Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Wine Regions – Ways You Can Help

Sonoma County, one of my favorite wine regions, has been burning for almost a week. The nearby regions of Mendocino and Napa are also suffering catastrophic losses. With more than 5,000 homes destroyed, 36 people dead, and more than 50,000 people under evacuation orders, it doesn’t feel like the right time for a wine review. Instead, I ask that you consider ways to assist. Supplies, and especially monetary donations are needed.

Here are a few ways you can help:

The Red Cross needs volunteers to help with fire evacuees. Sign up online here or contact the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County at info@volunteernow.org or call (707) 573-3399.

United Way of Wine Country created a relief fund to help those affected by the fires. Donate here.

The Salvation Army has multiple teams providing meal services at evacuation centers and is seeking monetary donations. 100% of your donation goes to the relief effort. Donate here.

For other ways you can help, visit the Santa Rosa Press Democrat website for a comprehensive list of evacuation centers and volunteer opportunities.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity! I’ll be back soon with more wine reviews and stories.

Chardy Girl

Dog Ridge Butterfingers Chardonnay – McLaren Vale 2016

Somewhere in the McLaren Vale wine region, South Australia, lives a winemaker after my own heart. Determined to reintroduce a style of chardonnay that has gone out of favor in Australia, Fred Howard of Dog Ridge Winery began making an old-fashioned, creamy, buttery chardonnay called “Butterfingers.”

Dog Ridge Butterfingers Chardonnay

In fact, enamored with Fred’s new/old style of chardonnay, Harry Fisher from The Times on the Coast, in Victor Harbor, Australia, wrote a story about “Chardonnay Recovered from Fumble.” A copy of that article proudly graces the back label of every bottle of Butterfingers. Fisher writes, “A local winemaker is winding back the clock and looking to bring bold and full-bodied chardonnays back in to popularity with a new generation of wine drinkers.”

Chardonnay recovered from fumble

Introduced to this charming, energetic winemaker at the Sydney Good Food and Wine Show, we got a chance to stop by Fred’s booth, taste his wines, and learn more about his passion for making what I call the “old-fashioned” style of chardonnay. You know – the kind I’m always hunting for…

So, of course, I brought a bottle of this golden sunshine home with me from Australia. Aged in brand new French oak barrels, this chardonnay is lightly oaked. It’s golden in color, clean, clear and well, just plain pretty! Aromas of crème brulee and pear with a faint, sweet floral note fill the glass. It is a full structured, big, round, creamy and luscious wine, with flavors of stone fruit. The wine is 13.5% in alcohol.

We paid $20.00 AUD ($15.79 USD) for this chardonnay at the food and wine show, most likely a promotional price. But, it can be purchased for $27.99 AUD at BlackSheepBottleShop.com.au or $25.00 AUD on the Dog Ridge website.

McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide is one wine region we didn’t make it to when we visited Adelaide three years ago. With only time for one wine tour, we chose the famous Barossa Valley. But now that I’ve tasted several wines from the McLaren Vale, I’m definitely anxious to visit when we return to Australia. The list is growing longer with the Margaret River wine region calling my name and the Hunter Valley still on my bucket list. Mornington Peninsula, just outside of Melbourne and an easy side trip from Sydney, also came highly recommended. Until then, I’ll be saving my pennies for a return trip to this lovely wine producing country. Australia, keep making those lovely chardonnays. I’m coming back!

What Does “Chardy” Mean Anyway?

I’ve been blogging about chardonnay, sometimes serious, sometimes irreverent, sharing my reviews and perspectives on my favorite varietal with you for a while now. If you know the story about how I got the nickname “Chardygirl”, you know it came from Australia nearly four years ago and it’s stuck ever since.

You see Australians shorten everything. Breakfast is “brekkie” (and yes, you can actually find that on menus and restaurant signs). Sunglasses are “sunnies” and tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, construction workers) are “tradies.” And if a name can’t be shortened, it gets changed altogether. A sweater is a “jumper,” a car trunk is a “boot,” and my husband, Gary’s name is “Gazza.” Go figure.

We just spent four weeks in Australia and I heard that term, “chardy,” used over and over again. In Dan Murphy’s, the local wine and spirits store which is the Australian equivalent of a Total Wine or Bev Mo, I heard staff members pointing me to the chardy section, asking others if they had recommendations for a good buttery chardy or telling me the regions for the best chardies (Margaret River, Yarra, and Limestone Coast).

At the Sydney Good Food and Wine Show, they had a whole class devoted to tasting chardies only. The instructor was kind enough to point me to the best chardy maker in the country for that good, old-fashioned chardonnay (and yes, we will be tasting and reviewing “Butterfingers” very soon.)

Even the Wine Selectors guy in the Sydney airport called them chardies. (Next time you are in the Melbourne or Sydney domestic airport terminal, you too, can kill time tasting the best Australian wines from boutique wineries for free by visiting the Wine Selector booth in the middle of the terminal.)

But it never occurred to me that you, my dear readers, might not understand why the name “Chardy Girl.”

So now you know. It’s Australia speak for chardonnay. I wonder if Napa would shudder at the thought?

Forester Estate 2016 Chardonnay Margaret River

Dear Australia –

When did you stop making those round, luscious, buttery chardonnays?

In the past few weeks, I’ve tried your chardonnays from Hunter, Barossa, Yarra and Southeastern Australia, still looking for that “perfect” chardonnay. I even went to a wine tasting event the other night in hopes of finding who’s still making that Australian style of chardonnay I remember from fifteen years ago. Sadly, our wine host informed me the trend here now is to make those same dry, crisp chardonnays that California seems to think are the hot new thing.

But, Australia, I didn’t give up! Fortunately for me, I discovered the Margaret River wine region in Western Australia is still making some good old fashioned, buttery, creamy, slightly oaky chardonnays that I just love.

I’m happy to report that the Forester Estate 2016, Margaret River is just my style.

Forester Estate 2016 Chardonnay – Enjoyed from the Balcony of Our AirBnB in Ultimo

This is a classic Margaret River chardonnay with concentrated flavors and complexity. The nose displays pure aromas of stone fruit, a hint of citrus and vanillan oak. The wine is clean, fruit driven with flavors of stone fruit. The color is pale golden and the texture is creamy, ending with a soft finish.

The Forester is easily drinkable and available at Dan Murphy’s, a “Total Wine” kind of wine store in Sydney.

A long visit to the Margaret River wine region is on my agenda for our next trip back to Australia. I’ve been told that it’s a “foodie” place with tons of great restaurants to go along with the many wineries I’ll need to visit.

So, Australia, I’m not giving up on you yet. Remember, this is where I got my nickname three years ago and I’ll keep drinking your chardonnays until the day comes for me to return home. In the meantime, you might just want to have a little chat with your winemakers and hint that maybe those crisp, unoaked chardonnays are just not so great after all…

Love,

ChardyGirl

 

 

Celebrating International Chardonnay Day with a List of My Favorites

Tasting Chardonnay at Bogle Vineyards

Dedicated to finding that perfect chardonnay, I’ve been tasting and blogging about my favorite varietal for almost two years. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed, so thanks for following my experiments and adventures.

People often ask me if I’ve found the perfect chardonnay yet and I must say, “No.” Because when I find the perfect chardonnay, the hunt is over and I won’t need to write this blog anymore. But, I will share with you my favorite chardonnays, just in case you haven’t figured a few out by reading my blog. Not in any particular order, here are my favs:

  • Matchbook Winery’s Arsonist Chardonnay – This is a beautiful winery, up the road on Interstate 5, past Woodland, near the town of Zamora, looking over the gorgeous Dunnigan Hills. At different times, they’ve made up to five different chardonnays, but the Arsonist is my favorite.
  • La Crema’s Nine Barrel and Russian River Valley Chardonnays – La Crema actually makes nine different chardonnays and this is the perfect winery (in Sonoma County) to try a side by side chardonnay tasting. Ask for Lisa and she’ll set you up.
  • Alpha Omega Chardonnay– I just reviewed this one and it is almost perfect (except it’s a little pricey for my blood). But, I thank my dear friends and neighbors for introducing me to this Napa Valley wine. They are wine club members, thankfully, so they didn’t pay full price. It’s worth a splurge once in a while.
  • Bogle Reserve Chardonnay – I can’t believe I have never reviewed this wine. I checked all my blogs and there is not one review. Sure, I’ve written about Bogle for Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine (twice) and written about the winery in my blog, but no chardonnay review. I’ll rectify that soon, but in the meantime, visit the winery and try this wine!

Together, we’ve covered chardonnays from other parts of the world as well as my own backyard. I’ve had the good fortune to visit wineries in Sonoma, Paso Robles, Mendocino, Amador, the Delta, South America, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and most recently, France. Winetasting along the way is one of the most wonderful aspects of travel.

It’s been a blast and everywhere I find wonderful, delicious chardonnay. In fact, chardonnay carries the distinction as the world’s most famous white wine and most widely planted grape. So, it’s fitting that there is an International Chardonnay Day, today, May 25, 2017.

On this most special (to me) of days, we are headed to the land of Oz, where the nickname, “Chardy Girl” was penned and stuck. (You can read the original story here.) The lucky Aussies, they have a whole month to celebrate wine, from May 1 – 31. Our plane arrives just in time to help them celebrate by tasting some of those delicious Yarra Valley chardonnays.

And you know what that means! The next few blogs will be featuring Australian chardonnays. So enjoy! Happy International Chardonnay Day! Cheers!

 

 

Waterbrook 2013 Reserve Chardonnay – Columbia Valley

After a glorious three week’s wine tasting in some of France’s most famous wine regions, we are now back in the US attending a travel writer’s workshop. Housed in a hotel just outside of Seattle for this conference, it just makes sense that we need to blog a Washington State chardonnay.

I don’t know Washington State wines well so we took a gamble when we visited a wine shop yesterday.

We are tasting a Waterbrook 2013 Reserve chardonnay from Columbia Valley. This is one of Walla Walla’s founding wineries, started in 1984. The nose opens with aromas of pear and vanilla spice. The mouthfeel is soft and round with a smooth finish. The color is pale gold, clean and shiny. It’s nicely balanced with tropical notes, hints of toasted almonds and tastes very similar to the California chardonnays from wine regions like Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley and Yolo County’s Delta and Dunnigan Hills that I love so much.

13.9% in alcohol, cost is $14.99. I’m really enjoying this wine and can’t wait to try more from Washington. In fact, we may just have to come back for a wine tasting trip in the near future…

Wine Tasting on a Rhone River Cruise with Petaluma Gap Winemakers

Cruising down the Rhone River on a wine themed river cruise was a great way to see the South of France and taste the wines of Provence. But we were even more fortunate to be sailing on a wine-themed cruise sponsored by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance out of Sonoma County.

To promote its efforts to become their own designated appellation and raise a little money, the Alliance sponsored the cruise and sent along several cases of wine supplied by 12 wineries from within Petaluma Gap. The Alliance also sent four winemakers to represent the Gap, educate guests on the ship, conduct wine tasting sessions, and host winemaker dinners.

Lucky me, one of the first wine tastings featured four chardonnays from the region.

Pellet Estate 2015 Un-oaked, Sun Chase Vineyard

First on the tasting menu was a Pellet Estate 2015 chardonnay, unoaked from the Sun Chase Vineyard.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know that I lean towards chardonnays that are barrel fermented. But, I’ve tasted a few unoaked versions lately that have opened my eyes and palate a bit. The beauty of the unoaked chardonnay is the flavor of the fruit comes through and this Pellet Estate is no exception. Aged 8 months in stainless steel, the wine was clear and shiny with lemon yellow hues. The nose offered hints of pear, apple and pineapple aromas. The high fruit flavors of citrus, apple and pineapple were layered with a hint of almond and melon. It finished with depth and complexity. Alcohol is 14.5%. The wine retails for $36 at the winery.

Agnitio 2013 Chardonnay Sun Chase Vineyard

Next, we tasted the Agnitio 2013 Chardonnay, also from the Sun Chase Vineyard. This turned out to be my favorite. I was very pleased and surprised when a bottle of this showed up in our cabin later, thanks to the generosity of the winemakers.

This is Agnitio’s first vintage of Sun Chase Chardonnay. 100% fermented in oak barrels, this wine displayed the luscious Sonoma County chardonnay flavors that I love. The nose expressed aromas of lemon, white flowers, and pear and vanilla. A wine more full bodied than the Pellet, the mouthfeel had depth and complexity. There was some minerality in the flavor, layered with pear, vanilla and a hint of butterscotch. Alcohol is 14.1% and the wine sells for $40 at the winery.

Pfendler Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay

Pfendler is a small production winery that only has three wines in its current release, producing just 400 cases of this chardonnay.

Aged 10 months in French oak, the Pfendler was a beautiful wine with aromas of honeysuckle, apple, spice and lemon crème. The mouthfeel was lush and the color bright golden straw. The wine was layered with flavors of lychee, pear and a touch of minerality. Alcohol is 14.1% and it retails for $8 at the winery.

Rodney Strong 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

Rodney Strong makes several different chardonnays and is one of my favorite Sonoma County wineries.

Barrel fermented in new French oak, the wine had aromas of toasty vanilla, apple and pear. The mouthfeel was rich and creamy, with flavors of pear, pineapple and a touch of spice. This was my second favorite in the tasting. 14.0% in alcohol, the wine retails for $25 at the winery.

Monte Vallon 2014 Pays D’Oc Chardonnay

From the South of France, “this exuberant Chardonnay has a pronounced buttery-vanilla bouquet with deep, intense, rich fruit on the palate.” Or, so says the description on the wine label. Sounds like the perfect chardonnay for me!

We are about to head to the South of France for a long-awaited wine cruise through the Rhone Valley. What’s interesting about this cruise is it is sponsored by Petaluma Gap Association out of Sonoma County and they’ll be bringing along several cases of Sonoma chardonnay. So, we’ll get to taste Sonoma chardonnay alongside French chardonnay. What more could a girl ask for! 

To wet our whistles and prepare for this glorious trip, we are tasting the 2014 Monte Vallon Chardonnay purchased at our local Nugget Supermarket.

This wine does indeed display a buttery, vanilla nose with slight toasty oak notes and a hint of caramel. I love the bouquet. It displays a bright golden color and the alcohol volume is 13.5%. The mouthfeel is textured and creamy. The flavors are pear and peach with a pineapple finish.  It is a full bodied, Languedoc styled white wine representative of the south of France.

Can’t wait to taste more French chardonnays. I’ll be blogging along the way, so stay tuned for more wine and more adventures!

Park the Car and Wine Taste in Small Town Sonoma

With 425 wineries spread throughout 17 different viticulture areas in Sonoma County, it would take even the most dedicated wine lover months to properly sample all of the wines this Northern California wine growing region has to offer.

On our fourth trip back to Sonoma, still in search of that perfect chardonnay, we decided to park the car, stay for two nights and wine taste in the small town of Sonoma. Located in the southern part of Sonoma County, the town of Sonoma is not too far from the Napa wine region.

While not as large or commercial or touristy as Healdsburg, Sonoma now has over 25 wine tasting rooms in and around the Mexican era plaza in the heart of the town. Many of the wine tasting rooms we visited or peeked into had living room style or lounge seating and bar stools or seats at the wine tasting counter. What a refreshing change from the usual “belly up to the bar” in a crowded wine tasting room!

With so many to choose from, we started at the Lake Sonoma tasting room at 134 Church Street. Fortunately for us, we visited on a rainy day in January in the middle of the week. As the only guests there, we had the full attention of the wine server and enjoyed several tastings. But, we’re talking about chardonnay here, so be sure to sample their 2014 chardonnay out of the Russian River.

Next, we headed to the Ledson Hotel, on 1st Street East, for wine tasting in the lobby of this historic hotel, offering wines from Ledson and Zina Hyde. A little pricey for my pocketbook, but do try the Ledson 2014 Russian River Chardonnay and the Zina Hyde 2014 Anderson Valley Chardonnay Reserve.

We also spent some time at Passagio, 25 East Napa Street, known as the “White House” for all of the whites that their winemaker produces. They specialize in small, handcrafted wines made in fruit forward style. Their 2014 chardonnay was an unoaked style, not normally my favorite, but because the true flavor of the chardonnay grape comes out in this one, I did enjoy it.

Next door to Passagio is Two Amigos Wines. We sampled two chardonnays here, upon the recommendation of the wine server at Passagio. We tasted a barrel fermented chardonnay and an unoaked chardonnay. My tasting partner prefers unoaked and I prefer oaked, so we bought them both!

So now I’ve given you a sampling of wine tasting rooms and a reason to park, stay and wine taste in Sonoma. But, you’re going to need some recommendations for places to stay and eat.

Restaurants

For lunch try the Sonoma Cheese Factory on Spain Street for authentic barbeque. The pulled pork sandwich caught our attention and was just as delicious to eat as it looked on the plate. Sonoma Cheese Factory also offers wine tasting. Enjoy a sampling of wines or a glass of wine with your lunch. Also, a gourmet store, this place is perfect for putting together a picnic lunch.

Mary’s Pizza Shack at 8 West Spain street, a chain restaurant in Northern California, might not be your top choice in this town full of gourmet restaurants. But the fire on the patio drew us in on a cold, rainy day and I’m glad we stopped by. The menu is full of Italian and comfort food options, but the wedge salad was one of the best I’ve ever tried.

For dinner, dine on gourmet Portuguese cuisine at La Salette, 452 First Street East. Opt for the wine pairing that is offered with the dining choices. Generous pours, perfectly paired with the appetizers, entrees and dessert, allows you to sample more Sonoma County wine and makes for an extra special dining experience.  I do recommend making reservations in advance.

Sonoma Grille, at 165 W. Napa Street, frequented by locals and tourists alike, was packed on this cold, rainy night in the middle of the week in the middle of January. Thinking that was a good sign, we stopped in there for dinner on our second night. Seafood and steak are both great options at this place. The fact that our server from the Lake Sonoma wine tasting room earlier that day was there for dinner that evening just confirmed our guess about the quality of the food and dining experience.

The Girl and a Fig at 362 West Napa Street, is famous for its gourmet food. Alas, they were closed the two days we were there. Apparently there is a ritual in Sonoma for restaurants and hotels to close sometime in January each year for a deep cleaning. But, we’ll hit it next time.

Hotels

For overnight stays, there are plenty of hotels on the Plaza or within nearby walking distance including Sonoma Hotel, Ledson Hotel, MacArthur Place and the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn.

So park your car, taste on foot and wander through the historic trappings of small town Sonoma and enjoy some of the best that Sonoma County wine regions have to offer.

Chardonnay from Argentina’s Mendoza Wine Region

alamos

Our recent visit to the Mendoza wine region in Argentina left me wanting for more of the delicious wine from this sun-kissed part of the world. Fortunately for me, just about the time we arrived home, Wine.com decided to hold a sale on several Argentinian and Chilean wines (Yes, we stopped on the other side of the Andes, too, to sample the wines of Valle del Maipo).

I ordered a variety of chardonnays to be delivered. Today we are tasting the 2014 Alamos Chardonnay and the Tilia Chardonnay from Mendoza.

Alamos Chardonnay Mendoza 2014

This wine has a brilliant, light yellow color. Enjoy hints of vanilla in the nose, followed by tastes of stone fruit and ripe apple, layered with vanilla. It is well-balanced and full-flavored, very much to my liking. It also has a lovely finish that lingers on my palate. The wine sold for $9.99 on Wine.com.

Cultivated by the Catena family for over 100 years, Alamos vineyards lie in the foothills of the Andes Mountains.

This wine pairs nicely with roasted chicken or pasta dishes with a cream sauce. We also sampled it with a soft brie cheese and found the pairing to be delightful.

Tilia Chardonnay Mendoza 2014

This wine has slight hints of toasted oak and vanilla in the nose. The wine itself, however displays a ripe citrus flavor. The color is also a brilliant, light yellow like the Alamos. The Tilia is well-balanced, lighter bodied than the Alamos, with a clean, refreshing finish. We purchased it for $10.99 from Wine.com.

Tilia is sourced from sustainably farmed vineyards in the Eastern and Southern regions of Mendoza. Pair with a mild white cheese or grilled chicken or grilled vegetables.

Of the two wines, I found the Alamos to be more to my liking. I lean towards the fuller-flavored, fuller-bodied chardonnays.  And for the price, I could see myself stocking up on some more Alamos Chardonnay.