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Grown to Go the Distance
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 1, 2009
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Marimar Estate, Russian River Valley (California) Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay "La Masía" 2007 ($37):  I first tasted this wine blind alongside what turned out to be other Chardonnays from California.  This one was so different from the others that I didn’t fully appreciate the wine at first.  It was a rich, oaked Chardonnay like the others, but unlike them it was bone dry and had very high acidity and relatively low alcohol.  With time, the other wines became tiring while this one grew more and more interesting.  If I’d been drinking instead of tasting, this would have been the bottle that I emptied.

Marimar Estate is a property established in 1986 by Marimar Torres, daughter of Spain’s legendary Don Miguel Torres who built Torres into one of the world’s most respected family-owned wineries.  After years of traveling the world to promote Torres wines and Spanish wines in general, she became a California winegrower specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the very cool Green Valley district of the Russian River Valley and, more recently, the extreme Sonoma Coast.  With a European sensibility, she established densely-planted, organically managed vineyards that naturally limit the yield of grapes per vine.  At 2000 vines per acre, her vineyards have about four times more vines per acre than the traditional California vineyard.

The density of the vines might seem to some like trivial wine techno-babble, but Marimar believes that it drives the style of her wines.  “[The vines] give us wines that take their time to come around -- but then reward us with long aging potential,” she explained.  “That is why we just released this wine, while most ’07 California Chardonnays are already showing signs of age.”

Besides this “La Masía” Chardonnay, Marimar Estate produces two more Chardonnays from the Don Miguel Vineyard: an unoaked Chardonnay called “Acero” ($32), and a super-Chardonnay called “Dobles Lías” ($49) that ages not only on its own lees but also on the lees of the earlier-bottled “La Masía.”  The name “La Masía” is a new designation, starting with the 2007 vintage, for what had previously been called simply the Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay.

This 2007 “La Masía” presents a fascinating combination of classic Burgundian winemaking with vibrant California fruit.  The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and their juice fermented in French oak barrels, 45% of which were new.  The wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and aged on its lees for nine months.  All of that brings to the wine a creaminess of texture, a richness and subtlety of flavor expression, and a superior integration of both toasty oak character and oak phenolics.  But the grapes themselves bring vibrant acidity from the cool growing region and pure, vivid fruit expression that is uncommon in European Chardonnays.  The fruit aromas and flavors suggesting honeysuckle, green apple and ripe lemon exist side by side with the nutty, leesy, toasty winemaking aromatics.

This wine has 14.2% alcohol but the alcohol is very well balanced by the wine’s acidity, which remains high despite the wine’s full malolactic fermentation.  As creamy as the wine’s texture is, it is also, incongruously, crisp.

For maximum enjoyment now, don’t chill the wine too much and serve it in a large glass that enables the wine to open up.  I believe it will actually improve over the next year and I wouldn’t hesitate to cellar it for several years.

92 Points