Do you like Chardonnay? That’s a loaded question I know. Your answer is probably a return question asking what sort, or style of Chardonnay I’m talking about. There might not be another grape that is so wildly popular on the one hand and inspires so much debate on the other. The basic concept folks tend to wrestle with when it comes to this grape is oak treatment. What has become known in many circles as “California Style Chardonnay” is what really gets a lot of people talking. The trouble with that term is that it only describes a very small amount of Chardonnay from California. There are tons of different Chardonnays made in different styles with varying intent and incredibly divergent price-points. Some producers present a look into the differences in this grape within a single portfolio. One such producer is Sonoma County’s Rodney Strong Vineyards. They make a trio of Chardonnays, that one vintage after another provides a small window into the various disciplines of Sonoma County Chardonnay. I’ll take a look at the current releases of each today. First up is the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2010 Sonoma County Chardonnay. This wine was produced using estate grown fruit as well as grapes sourced at other local Sonoma Vineyards. After harvesting this wine was fermented in a combination of barrel (60%), and stainless steel (40%); 5 months of barrel aging followed for the juice already in oak. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $13.50.
Bright, fresh orchard fruit aromas fill the nose of this Sonoma County Chardonnay. Bartlett pear, Golden Delicious apple and hints of lemon zest are present throughout the palate of this wine along with nutmeg and clove spices. The Sonoma County Chardonnay has a crisp, clean finish with zippy acidity and underlying wisps of creaminess. This wine is quite tasty by itself but will also pair well with lighter foods. Rodney Strong's Sonoma County offering continues to be a tremendous everyday value in everyday Chardonnay from Sonoma County.
Next up is the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. This wine is composed entirely of fruit from the Chalk Hill appellation. 86% of this wine was fermented in French oak, the remainder in stainless steel; 10 months of barrel aging followed for the 86%. This wine is available nationally and has a suggested retail price of $20.
Subtle toast and vanilla aromas join up with loads of fresh fruit aromas and a hint of hazelnut on the nose of this Chalk Hill Chardonnay. The palate of this wine is incredibly even keeled and balanced with appealing orchard fruit and spice sharing the bill with mineral characteristics and, to a lesser degree, bits of tropical fruit and lemon ice. A bevy of spices such as nutmeg, cardamom and white pepper are part of a creamy, layered finish. The oak used here is judicious and well integrated; it adds but does not detract. I’ve been fond of the Chalk Hill Chardonnay for a number of years now. In the $20 category this wine remains a go to choice.
Finally today is the Rodney Strong Vineyards 2008 Russian River Valley Reserve Chardonnay. This wine was produced using fruit sourced at a variety of Russian River Valley Vineyards. The Reserve Chardonnay was entirely fermented in French oak; 14 months of oak aging followed with 46% of the barrels being new. This wine is available across the country and has a suggested retail price of $35.
Apple pie aromas are joined by toast and hints of toffee on the layered and complex nose of this 2008 Chardonnay. Tropical fruits and hints of citrus appear on the palate which is loaded with apple and pear characteristics. Baked pie spices are plentiful as well. Minerals lead the lengthy finish which shows off toasty oak, bits of butter and a creaminess that brings to mind crème brulee. This wine is the epitome of California style Chardonnay; but to be crystal clear an example that is done remarkably well. The oak is well integrated but easily detectable and a key element like a prominent spice, however the fruit is still, as it should be the key. This wine is good on it’s own but excels paired with rich dishes.
This is a distinct trio of wines that could easily provide a mini-tour of Sonoma County Chardonnay and a bit of an eduction all by themselves. Depending on how much you’re looking to spend on a Chardonnay or even more importantly what your desired style is, Rodney Strong Vineyards likely has one you’ll enjoy. Each is a well made wine that delivers excellent value in its category. However I personally reach for the Chalk Hill most often as it comes closest to my personal Chardonnay sweet spot. Rodney Strong Vineyards continues to be a large Sonoma County Producer with readily accesible wines, wherever you live in the US, at more than reasonable prices.