A Carneros Chardonnay that Failed the Reality Check

I am always conscious at tastings that more powerful wines tend to outshine more subtle wines, or that for whatever reason a wine that tastes well might seem different when accompanying a meal. As in my view wine is intended to partner food, I like whenever possible to perform a reality check: to have a bottle for dinner to see whether a wine performs in the same way over a meal as it did in a tasting. Sometimes my notes are consistent from both conditions, but sometimes I decide that I was fooled at the tasting.

One recent experience wasn’t really a reality check because the dinner did not immediately follow the tasting, but I was struck by the contrast between my tasting note, from a bottle tried together with several others at the producer two years ago, and the evolution of the wine as experienced at dinner last week.

In my original tasting, the wine cut the richness of the New World by showing good acidity to support the citrus fruits, and gave a tight, clean impression. Today the issue is not so much that the wine seems richer, but that the mainstream impression of citrus and stone fruits has been extended into exotic fruits with a slightly stewed impression. The overall balance seems over ripe and alcoholic, with a slightly sweet impression on the finish.

At a meal at Terra restaurant in St. Helena, the wine clashed with the first three dishes (tuna sashimi, wild mushroom salad, and black cod in sake). It showed well only against the lobster with pumpkin ravioli, which itself had a slightly sweet touch. Maybe the wine would go well against cuisine in that modern style which mixes fruity and savory and tends to be slightly sweet, but even then one might find the fruit flavors a little overwhelming.

Did I misjudge the wine originally or did I fail to foresee its evolution from ripe to over ripe? The parallel that comes to mind is 1983 Burgundy, where the wines were delicious one month, but filled with rot the next month, a development which was completely unpredictable from bottle to bottle. Perhaps it’s the same on the edge of ripeness.

Tasting Notes

Carneros, Hyde Vineyard, Ramey Wine Cellars, 2007, 14.5%

February 2012    This wine has become noticeably more exotic in the past two years, with a whiff of over ripe fruits showing on the palate. The citrus fruits that dominated the palate originally remain an important component, but now are accompanied by strong notes of stewed fruits verging on the over ripe. The style now seems too rich and alcoholic; although the alcohol does not stick out directly, I would be surprised if it is really as low as the stated 14.5%. Really too assertive to be a food wine, the over ripe intensity makes this seem a bit clumsy, and I tired of it after a glass. Drink it now before it degenerates into a caricature of a New World Chardonnay.

February 2010    Faintly oaky notes on the nose with underlying hints of citrus. Faint notes of lime and lemon on the palate. a cleaner, tighter impression than the Ritchie vineyard. Nice long finish with citrus and smoky notes of oak coming through.


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