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2002 Tandem Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

They say that great winemakers can make good wines from mediocre grapes, but let's face it, the raw materials make a huge difference. That's why some grape growers can demand unbelievable sums for their fruit, and why certain vineyards are sought out again and again.

Earlier this year I had the luck and the pleasure to try the Aubert Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay (which was basically one of the best Chardonnays I've ever tasted in my life), and so it was with anticipation that I opened this bottle.

Wouldn't you know it, but this is an amzing wine too. Far be it for me to discount the winemaking talents of the Tandem team, whose Pinot Noir I reviewed earlier in the week, but there's definitely something going on with these grapes.

Situated across from Steve Kistlers Splan vineyard, the Kent Ritchie vineyard is in what you might call an "exclusive neighborhood." As Tandem describes it:

Ritchie's Chardonnay vineyard, among the oldest in the Russian River, is a Sonoma County viticultural treasure....Kent's vines provide a great deal of complexity and intensity that is seldom to be found in one vineyard. Within the last few years, Kent's excellent farming and passion for detail have attracted the attention of some of the biggest names in Chardonnay winemaking.

The 2002 vintage was close to picture-perfect for the old vines in the vineyard. Young vines of the Musque clone were picked just before a brief hot spell and inoculated with a French-isolated yeast, which enhances the natural floral character, found in this Chardonnay selection. Then the weather turned mild, allowing for a much longer hang-time for the mature vines which showed a great deal of patience in their steady, even ripening.

These vines have been around for a long time, and with any luck they will continue to produce amazing wines. If you've been waiting to splurge a little on a really good Chardonnay and are looking for something that an ordinary human being can actually find on the market, this might be the wine for you.

Tasting Notes:
This wine shines a light gold with a tinge of green in it. It has a complex nose of honeydew melon, jasmine and wet slate, with just a touch of tropical fruit that vacillated somewhere between banana and mango. The nose is light and not overpowering, which makes for a subtle prelude to the body of the wine, which is so smooth that it could be Carey Grant re-incarnate. In the mouth the wine has a gorgeous supple texture with flavors of unripe pear, cream, sultanas and oregano or other dried spices. Even though this wine has been aged in 100% French oak and much of the wine has gone through secondary fermentation, the oak elements are subsumed into the body of the wine making for an extremely fine balance in flavor and a gorgeous, whispering finish that trails off cleanly

Food Pairing:
Because its not an overpowering wine with lots of woody flavors and tons of buttercream, this is a California Chardonnay that will actually go beautifully with food of all kinds. Those who are adventurous enough to pair a Chardonnay with Asian and Southeast Asian foods could do worse that try this one, although I think this wine is made to accompany a light fish dish like seared scallops with a tomato beurre blanc sauce.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $40

This wine is available for purchase online.

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