By Brian Freedman for FORBES.COM
Members of the “ABC Club,” the unofficial group of people who will drink “Anything But Chardonnay,” are as passionate in their dislike of that grape variety as are anti-Merlot ideologues. Both, however, are wrong. Or, to paint with a slightly less broad brush, both are missing the true breadth and range that Chardonnay and Merlot are capable of. Chardonnay is far more than the oaky, vanilla-spiced monster that it’s reputed to be—great Chablis is the opposite of that—and Merlot is capable of magic (I’m thinking of you, Château Pétrus).
Today’s Wines of the Week are delicious bottles of each, both from California, that dispel the misapprehensions with exuberance and a real sense of character.
The Red Car Estate Chardonnay 2016, from the Fort Ross – Seaview appellation in the Sonoma Coast, proves that power and elegance can easily coexist. It’s effusive in the glass, with aromas of Meyer lemon and key lime pie, tarragon, and ripe pears, all setting the stage for a beautifully structured palate with a serious spine of acid and mineral from which flavors of fresh-squeezed lime, Granny Smith apple, springtime flowers, and the subtlest touch of sweet spice creeps in at the edges.
Sourced from Red Car’s estate vineyard, the grapes for this wine grow between 900 and 1,000 feet above sea level, which is right near the coast. The temperatures are kept fairly consistent by the Pacific, and each vine yields a relatively small crop: Just 103 cases of this excellent wine were produced. If you find a bottle in your local wine shop, it’s well worth the $62 to check it out: This is a delicious example of how serious California Chardonnay can be…and how wrong the ABC folks are.
The Mayacamas Merlot 2015, from Napa Valley’s Mt. Veeder, is grown close to 2,000 feet above sea level, and the impact of the rock-strewn land is clear in every sip of this structured, mineral Merlot. Indeed, it’s the opposite of the broad, tannin-less expression of the variety that so many bulk-produced bottlings have convinced generations of consumers is the inherent nature of the variety. (It’s not!)