CELLAR SELECTS

Chardonnay

Value Picks for August 2009

2006 Pheasant Valley Columbia Gorge Chardonnay • $20 (350 cases)

This example points to the potential of the Columbia Gorge AVA to emerge as a prime Chardonnay growing area. A blend of grapes from McDuffee, Larsen and Celilo vineyards, barrel fermentation has brought out a tantalizing, toasted oak character that segues seamlessly from aroma to taste. Hints of pear and vanilla add to a rich, buttery, long-lasting flavor impression.

2007 Laura Volkman Celilo Vineyard Bella Chardonnay • $25 (120 cases)

Reinforcing the notion that the Gorge and Chardonnay may be made for each other, this wine from the noted Celilo Vineyard in Hood River boasts all the classic components in a “molta bella” Burgundian style package. Floral and mineral notes on the nose lead to a multi-layered mouthfeel, combining a dash of oak vanillin, a dollop of melted butter and a generous portion of juicy ripe pear. All this from the old Wente clone that almost everyone in Oregon has given up on.

2006 Rex Hill Oregon Chardonnay • $18 (5,240 cases)

Here’s proof that you don’t need oak contact to achieve a rich, creamy taste. Easily mistaken for the burnt butteriness associated with toasted barrels and vanillin tannins, the wine is fermented in large stainless steel tanks and aged on the lees in small stainless drums. This is the sixth year that Rex Hill has employed the technique, which builds full-bodied structure while also bringing out varietal character, minerality and firm acidity.

2007 Pudding River Willamette Valley Chardonnay • $18 (100 cases)

The Dijon clone 777 grapes for this nicely balanced Chard were sourced from Amalie Robert Estate south of Salem. One taster described the wine as “a hug in a bottle” reflecting its immediately appealing, middleweight style. Lively acidity acts as a complementary counterpoint to ripe, yet delicate flavors of peach, pear and pineapple. Stainless steel fermentation has captured the fresh fruit components.

2007 Ponzi Willamette Valley Chardonnay • $20 (542 cases)

Though expansive fruit-forwardness not typically associated with Chardonnay differentiates this wine from its brethren, the medley of flavors found here demonstrate the diversity of aroma and flavor impressions this variety is capable of conveying. A perceptible hint of sweetness helps marry pineapple, banana and peach with hints of anise and fragrant spice. An interesting and enjoyable effort that exemplifies why the grape’s intrinsically mild character is often referred to as a blank palette.

2007 A to Z Wineworks Oregon Chardonnay • $14 (10,680 cases)

You’ve got to hand it to the folks at A to Z Wineworks. They blend 19 separate Dijon clone lots to make the largest Chardonnay bottling of any winery in Oregon and come up with a wine that holds its own against dozens of smaller, more costly bottlings. Stainless steel fermentation and aging have resulted in zesty, floral and citrus notes in the aroma, a soft, pleasing suppleness in the mouth, and a touch of flinty, smoky minerality in the finish. ◊

The Oregon Wine Press tasting panel has selected the above wines based on overall quality and value within their respective categories. To the best of our knowledge, they are currently available in the retail marketplace. But a call to the winery or your favorite wine merchant will best determine where they may be purchased. The above wines have met the following criteria: Produced by an Oregon winery; retail price $30 or less per 750 ml bottle for Pinot Noir, or $25 for other varietals currently available to consumers. Recommended wines were selected using a double-blind method and a 20-point ranking system for appearance, aroma, taste, balance and finish.

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