Wines reviewed in this article: Mer Soleil Silver 2008|Layer Cake 2009 Virgin Chardonnay|Chalone 2009 Monterey
While many parts of North America are still in the grip of winter I have been preparing for spring and summer by tasting Chardonnay. That way, when everyone else finally thaws out ( I live in Phoenix ) they will already have some Chardonnay “inception” on the brain. Let’s get started!
The vast Central Coast region of California stretches 250 miles from Santa Barbara County all the way up to San Francisco . The massive region encompasses 6 Counties and 26 different sub A.V.A’s (American Viticultural Area). There are more than 90,000 acres of vines planted in the Central Coast and about half those acres are Chardonnay. One of those sub AVA’s is The Santa Lucia Highlands which is located about 30 miles east of Monterey, California overlooking the Salinas valley, the same Salinas valley made famous in many of John Steinbeck’s novels.
Mer Soleil Vineyard is located on the southern end of the AVA and is named after the influences of the Ocean (Mer) and the Sun (Soleil). The Mer Soleil vineyard is actually part of the Wagner family of wines. The Wagner family has a very long history of wine making in California, and just in case you still don’t know who they are…have you heard of Caymus? Now we’re talking!
Mer Soleil makes two styles of Chardonnay, oaked, and unoaked (Silver). Mer Soleil Silver is fermented in cement and stainless steel tanks and does not undergo Malolactic fermentation. The vineyard subscribes to the agricultural practice of crop rotation and according to the vineyard nearby lemon orchards is impart their flavor profile of the wines.
Mer Soleil’s website has little to offer in terms of technicals on their wine, so I have no information on total production, brix ect. But it does let us know a little about the style. A mix of Chablis like minerality and tropical fruit. I found the wine to be rich, with solid acidity, and slightly riper than I expected, which was pleasant. Think lemon and grapefruit. The wine is dry and has a nice big mouthfeel. The alcohol weighs in at a hefty 14.8% but don’t let that scare you, its really well balanced with the fruit and I didn’t detect any off putting “heat” from it. Mer Soleil Silver retails for around $20 a bottle.
You might have seen Layer Cake’s eye catching label, a nice big slice of layer cake, and you might have been tempted to buy the wine purely on that association and I forgive you for that because I bought their wines for the same reason! Laker Cake’s 2009 Central Coast “Virgin” Chardonnay’s fruit is sourced from two vineyards within the Central Coast AVA; Monterey and Santa Barbara.
Layer Cake’s Chardonnay is quite different than Mer Soleil’s Silver even though both are unoaked. The first thing you will notice is the difference in alcohol content, with the Virgin Chardonnay coming in at a refreshingly light 13.5%. The wine is lighter on the palate, with less minerality though it still retains enough to make it interesting. The fruit is more lime and pineapple than grapefruit. This wine retails for $13.99 and was provided to me as a sample for review
Chalone Vineyard 2009 Monterey Chardonnay. Chalone Vineyard Estate is the oldest winery in Monterey County, and is the only winery in the Chalone AVA. Chalone received international critical acclaim in the Judgment of Paris, 1976 earning 3rd spot out of 10. As different as Layer Cake was to Mer Soleil, Chalone is to both of those wines. Chalone makes wine very much in the French, Burgundian style. The grapes are sourced from the northern portion of the Salinas Valley, in the Arroyo Seco AVA. The soil consists largely of limestone which gives us a clue to the Burgundian connection. By “Burgundian” I mean terroir or specific place driven wine as apposed to producer driven wine such as Bordeaux. Chalone’s Monterey Chardonnay is also relatively light when compared to the typical Chardonnays of Napa Valley, the alcohol comes in at 13.5% This wine, in contrast to the other two, saw 6 months in a combination of French, American and European oak. Light on the oak, but enough to soften the crispness of the mountain fruit a little, as well as add another layer of complexity not found in the other two wines. This wine retails for around $10 which is actually an amazing deal.
These three wines should keep you busy with variety for at least a weekend. Next week I will have 3 more Chardonnays for your consideration