Politics has no place in this blog, but I couldn’t help notice that there were quite a few people talking about the USA yesterday. So in the spirit of trying to stay topical, I have a wine from California, the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Karia Chardonnay 2009.
I wrote about Stag’s Leap, Stags’ Leap and Stags Leap back in April, but here’s a quick recap. There is a set of peaks in Napa, California that is commonly known as Stags Leap Palisades after a local legend involving an elusive deer. Two wineries in the region were founded in the same year and had competing claims to the name. After some wrangling, they settled on Stag’s Leap for one and Stags’ Leap for the other (note the apostrophe), with the area as a whole eventually being recognized as the Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area. The producer I reviewed in April was Stags’ Leap, which is perhaps slightly less famous than its neighbour, but more commonly found in Australia because it is owned by Treasury Wine Estates. Today, we’re on to the one more likely to be the topic in wine studies.
Stag’s Leap, or as it is more properly known Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, was established in 1970 by Warren Winiarski as the Napa Valley was emerging from its Prohibition induced slumber. Time spent in Naples and work at Robert Mondavi’s winery motivated Winiarski to found his own winery. He produced his first vintage in 1972 with the help of Andre Tchelistcheff, described in the Oxford Companion to Wine as “founding father of the modern California wine industry”.
The second vintage of 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines picked for a tasting in 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant based in Paris (and now something of an institution in the British wine trade). Now commonly known as the Judgement of Paris and the subject of books and a film, wines of California were tasted blind alongside red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundian whites by highly regarded French judges. Much to the dismay of some of the judges, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was picked as the top red and Chateau Montelena (also of Napa) as the top white, beating out counterparts from some of the finest French producers. While largely dismissed in France, the tasting proved a turning point in establishing Napa as a source of high quality wine. While the significance has been debated and contested ever since, subsequent tastings of the same wines have shown the Californian reds at least as age worthy as their French rivals.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars expanded from the initial Stag’s Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.) by purchasing first the neighbouring Fay vineyard from Michael Fay, another Napa legend, and then the Arcadia vineyard from Mike Grgich, winemaker at the aforementioned Chateau Montelena. The winery and most of the vineyards were sold in 2007 by Winiarski, 79 at the time, to Chateau Ste. Michelle of Washington and Marchesi Antinori Srl (of Super Tuscan fame) in 2007.
Today the company produces estate and single vineyard wines, including the Cabernets Sauvignon Cask 23, S.L.V and Fay as well as the Arcadia Chardonnay. They also produce wines from fruit sourced throughout Napa, including their Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Sauvignon Blanc and this Chardonnay.
While I’ve written about both California and Chardonnay many times, this is the first California Chardonnay to grace this blog, so it deserves a word or two. California’s wine history dates back to the 19th century, but Chardonnay didn’t start to make its mark until much later. The earliest plantings date from the 1800s but it wasn’t until a century later that the variety began to be popularized and then mushroomed after the Judgement of Paris in 1976, becoming the most widely planted grape in California. While styles ranged from warm climate, fruity, tank fermented versions to butterscotch, barrel fermented wines, California Chardonnays initially established themselves with a reputation for being big and unsubtle. As the industry matured, more refined styles emerged, and examples may be found to suit most tastes. This wine is in something of a moderate style, with ageing being split 1/3rd in steel and 2/3rds in oak, with only a portion of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a pale lemon yellow colour and quick, thin legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity, and aromas of oak, lemon, green apple, some floral notes, and a hint of melon. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium body, and medium plus length. The oak was very strong initially when the wine was likely too cold, but much better after some time, with citrus emerging as well as more of the floral and melon notes from the nose. Subsequently some grapefruit and honey characters emerged.
This is a very good wine. It is well balanced, with the acidity, alcohol and intensity all being fairly strong. The flavour profile is very pleasing and fresh, despite it being a three year old white wine, and the slight honey note gives a hint as to how this wine may continue to improve with time.