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Cleaning up odds, ends and fabulous California chardonnays
Randall Murray
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column publishes monthly.

Following is a collection of odds ‘n’ ends left over from 2019. Translation: Things I put off getting around to for a variety of reasons. Procrastination shows up at or close to No. 1.

Everybody loves Ramey

Wine of the Month

The Federalist Zinfandel Dry Creek 2016

The wine: Full-bodied, dry red table wine.

The grapes: 100% zinfandel.

The source: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California.

The verdict: I love zinfandels. And Dry Creek Valley is one of my beloved places in California. I have directed that my ashes be spread there. Note: I take no responsibility for subsequent crop failures. This is a big red with rich dark fruit flavors and a splash of black pepper. Fruit came from six separate vineyard blocks and each block was fermented separately. Malolactic fermentation was induced to soften the acidity, and the wine aged 16 months in 20% new oak barrels. The result is a hearty wine that demands hearty fare — sizzling ribeye steaks, standing rib roast, lamb chops, venison, etc. This goes into my Top 10 Zin List for 2019.

The price: About $19.

David Ramey has been getting a lot of ink (or whatever internet coverage is called) in recent months. And that attention is well earned. A veteran California wine maker Ramey has dropped a quartet of stellar chardonnays on the wine world, and the resultant splash has spread far and wide.

All four bottles come from the aforementioned Sonoma County (I so prefer it to Napa) and all four celebrate the terroir and climate of the four different locations. And while they differ one from another in mouth feel, aroma and flavor, each is a genuine winner, and well worth searching for. All are from the 2016 vintage and are priced around $70. They are:

Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, from the land near the north end of San Francisco Bay shared by Napa and Sonoma. Fruit came from fully mature vines at least 20 years old. The wine was aged 20 months in new French oak. This wine placed No. 7 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2019, a singular honor for Ramey and his winemaking skill. We shared a bottle with friends and it was simply elegant.

Rochioli Vineyard, Russian River Valley, has been a prime source of quality chardonnay for decades. The 2016 edition is Ramey’s second vintage from this acclaimed location.

Woolsey Road Vineyard, Russian River Valley, has produced Ramey’s fifth bottling from that location, owned by the pioneer wine-making Martinelli family. Ramey, however, directed the planting specifications for this vineyard.

Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley, derives interesting flavors from the volcanic soils. These are old vines, planted in the 1970s, which provide crisp, yet delicate, tastes and aromas.

While there are many flabby, overly fruited chardonnays on the market, this fearsome foursome shows how great this wine can be. 

And if cranking out four superb chardonnays wasn’t quite enough for Ramey, he just released an impressive Rhone-style syrah from Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap region. As is done in the Rhone, Ramey co-fermented his syrah fruit with 8% viognier, a white grape, which knocks off some of syrah’s rough edges. Price: About $70.

From the archives

Around mid-2019 I encountered an interesting little wine that I meant to mention at the time. But good intentions tend to vanish into the ether. While cleaning out my internationally known rat’s nest of ancient paperwork last month, I uncovered the information about Bodegas Castillo de Monjardin Chardonnay Unoaked Single Vineyard from the 2018 vintage. It’s a wonder they can get that whole tangled title onto one label.

It comes from vineyards of northern Spain. And though Spain is not a hotbed of chardonnay production, this crisp, dry white is a real treasure — especially at a $14 price point.

There’s no oaky-vanilla aspect to distract from the wonderful expression of chardonnay fruit. I remember (a phrase I don’t often use) enjoying this chard with a seafood chowder during the summer and relishing how they matched. 

Another Spanish treat

Finally, also from Spain, I celebrate a pair of lovely sparkling wines that livened up our holiday festivities. The bottles are as attractive as the wines are fun to drink. These are cavas, a word that means the wines are made in the traditional Champagne method with a second fermentation in the bottle. That results in the sparkle and fizz that make such bubblies the life of the party.

The Vilarnau Rose Delicat Brut Reserva not only looks great, it tastes great, too. It’s made with a blend of garnacha and pinot noir, with the two red grapes lending the light salmon tinge to the wine. Well chilled this sparkler is a regal party pleaser. Price: About $18.

Its little sister, Vilarnau Brut Reserva, is made from a blend of traditional Spanish grapes — macabeo, paralleda and xarel lo. While these are not approved Champagne grapes, the wine compares nicely with lighter bubblies from that revered region of France. Great party wine, terrific food wine. Price: About $16. 

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column publishes monthly.

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