Newton Vineyard - 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay / 2008 The Puzzle

Recently, I had the opportunity to taste a number of Newton Vineyard’s current releases alongside Chris Millard their winemaker. It was one of the more interesting tastings in recent memory; in addition to the wines themselves there was a special focus on filtration. Newton makes both filtered and unfiltered wines. All of the releases we sampled are well made and eminently drinkable. I for one however leaned towards the unfiltered wines as my preference. There is an inherent weightiness to their palate and a deeper concentration of flavors and aromas that stood out to me as particularly special. To conclude the tasting we also sampled filtered coffee versus unfiltered French Press. This was also a revelation and it’s a somewhat simple experiment that anyone with a French Press as well as a filtered coffee maker can replicate at home. I encourage you to do just that as I believe you might well be amazed. I decided to revisit a couple of my favorites from the Newton Vineyard portfolio and here’s a look at them. First up is the Newton Vineyard 2008 Unfiltered Chardonnay. This wine was produced utilizing fruit sourced from several locations within Napa County including Newton’s 30 year old Carneros vineyard. Newton’s unfiltered Chardonnay is a 100% varietal wine. Fermentation took place with wild yeasts. Barrel aging occurred over 16 months in French oak; 30% of the barrels utilized were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $60.

This Chardonnay has a deeply perfumed nose loaded with appealing aromatics. Apple, guava and subtle hints of vanilla bean each play a role. Pineapples, oodles of apple, hints of apricot and spices galore are all prominent throughout the palate. An undercurrent of tropical fruit flavors is present as well. There is an amazing depth of palate here and it is simply loaded with controlled intensity and complexity. The finish on the Unfiltered Newton Chardonnay is long, lusty, fruity and engaging. It goes on and on persistently with fruit and spice notes reverberating. A touch of creaminess provides the final, pleasing note. The bottom line for me is that this is one of the small handful of very best and most honest Chardonnays coming out of Napa Valley at any price point.

The second wine is Newton Vineyard’s 2008 The Puzzle. This is a Bordeaux inspired blend that was made from fruit sourced at their home vineyard on Spring Mountain. Their property is broken up into small blocks and each vintage the finest lots are selected to assemble The Puzzle. As such the varietal composition can vary greatly from one year to the next. The current release is a blend of Merlot (42%), Cabernet Sauvignon (36%), Cabernet Franc (14%), Petit Verdot (6%) and Malbec (2%). Aging occurred over 20 months in entirely French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $80.

Cabernet Franc lovers will recognize it’s presence in this wine from the first whiff they take. It lifts the nose and provides a lovely gateway with black cherry, dark chocolate and hints of leather leading the way. Plums and blackberry flavors show up on the palate along with continued cherry (both red and black) characteristics. Nutmeg, black pepper and clove spices are present as well. Earth, hints of smoked meats, cardamom and minerals all emerge on the finish which is persistent and impressive in its length. Impeccable structure and acidity are also present, helping to make this an absolutely phenomenal blend. This is classic Napa Valley mountain fruit in all it’s glory with finesse, depth and a rugged backbone. I sampled The Puzzle after it had been open for a full 24 hours and it was drinking even more beautifully.

There’s no two ways about it, these are both stunningly terrific wines. I’m particularly finicky about California Chardonnays in the premium price range. I find way too many of them are over priced wood and butter bombs that taste like almost anything but Chardonnay. The Newton Vineyard Chardonnay flies in the face of that and is loaded with pure Chardonnay fruit that is enhanced by the oak treatment it received. At $60 it’s not a wine aimed at everyday consumption, but it is an impeccable example of how well Chardonnay can do in California when treated appropriately through the entire process. If you love Chardonnay you owe it to yourself to try this wine when you can. The Puzzle is an excellent blended wine that you’ll have fun drinking with a great meal or sitting with some friends and picking apart all the varietal components that shine in their own way as they come together to make a most excellent and well balanced blend. Both of these wines will drink well for a number of years, The Puzzle in particular while delicious now will improve over the next 10-15 years. If you haven’t tried the wines from Newton Vineyard, they are well worth both your time and your money. Their more readily available and lower priced, filtered offerings are also wines you should consider.