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2001 D.R. Stephens Chardonnay, Carneros

D.R. Stephens I presume? Actually a lot of people take a quick look at this label and start referring to it as 'Doctor Stephens' wine, but it's actually got one too many punctuation marks for that. The "D" most likely stands for Don, as in Don Stephens who along with his wife Trish, owns the small Howell Mountain estate that this wine calls home. What the "R" stands for I don't know, but as far as I'm concerned it might stand for REALLY good.

This wine is a classic Carneros, made with cold climate fruit that actually comes from the coldest most southern part of Carneros, right at the edge of San Pablo Bay. Winemaker Celia Masyczek, formerly of Staglin Family Vineyards, Robert Pepi Veinyards, and Hartwell Vineyards, has worked with some of the best fruit to be had in California.

In this case she has gotten a hold of some entirely hand-harvested Chardonnay (Dijon 76 clone) and pressed the entire clusters pressed into in 100% French Oak barrels (75% new). The wine was kept in contact with its lees for 10 months, with battonage for the first 6 months. For those who don't know, what this means is that instead of removing the sediment (dead yeast, grape seeds, pulp, bits of stem, etc.) from the bottom of the fermentation tank after primary fermentation, the wine was left with this stuff still in it. Battonage means that not only was this stuff left in, it was stirred around in the wine at regular intervals.

This sort of treatment does two things: contact with the lees encourages secondary, Malolactic fermentation (resulting in the classic buttery flavors of many California Chardonnays) and many winemakers also say that it can add depth and complexity to the wine. Most importantly, however, the stirring takes the wine out of contact with the wood of the barrel, reducing the amount of flavors (and tannins) the wood can introduce to the wine.

It is perhaps partially this technique which has kept this wine from being another Cakebread -- oily, buttery, heavy on the oak, well-made but overrated -- and turned it into something better.

Tasting Notes:
Straw colored in the glass this wine all but reeks of grapefruit and apricot with hints of sweet summer peach thrown in for good measure. In the mouth it is perfectly satin with flavors of pears, those apricots from the nose, cantaloupe, vanilla, and a good measure of buttercream and sweet oak. The finish tapers out long and fine with butterscotch and jasmine elements. This is a well balanced, but classic Carneros Chardonnay, the kind that most people are trying hard but not quite managing to make these days.

Food pairing:
I think this would be a lovely accompaniment to a fish that's meaty and slightly sweet, like Nobu Matsuhisa's Black Cod with Miso.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $39

I get mine through Porthos.

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