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...
2008 Stony Hill Chardonnay
As always, our Chardonnay is pale straw in color, and once you put your nose to the glass and inhale the aroma of pure Chardonnay fruit, you won't be able to put it down! With the first sip you'll taste a complexity of flavors dominated by citrus and green apple with an underlying current of earth and stone, which we call minerality. Winemaker Mike Chelini says, "Wow, that's a mouthful! A couple more years and it will be a big, rich wine."
If we wanted a totally 'clean" wine we could ferment and age in stainless steel tanks. But by using 'neutral' oak barrels, our wines gain complexity as they age without picking up the oaky flavors that dominate so many California Chardonnays today. It's that added dimension of subtlety that we're after. Mike's Farm House Prawn Risotto and Peter's Grilled Quail with Wilted Cabbage Slaw would be great matches with the 2008 vintage.
2010 Aging Recommendation: This wine is still a baby. Please see above description.
|Farming:||dry farmed||Age of Vines:||14-23 years|
|Grapes:||100% grown, produced and bottled at Stony Hill Vineyard||Harvest Date:||8/26/2008 – 9/6/2008|
|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:||6/24/2009||Total Acidity:||.68%|
|pH:||3.43||Aging Potential:||5 years +|
|Production:||2,171 cases in 750 ml bottles; 100 cases in 1.5L bottles||Release Date:||September 2010|
|Price at Winery:||$42.00 per bottle|
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.
"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 the more balanced among them - such as a 2006 Stony Hill..."
"The result is a brilliantly defined wine, redolent of fresh green apple and pear, with crisp mineral notes and a clean, lean finish."
"...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."