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EVERYTHING YOU HAVE BEEN DYING TO KNOW ABOUT NEWLY RELEASED CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAYS!

John Tilson • 7/22/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

Just when I think I have seen it all, up pops another surprise. A good friend just sent me a collection of notes taken from a website frequented by a lot of people posting notes on wines. In this case, it seems to be from what sounds like a bunch of  groupies who love to drink the kool aid. The focus of this “seminar” tasting was on California Chardonnays with big numbers from the big numbers boys and a few other California Chardonnays that were said to be personal favorites. It was billed as “California’s Finest Chardonnays”. The wines ranged in price from $30 to $300 and some of the least expensive wines ranked with some of the most expensive wines. Also, the scores were pretty concentrated with not a big difference from the top to the bottom.  There was a lot of chatter and noise about California Chardonnays being too hot and alcoholic, but when it came to the notes on the wines there was no consistency.  Many wines that were stated as being alcoholic were preferred over those that were not alcoholic. In short, the entire tasting seemed very mixed. I will leave you to your own devices to figure out the identity of the wines, but I will start by identifying one. So far, you may think that there is really nothing out of the ordinary with this event. But, just wait until you see how the wines were described including many of the favorites. Here is a sampling of the notes.

(1) Let’s start with the 2008 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay which has consistently been one of the very best California Chardonnays for 40 years and one that I have bought, cellared, and drunk for that entire time (to read  my article on Mount Eden Vineyards click here)

“…Initially tight nose opens to reveal attractive fruit and fresh linen, with just the right amount of oak influence. Aromatically… “very California.” On the palate, we’re drawn to lovely salinity, with additional flavors of kelp and green olive. This complex, somewhat tart Chardonnay was well-received by our group, although some thought it was over-oaked. One thing for sure…this Chardonnay hid its alcohol very well!”

Well let’s see. “very California”? To me Mount Eden is one of the most Burgundian California Chardonnays. (And, wait until you see how the “most Burgundy-like” Chardonnay is described in this tasting). I’ve yet to come across the “fresh linen” in the hundreds and hundreds of bottles of  Mount Eden Chardonnays that I have consumed over several decades. Ditto for the kelp and green olive. Maybe someone got this mixed up with a Veggie Martini? Thank you, but of all the wines in this tasting I will take the Mount Eden! And you can read my note on the 2008 Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Chardonnay in the above referenced article. I assure you it bears no resemblance to the description above.  But, let’s move on and you decide!

(2) How about the lowest rating wine?

“…Here’s another bouquet that’s unyielding; nothing jumps out as a defining characteristic. Better on the palate in an elegant, lighter body style. But there are rumblings… “generic” and “too light.” Once again, we are somewhat bothered by the high alcohol. Furthermore, this Chardonnay falls a little flat in the finish….”

Sounds like something that is drinkable despite the score. I can’t say that about many of the other higher scoring wines, but read on and see what you think!

(3) What about the highest rated wine?

“…Restrained rich nose is slow to reveal itself, but it opens with lovely tropical fruit, citrus, oily scents, and spice. Quite youthful on entry, but this last Chardonnay still seems to hit all the high notes. It’s a particularly clean and harmonious wine displaying weight, complexity, richness, and perfectly ripe and flavorful fruit. Everything is in balance. You can tell that the wine is still holding something back, but what it does give up is beautiful. This wine also improved dramatically in the glass….”

Hmmm. This might be the real deal. But, it was also the last wine served. So maybe the folks had lost their touch by then. After all, look at some of the notes on wines that were tasted before this last wine.

(4) How about the #2 wine?

“…Initially, the nose is tight, but it opens nicely in the glass. There are orange skin and spice scents, as well as alcohol fumes. Much better on the palate; very rich and precise. This is a weighty, youthful Chardonnay with well-extracted fruit. We love the flavors suggesting cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. This wine is clean, complex, and well-balanced. The finish is very long, consistent, and penetrating….”

This wine was served past the half way point. And, although there was criticism of alcohol throughout the tasting, this is an example of the lack of consistency in the notes and ratings. This one is described as having “alcohol fumes.” That is disgusting and something I think should be reserved for embalming fluid! Remember, this is the #2 rated wine! No thanks! I’m not dead yet!

(5) But, not so fast, kemo sabe! There’s more. Let’s look at some descriptions for other wines with big numbers in a pretty tight range.

“…this nose is rich and limey, almost heavy, with lots of oak and smoke. We also pick up hints of sherry and fresh paint…It’s Burgundian in style, recalling a fine, youthful Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet….”

Oak, smoke, sherry and fresh paint? Burgundian in style? A fine youthful Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet? Three strikes and you’re out! In this case, really out. Like passed out! Sherry and fresh paint should do the trick. Burgundian in style? Last time I checked, Burgundy had nothing to do with fresh paint or sherry. And, how sad it is to take this and slap it on Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet! Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet is a Grand Cru and one of my very favorite White Burgundies. Thankfully, I have never had one that even remotely resembles this description. In fact, any wine that would meet this description should be used for any thing but drinking! Yet this is the 5th highest rated wine!

(6) Another favorite. How about this?

“…Attractive nose is the “sweetest” in the first flight of five. The aromas remind us of popcorn soaked in grain alcohol….”

A “sweet” nose of popcorn soaked in grain alcohol. Yum. Add a dash of butter and you’ve got a real winner!

(7) Then there is the 4th favorite wine of the night and the most “Burgundy-like.”

“Light straw/yellow with a slight cloudiness. Interesting and different aromas… there is a strong petrol and sherry character… . It keeps getting better with aeration. Impressive in the mouth; big, rich, oily, complex, and quite young. This wine shows the best grip of any wine; really hunkers down on the palate! It has a Burgundian backbone and comes across as the most “Burgundy-like” of any wine in the tasting….”

Yikes! After the sherry and fresh paint Burgundian style juice, now there’s a “strong petrol and sherry character” that puts this squarely in the “most Burgundy-like category.” Geez is there another “Burgundy” in some place like Mongolia that I have missed? Holy Moly! I may be totally out of it!

(8) Here’s a big score wine that must have had the folks salivating.

“…Dramatic nose is well-received by our group, with a cornucopia of lovely notes including butterscotch, shortbread, lime, burnt orange, celery root, and crème brulée. Follows through in a similar fashion in the mouth; rich, with lots of oak and ash, and a smoked fish quality “a foodie freak show of a Chardonnay….”

Yum. Yum. All foody freaks into butterscotch, shortbread, lime, burnt orange, celery root, crème brulée, ash, and smoked fish come and get it. But, don’t drip on me. This sounds like something that might be on the menu at the Road Kill Café for dessert!

(9) This was rather mild by comparison with some of the others, but still pains me in at least 2 places!

“…Attractive, rich, buttery, smoky nose with additional notes of lime and oyster shells. Follows through in a similar fashion on the palate; lime zest and crushed oyster shells dominate….”

Crushed oyster shells? Any one out there into eating or drinking these? It sounds pretty painful. Entry and exit sound downright unpleasant.

(10) This was the one that finally got into a controversy. It placed in the middle of the pack.

“…Interesting nose is different and controversial. It’s rich and citrusy, with more minerality than the first two wines. But there’s an odd hi-toned, acetone note that turns some people off….”

People turned off by acetone? How quaint. “Sherry and fresh paint”?  No problem. “Petrol and sherry”? No problem. “Alcohol fumes”? No problem. “Popcorn soaked in grain alcohol”? No problem. But, acetone? That’s just taking it too far!

This is a scary neighborhood. I’m outta here!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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6 comments for “EVERYTHING YOU HAVE BEEN DYING TO KNOW ABOUT NEWLY RELEASED CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAYS!”

  1. Where were the notes on this tasting posted?

    I also have been drinking and enjoying Mt Eden for almost 30 years. It is 95% of the CA chardonnay in my cellar.

    Posted by Ed | July 22, 2012, 2:46 pm
  2. I must have developmentally challenged taste buds. I’ve never found hints of bedsheets or seaweed in a Mount Eden Chardonnay either. Fresh paint is interesting, though. Was it oil-based or latex? I need to expand my palate and know what to look for.

    But frankly, anybody who would even know what popcorn soaked in grain alcohol tastes like is already pretty far gone. Just one more step down the slippery slope to Sterno.

    Posted by Mort Maizlish | July 23, 2012, 8:37 am
  3. Hi Mort,
    Yep. Who knows what goes on? Paint, alcohol, sherry, acetone? We certainly do not need these in our wines! Who know maybe these things will become the basis of new “tastings”? YIKES!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | July 23, 2012, 12:12 pm
  4. Hi Ed,
    A friend sent them to me from a post on the internet for wine notes.
    That’s good. We have similar taste in Chardonnay. I like the classic wines that are balanced and age. The new high alcohol big numbers versions are mostly out of balance to begin with and do not age. Definitely not my style. In fact, I find some of them totally undrinkable. Things like paint and acetone are not things that appeal to me in wine. I guess you could just call me old fashioned!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | July 23, 2012, 12:18 pm
  5. Tasting notes are part of the “wine snob” experience. I like tasting wine but my palate vocabulary is fairly limited so I use ideas more familiar to me for communicating my impressions; like movie stars, films, novels, vacation destinations, and illnesses. The tasting wheel is useful but obviously can lead to “notes abuse.” The ubiquitous “m” word did not appear until the last comment…”minerality.” Thanks for the review.

    Posted by Steve Stumpf | July 27, 2012, 10:47 am
  6. Hi Steve,
    Sometimes. But I think tasting notes are useful to describe what you smell and taste. The tasting notes I write about are absurd. They describe things that have nothing to do with wine. It is all about the big numbers and hype. For your own purposes describe a wine any way you like. But remember, if you use names of people, books, places, etc. to describe wine, no one else is likely to understand what you are talking about. But, then I guess that would make you a candidate for the big numbers wine writing club. No one can make any sense of most of that either. To me, minerality is a real quality found in many wines, particularly white wines. The classic examples would include Chablis which can also sometimes be described as flinty. This is far cry from many of the ludicrous descriptions in the article like acetone, alcohol soaked popcorn, etc.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | July 30, 2012, 10:40 am

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