"...and the more balanced among them - such as a 2006 Stony Hill..."
2006 Stony Hill Chardonnay
Winemaker Mike Chelini says of the 2006 vintage, "Not that we haven't made serious wine before, but this is a really serious wine! And he ought to know having made the wines at Stony Hill for the past thirty-six years. He thinks the 2006 vintage stands out because of its more intense and mature qualities, which bring a new dimension to our non-oaky, non-malolactic Chardonnay. Mary Burklow says the bouquet reminds her of "wet stones after the first rain drops," focusing on the mineral quality of the wine while Mike detected the youthful, slowly emerging aromas of pure Chardonnay fruit as he swirled his glass. In the mouth the wine carries more than usual weight with already integrated fruit and mineral flavors, and its finish lingers and carries to the end of the palate. We frankly do not understand what has made this wine so complex so early in its life, but we think that it probably reflects the continued aging and maturing of our vines, particularly from Vineyards #1 and #2. These are Stony Hill's original Chardonnay vineyards first planted in 1947 and 1948 and replanted with their own bud wood in 1987 and 1988. They are our favorite vineyards and have always given us intense yet delicate fruit. In the 2006 vintage we see the perfect transition from the vine to the glass.
2010 Aging Recommendation: We think the 2006 vintage stands out because of its more intense and mature qualities at age four, including powerful aromas of pure Chardonnay fruit and well integrated fruit and mineral flavors. This complexity reflects the maturing of our vines, which are giving us intense yet delicate fruit.
|Farming:||Dry farmed||Age of Vines:||12-21 years|
|Grapes:||100% grown, produced and bottled at Stony Hill Vineyard||Harvest Date:||9/12/2006 – 10/2/2006|
|Fermentation Time:||2 weeks in 5 to 25-year-old barrels||Fermentation Temp:||60 degrees|
|Aging Time:||10 months in old French oak barrels||Filtering:||Filtered to remove yeast and inhibit malolactic fermentation|
|Bottling Date:||6/12/2008||Total Acidity:||.68%|
|pH:||3.32||Aging Potential:||5 years +|
|Production:||2,352 cases in 750 ml bottles; 98 cases in 1.5L bottles||Release Date:||September 2008|
|Price at Winery:||$36.00 per bottle|
"The result is a brilliantly defined wine, redolent of fresh green apple and pear, with crisp mineral notes and a clean, lean finish."
I broke up with Chardonnay 15 years ago. For some of us, the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) crowd, it became the wine we loved to hate, decked out in new oak, tongue-coating butter, and in-your-face sweetness. And with food? Diva Chard was a train wreck...
Stony Hill 2010 ($42)
An angular and intensely minerally Chard set off by green melon, hints of pineapple, and kumquat.
Those of us who dabble in wine tend to take lots of basic information for granted. I was reminded of this recently when a friend, a casual wine-drinker, asked if she should buy a Bordeaux or a malbec to serve at a wedding. She thought Bordeaux was a kind of grape...
"Chablis-like chardonnay with no oak - a somewhat atypical wine in today's supercharged chardonnay world."
Lots of California winemakers are talking about changing their style to feature lower alcohol and less oak. Stony Hill started building California's reputation for Chardonnay nearly 50 years ago, and its approach has never changed: careful handling of the fruit and hand-off winemaking. In this version, the purity and depth of character that come only from older vines will impress even the most diehard white Burgundy fans.
A group of us sat down to lunch on a rainy day last week and I started to scour the wine list for a red to ward off the chill. When half of the diners mentioned their preference for white wine, I panned to the chardonnay options hoping for a richly textured but un-oaked version.
And there it was — the Stony Hill Chardonnay ($42). For anyone wanting a crisp and complex chardonnay, Stony Hill should be on your shortlist. The 2007 even trumped all expectations. There was a striking flintiness and minerality with nice acidity in the wine, but also rich red apple, pear and juicy peach flavors that lingered on.
"...and then there is Stony Hill, which has been saying all along that there's a better way."
"...the wine is kept crisp and acidic, not made overly rich and smooth."
Last weekend I had the singular pleasure of co-leading a tasting with the title Legends of Napa Valley. I wrote about my impressions of the tasting overall, and the lessons that it offered, such as they were, about the aging of Napa wines across the last five decades, as part of my monthly column for Jancis Robinson.
Now that I'm done editorializing, we can get down to the wines themselves. Below I offer my tasting notes for every wine that we tasted, in the order we tasted them. We tasted in four flights, two each day. The start of every flight featured at least one white wine, which you will see interspersed below at about every twentieth wine.
"Half a centry ago, Stony Hill put the quintessential California wine on the map. Today, it's still going strong."
"But there is another California Chardonnay, produced by a small band of winemakers who have held out against the big and buttery style. Using and older style of winemaking, they are producing a crisper, more lively chardonnay, one that sacrifices showy power in favor of steely subtlety."
"From modest beginnings came "America's greatest white wine estate"
"These Stony Hills were remarkable wines, in the classic Burgundian tradition: elegant; intense fresh taste, thanks to good acid levels; and that delicious bite the French call nerveux. Alcohol levels were reasonable, and the wines had just enough oak in the finish to enhance rather than overpower."
"But not every winery in California has conformed to the critics’ tastes. Despite the threat of low scores, there are some locals who’ve never gone for the big fruit bombs. Stony Hill..., make wines as they always have—with restraint. These wines might be less flashy and thus are at a disadvantage in a critic’s blind tasting, but they’re food-friendly and elegant."
Over the last thirty years, as other wineries kept cranking up an over-the-top Chardonnay formula, Stony Hill's modus operani was all about saying no: no to new oak barrels, no to the latest technique, no to a fancy winery, no to an updated label. After all, why mess up a good thing?
"There's a generation of California winemakers coming of age in the wake of those boom years looking to fashion a more drinkable style of wine."