Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast (California) Chardonnay, 2008 ($35): Comes a time when you want a change of pace. For some wine lovers, a change of pace might be a rosé wine, an off-dry Riesling, or a red wine made from some grape other than Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir. My change of pace at the moment is a full-throttle California Chardonnay.
Patz & Hall is a winery well-known to enthusiasts of California Chardonnay -- and Pinot Noir, for that matter. The company produces nothing but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and it makes several of each. Most of its wines are designated with the name of the grower or the vineyard where the winery sourced the grapes. Among its Chardonnays, those of Hyde Vineyard and Hudson Vineyard, both in the Napa Valley part of Carneros, are acclaimed, as are those from vineyards such Durell Vineyard in Sonoma Valley and Dutton Ranch from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.
For twenty years, Patz & Hall produced a Napa Valley Chardonnay in addition to its single-source bottlings. Now, this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay has replaced the Napa Valley Chardonnay in the winery’s line-up. The change is logical, as the winery has produced a Pinot Noir with the Sonoma Coast appellation for 13 years, and the majority of the growers for its vineyard-designate wines, both red and white, are in Sonoma County.
None of the fruit for this Chardonnay comes from the “far” Sonoma Coast, the AVA’s westernmost vineyards, which have the most extreme climate. But the grapes for this wine grow in vineyards that are significantly cooler than those for the former Napa Valley Chardonnay. Grape sources include several of the key vineyard sites that Patz and Hall uses, in particular Durrell Vineyard, Dutton Ranch and Gap’s Crown Vineyard, a cool site near the Petaluma Gap.
This 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a full-bodied, very flavorful, powerful Chardonnay. Its intense (but not overpowering) aroma suggests ripe lemon, peach, honey, nutmeg and toast. In your mouth the wine is full-bodied but dry, and just as flavorful as the nose suggests it will be. Flavors are mainly fruity, such as apple, peach, lemon and tropical fruits, with toastiness and spice from oak; like the wine’s aroma, they are easy to grasp but not exaggerated. The wine’s texture is very rich, a cross between creamy and oily at this stage, and the wine’s high acidity cuts through the rich texture and supports it so that the richness never feels too heavy. The combination of rich fruit flavors and very high acidity is provocative: ripeness meeting cool climate crispness in the same wine. The alcohol, at 14.2%, manages to stay under control.
The winemaking techniques for this wine are classic Burgundian, from whole-cluster pressing of the grapes to barrel fermentation, full malolactic conversion in barrel and stirring of the lees in barrel. Some of the fermentation for this wine involved ambient yeast and some, cultured yeast. Only 40% of the French oak barrels used for this wine were new.
This wine seems built to take age, and I suspect it will be just as attractive in three or four years as it is now, if not more.