There are two worlds of California Chardonnay drinkers in this country. There are those who continue to order their favorite white wine whenever they go out to dinner, and are collectively responsible for making California Chardonnay the most consumed wine variety in the country each year. And then there are those who consider themselves wine lovers, critics, and geeks, and the consensus in recent years seems to be that there are few California Chardonnays worth paying attention to. Put more bluntly, it’s getting easier and easier to find someone who hates California Chardonnay these days.
I’ve read several major wine columns in the past year decrying the sorry state of California Chardonnay, from the Wall Street Journal to the Chicago Tribune. And while I don’t necessarily fully agree that the grape has lost its way, there certainly are a lot of uninspired Chardonnays being made in the state, even among those who are trying to buck the past excesses of thick buttery oak. It’s a tough time to be a bottle of Chardonnay over $20 in this country, and an even tougher time to be a winery that makes several of them.
Amidst, and despite all of this, Steve MacRostie has brought a remarkable consistency and vision to more than two decades of making Chardonnay under his label MacRostie Winery and Vineyards. Even though Steve has recently handed over winemaking duties to Kevin Holt, MacRostie Chardonnays are still excellent reminders of why California Chardonnay can’t be written off as a failed experiment.
MacRostie got his start in the wine business after graduating from the U.C. Davis Enology program in 1974. Originally planning to be a doctor, a stint in the Army that took him through Europe exposed MacRostie to a world of food and wine that he hadn’t known existed, and he was hooked and returned home with dreams of being a winemaker. MacRostie spent 12 years starting and working at Hacienda Vineyards before striking out on his own in 1987 to start MacRostie Vineyards, which he focused on making wines from the region that had recently become known as Carneros.
For the next decade, MacRostie quietly bought small lots of fruit from some of the region’s top growers, which he made into excellent bottlings of Merlot, Pinot Noir, and the Chardonnay for which he rightfully became well-known.
In 1997, MacRostie forged a partnership with ranchers Nancy and Tony Lilly to develop a piece of their property in the Southern mountains of Sonoma county known as Wildcat Mountain. From this sustainably farmed vineyard MacRostie has been making Pinot Noir, Syrah, as well as this particular Chardonnay.
The grapes for this wine were pressed as whole clusters, and then after settling off the sediments, the juice was put into barrels for fermentation. The barrel regime, as always at MacRostie, consisted of only about 25% new French oak, with the rest a mix of used French and Hungarian oak. The wine aged for about 10 months in those barrels before bottling.
In addition to this vineyard designate, MacRostie makes a Carneros Chardonnay, a couple of Pinots, a Cabernet, a Merlot, and a Syrah.
Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.
Light yellow-gold in the glass , this wine smells beautifully of wet stones and cold cream. In the mouth it is unusually silky on the tongue with crisp, clean flavors of cold cream, lemon pastry cream, and wet stone. Impeccably balanced, seductive and subtle, the wine lingers in a gradually deepening finish. Outstanding and a great example of the form.
I’d love to drink this wine with a freshly made chicken pot pie from scratch.
Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5
How Much?: $35
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.