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Allison Levine Please The Palate: The beauty of aged of Chardonnay

Allison Levine Please The Palate: The beauty of aged of Chardonnay

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Chardonnay

Landmark's Chardonnays are made to age well.  

A well-made wine continues to develop over time. It sits in the bottle, developing its aromatic complexity and texture, and improving its quality, depth, and character.

Commonly we think we should age our red wines while we should drink our white wines young. While the majority of white wines do not age well and are produced to be consumed upon release, a well-made high-quality Chardonnay has aging potential, as exemplified by Landmark Vineyards.

Located in the Russian River Valley, Landmark Vineyards was established in 1974 by Damaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere. In 1991, Damaris Deere Ford focused exclusively on producing Chardonnay and released the flagship wine Overlook Chardonnay.

In 1993, world-renowned enologist Helen Turley became a winemaker and established Landmark’s signature style, which includes whole cluster pressed grapes, native yeast fermentation, and aging in French oak.

Today, Landmark also produces Pinot Noir, as well as Syrah, Grenache and Pinot Gris, but they are first and foremost a Chardonnay house. And these are Chardonnays that can be aged.

The Lorenzo Vineyard was the first vineyard-designate wine that Landmark made in 1996. A 45-year-old vineyard, the Lorenzo Vineyard was planted in 1974 by John and Phyllis Bazzano who named the vineyard after John’s grandfather Lorenzo.

The Lorenzo Vineyard is seven acres located in the Russian River between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa in the Laguna de Santa Rosa. John Bazzano had intended to plant Gewurztraminer but there had been a problem with the Gewurztraminer at the nursery, so they offered him Chardonnay. He was not interested in Chardonnay but the three-foot deep, clay loam soil was ready to be planted. Bazzano planted the Chardonnay on AXR1 rootstock, which is prone to phylloxera. But no equipment has gone in or out of the vineyard and the vineyard has never developed phylloxera.

Bazzano originally sold the grapes to Korbel. He then started making wine and putting it on the bulk market. In 1996, Helen Turley started buying the Lorenzo Chardonnay grapes.

The Lorenzo Vineyard is located in a very cool spot and is the coldest Chardonnay vineyard within Landmark’s portfolio. The fog hangs in the vineyard, allowing the fruit to ripen while retaining its acidity. It is the final vineyard that Landmark picks each harvest.

Greg Stach first started working at Landmark in 2001 and became the winemaker in 2007. Even before he became the winemaker, he had a history with Lorenzo Vineyard. With the clay soils and cold weather, it is a vineyard that is low in pH. And the lower the pH, the higher the acidity. What Stach appreciates about the wines from Lorenzo vineyard is that they can age and always hold their acidity.

Stach is a fan of Chardonnay, especially older Chardonnay. He said there is a misconception about the ability of California Chardonnay to age. The Chardonnays of the 1980s and 1990s were buttery Chardonnays that fell apart over time. But Stach is inspired by a Burgundian model. Landmark Chardonnays go through 100 percent malolactic fermentation and are 100 percent barrel fermented. Stach uses one-third new oak and he does bâtonnage for longer periods of time but less frequently, ie. every two weeks for eight or nine months. The wines are unfiltered.

Aged Chardonnay gains texture and richness. It becomes broader, richer and rounder. As I sat down and tasted four vintages of Landmark Lorenzo Chardonnay, I recognized the common thread between the wines. The common thread was the underlying structure.

Landmark 2006 Lorenzo Chardonnay – Stach recalled 2006 as being a very cold, challenging vintage that resulted in small amounts of botrytis. Next to 2011, he described it as the coldest and rainiest he has seen. It was also picked very late, on Nov. 1.

A golden yellow color, the 2006 has aromas of apricot nectar, honey, saffron, lemon rind and wet stone. On the palate, the wine has structured acidity that is linear like an arrow that shoots straight and then expands on the back of the palate. The acidity was a little lacking on the front of the palate, but the wine has a lovely midpalate texture.

Landmark 2009 Lorenzo Chardonnay

The 2009 was a good growing season. Also a golden yellow color, the 2009 has muted primary aromas such as red apple and more secondary aromas including sliced white mushrooms. On the palate, the wine has a rounded mouthfeel with acidity that hits the entire palate. The 2009 has much brighter acidity than the 2006.

Landmark 2015 Lorenzo Chardonnay

2015 was in the middle of the drought and resulted in a very small crop. The 2015 has notes of pineapple, lemongrass, wet rock and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, the wine is leaner and taut with a lovely mineral finish.

Landmark 2017 Lorenzo Chardonnay

While 2006 was the latest pick (November 1st), 2017 was an incredibly hot year and the earliest pick (September 15th). There is a richness on the nose with notes of stone fruit and apple. On the palate, the 2017 has fresh acidity that dances elegantly on the tongue.

Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA and a co-host of Crush On This videos on YouTube. Contact her at allison@pleasethepalate.com.

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