Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A few of California's finest whites: Varner Chardonnay

Jim Varner came in today to pour his 2006 vintage Chardonnays. Located in California's premier area for fine wine production, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, Varner chardonnays are amongst the brightest, cleanest, most transparent and complex white wines produced in the US. 2006 was apparently a very successful vintage (as they mostly are here in sunny California). The growing season for chardonnay lasted two weeks longer than in 2005, though the acidity measured to be roughly the same. And these wines do not lack for acidity- good, natural, balanced acidity. I'm listing these in ascending order of richness and fleshy texture.

2006 Varner Amphitheater Block Chardonnay

This is always Varner's most mineral expression of Chardonnay. Which makes sense given that this particular site has the least amount of top soil above the layers of sedimentrary rock. Though the wine goes through full malolactic and spends some time in new oak, the wine retains its steely, tangy apricot fruit edge, which is unusual for a new world Chard. Jim mentioned that he allows the indigenous yeasts to do their work for fermentation on all of his wines, joking that his brother (and Varner winemaker) Bob likes saving a hundred or so bucks on the bags of yeast he chooses not to buy!

2006 Varner Bee Block Chardonnay

Smells and tastes a bit fleshier, but still a great overall sense of balance and liveliness on the palate.

2006 Varner Home Block Chardonnay

While this is the biggest and richest of the three, with the most mellow and subdued acidity, I still think that this is a terrifically balanced chardonnay. Some riper, melon flavors appear here, but once again with the acidity, balance and natural flavors which all of these wines are known for having, year in and year out.