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Apr 9, 2011 02:36 PM

California Whites Made in an Old World Style

I am visiting Napa/Sonoma next week and I would like to stock up on some whites.

I drink everything but I am not a fan of the over oaked California Chards. Who produces whites made in a more restrained style??

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  1. You may have to go north to Mendocino. Navarro has a variety of whites produced in quasi-old world style.

    1. I would look for other varietals, like Viogner, Marsanne and Rousaane. Most Napa valley Chards are still pretty oaky, tho things are starting to change.

      1. Yes, white varietals other than Chardonnay are worth seeking it.

        But there has been a huge shift in Chardonnay-making in the last three years in California wine country.

        Letting the fruit show (and not be eclipsed by oak or heavy malolactic fermentation) is now the norm, not the exception. Using oak that is one or two years old (as opposed to new oak barrels) or using older oak barrels so that the effect of the oak is neutral, is now common. Or using stainless steel (INOX) only and no oak.

        The other major shift is in malolactic fermentation (ML). Using no ML, or exposing only a small percentage of the blend to ML, is now the norm. Another technique to reduce the cloying, fake buttery quality of ML is to use the softer European strains of lactobacilli instead of the harsher American strains.

        Both techniques represent a retrenchment from the former heavy oak, heavy ML Chards of the past that masked the wine and its fruit. These changes have been underway for several years now.

        Look for stainless Chardonnays. Chardonnays with neutral or older oak. Chardonnays without ML, or with very little ML. The Russian River Chardonnays often undergo no ML, and are exposed to very little oak, though that style is gaining ground all over now.

        But there are other white wines that you’ll find in a “lean and clean” style also. Riesling, Pinot Gris, SB, the Rhone wines, etc. What’s harder to find are minerally whites.

        Some dedicated searching for all the Napa and Sonoma areas will yield lots of results. Remember to check by appellation -- those starred have more of what you are seeking: Carneros*, Spring Mountain*, Napa, Atlas Peak, Oakville, Rutherford, Russian River*, Chalk Hill, Sonoma Coast*, Alexander Valley, Green Valley, etc.

        Below are mainly Napa recs, but that's just because I didn’t have enough time to write down
        RRV and Sonoma recs as well:

        Here are a few unoaked Chards to seek out – bear in mind that you may need to ask for the unoaked Chard:
        Alpha Omega
        Robert Mondavi
        Gary Farrell

        Little oak – “clean” Chardonnay:
        Chateau Montelena

        No ML Chards:
        Keenan – wonderful winery, with great Cabs as well. Great district also – Spring Mountain.
        Hendry (again)
        Far Niente
        Trefethen ’08 Chardonnay, perhaps some other vintages also
        The Terraces
        Peter Michael
        Freemark Abbey

        1 Reply
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Thanks ML, what a great reference resource. If time should become available I'm sure there are many of us that would love to see the RRV and Sonoma ones as well.



        2. Try Sheri Staglin's non-ML Chards. I think that you will love them.



          1. Smith-Madrone in Spring Mountain makes a terrific Chardonnay and Riesling in an old-world style.