Friday, January 12, 2007

A Kistler Chardonnay Vertical

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A tasting last month of Kistler Chardonnays encompassing five consecutive vintages was very revealing. It showed that Kistler Chardonnays can age over longer periods than widely believed (well beyond five years from vintage date), and that at least this is true for vintages earlier than 2002.

Vintages 1998 through 2001 have turned to a deep yellow color. Some may frown at this and quickly conclude that it’s a visible sign that the wine has turned. Nonsense. It’s oxidation, alright, which is what aging is about, but it doesn’t mean the wine has expired. On the contrary, the 1998s were still tight, particularly the McCrea Vineyard, while both the Dutton Ranch and Durell Vineyard showed better on the second and third days. No doubt the powerful concentration and high levels of polyphenols of these wines help them achieve long maturities.

Surprisingly, though, the youngest wine of the group, the 2002 Dutton Ranch, was the softest and was immediately drinking well. Has Kistler changed anything in their winemaking approach since 2002?

Russian River Chardonnay “Dutton Ranch”, Kistler 1998

Deep yellow color. Nutty, fruity scents. Round and creamy. Showing more vibrancy on the second and third day, plus more minerality.

Dutton Ranch is in one of the coolest microclimates in Sonoma and planted with 30-year-old vines. Many other wineries produce Dutton wines, but no one equals Kistler.

Sonoma Chardonnay “Durell Vineyard”, Kistler 1998
Softer and more open than the Dutton. Ripe, with lush tropical fruit flavors. It showed more substance on the second day

Located in southwest corner of Sonoma, close to Carneros, Durell Vineyard is planted with old Wente clone taken from the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros. Very low yields and small berries result in intense, forceful Chardonnays.

Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay “McCrea Vineyard”, Kistler 1998
The tightest of the three 1998s. It had no nose at all when opened, though the palate was fruity and fresh and showed the most minerality of the three 1998s. The nose remained closed over the next two days and the flavors retained their freshness.

McCrea Vineyard lies 800 feet on the east-facing slopes of Sonoma Mountain. It’s in a very cool microclimate and grapes ripen slowly here and develop full flavor when harvested. Kistler is responsible for farming this vineyard.

Russian River Chardonnay “Vine Hill Vineyard”, Kistler 1999
The most mineral in the group and, therefore, very well textured. Its color is slightly lighter yellow than the 1998s. Started tight on the palate, but its vibrancy made it at least refreshing. It opened up more the next day. Ripe apricot, citrus flavors and layers of minerals.

This is one of Kistler’s estate vineyards. It was planted in 1988 with low-yielding Chardonnay clone that produces concentrated, multilayered wines.

Russian River Chardonnay “Vine Hill Vineyard”, Kistler 2000
Deep yellow color, somewhere in between the 1998s and the 1999, A bit reticent, but soon opened up to lush, tropical fruit flavors. It remained fresh-tasting over the next two days.

2000 was a relatively cool growing season, perfect for expressive, elegant Chardonnays that are able to mature over a longer period.

Russian River Chardonnay “Dutton Ranch”, Kistler 2001
A fat, rich Chardonnay. Just a bit sweeter than the others, but also just as fresh tasting. The color has turned deep yellow, but it tastes very youthful on the first day. The next day the flavors showed more tropical fruit and nuttiness.

Unquestionably one of the finest Chardonnay vineyards in California, Dutton Ranch experienced a long growing season in 2001 resulting in a juicy, ripe, and full-flavored Chardonnay.

Russian River Chardonnay “Dutton Ranch”, Kistler 2002
Lush, round, soft, and creamy-textured. This was very forward and showed no tightness at all. It drinks very deliciously now. With its softness and low acidity, this is stylistically the most different Chardonnay in the group.

A short growing season with severe heat spikes, the fruit ripened quickly and produced a wine that’s fat and opulent, yet mouthwateringly fresh on the palate.

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