and ever-so-subtle shadings of sweet oak. And, given this wine exceptional quality, it is something of a steal around the $50.00 mark (but I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $35.00 online), which is less than half what you would pay for a comparable white Burgundy. Definitely one for the cellar.


DFV Claret 20122012 DFV Donati Family Vineyards Claret (Central Coast, California): The Donati Family came to Paicines (pronounced pie-see-ness) in California’s Central Coast in 1998. Since then, Matt and his father Ron have engaged in planting the family vineyard and planning their state-of-the-art winery. In 2003 the Donatis produced Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, Claret, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc. They aged the bottles until 2005 when they began hand-selling them to great restaurants and boutique wine shops. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Following fermentation, the red wines, such as the 2012 Claret, are aged in a combination of both French and American oak barrels for 12-18 months. During this period, a continuous sensory assessment of each lot gives winemaker Denise Valoff the ability to designate the premium lots for Donati’s higher-end wines. When those lots are selected, the wine is racked, blended and stored in barrels until bottling. The red wines are then bottled “un-fined and unfiltered” to preserve the natural flavors and aromas of the grape varietals.

The 2012 DFV Donati Vamily Vineyards Claret is a blend of all five Bordeaux varieties: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. There are whiffs of that typical Bordeaux “nose” – black pepper, sweet tar, and cordovan shoe polish – while, on the palate, the flavors are complex and fruit forward. An “Editors’ Choice” from the Wine Enthusiast, as well as a hefty 91 points. No question, this wine is a real crowd pleaser that’s designed to go down easy – and it surely does. And the price goes down easy as well. I’ve seen this little beauty priced as low as $13.50. Do a little browsing online and you can’t go wrong.



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