We've been doing these tastings for a very long time, but have never elected to have Napa Chardonnay as a theme. Why? Because we're generally averse to white wines that come off as big, buttery oak bombs that leave your palate tired after just a few sips. Okay, that's an over-generalziation. But you get the idea.
So why did we taste them now? Because after sixteen years, we might as well travel down the path less traveled, and because in the time of COVID, there are only four tasters and four wines to try (social distancing rules and all).
We did have one wine that was overdone for our tastes. Our last placed bottle tasted much too heavily of toasted oak and lacked enough acidity to balance the richness. But we were mostly happy that while they were not great values, they did offer solid winemaking and purity of fruit. We just wish they exhibited fewer overt oak notes.
These may not be our first choices in white wines, but we did have many positive things to say. Indeed, our first-place bottle had plenty of acidity and verve, showing purity of citrus and stone fruit notes.
First Place: Stags' Leap Winery Chardonnay 2018 (Napa Valley). A little lighter in color, with an almost tart nose suggesting green apples, bright fresh herbs, bubble gum from a machine, peppermint, and a salty air quality. Pretty. Tasters found flavors of white peaches, nectarines, and lemons. Starts off with a little grass on the attack, then moves to herbal tea on the finish. Refreshing and interesting, and not heavily manipulated. Andy felt that it "crescendos a bit at the end", and David noted that it did not have "in your face fruit." The unanimous favorite, for a total of 24 points. Andy's bottle. About $28.
Second Place: Rombauer Chardonnay 2018 (Carneros). Offered scents of spring flowers, white peaches, orange peel, vanilla, orange marmalade, cloves, orange blossom, and clementine. Fresh. Ali smelled "not quite cinnamon but getting there." After it warmed up, it smelled of ashtray and burnt marshmallow. More orange notes on the palate, like Creamsicle and orange marmalade, plus a little bit of lemon rind and lemon curd. Some popcorn and quinine on the finish. Plenty of acidity, and not overdone. Received 15 points. David's bottle. About $40.
Third Place: Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2017 (Napa Valley). Vegetal on the nose, but also smoky, plus notions of tangerine and burnt toast. Hints of cream and cottage cheese. Lots of oak char, but there is a freshness to it. Andy was reminded of "new shoe after the first day of wearing it", while Ali detected "asparagus dipped in grain alcohol." Good acidity on the attack, and a lot of oak on the finish. Starts off with citrus flavors, but then switches to toasted coconut, and caramel char. Ali felt that this was "a Gemini wine in your mouth" that "starts off nice and veers off into a caravan of tired." Received 13 points. Ali's bottle. About $27.
Jack Larkin Chardonnay 2014 (Napa Valley). More yellow in color compared to the rest. Dusty nose that's shy, but moved into something slightly floral, or like aspartame. Very subtle. Smells fresh, but not a lot of fruit, suggesting fake cherry flavor. As it warmed up, it got nuttier, like anisette and cotton candy. Tasted like red apples, dark spices, vanilla, and roasted marshmallow. Other notions of sweetened iced tea, smoke, hazelnuts, and rum. Tasted older. Ali noted that "It tastes like a drink I don't drink, like whiskey?" and that "I don't feel like I'm drinking wine." Andy concluded that "I feel like I just licked a pine tree", with Ali finalizing with "I just hate it." Received 4 points. Kristin's bottle. About $50.