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California Whites Made in an Old World Style

  • t

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. http://www.smithmadrone.com/

            1. I' have long been a fan of the "not overly oaked" Cali chardonnay.

              My faves include Sonoma-Cutrer (especially their lower end wines); and Trefethen and Grgich Hills in Napa. St,. Supery makes a tasty unoaked Chardonnay,

              1. The title is a bit of a misnoma - have you not tried White Burgundy - not all old world chardonnay is unoaked!

                3 Replies
                1. re: dustbuddy

                  In fact, UN-oaked chardonnay is not so old world in style. Old world style Chardonnay is judiciously oaked.

                  All but the St. Sup that I mentioned above have oak, but not too much.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    I agree - my post was referring back to the OP and the thread title. From my perspective, I see little point in trying to find 'new world' wine which seeks to imitate 'old world' wine. The methods of viticulture are entirely different and you will always produce wines of a different style.

                    1. re: dustbuddy

                      Well, to "imitate," might not be a good thing. To work a vineyard, and then a wine, in Old World style, with Old World techniques is something else, at least in my book.

                      In my book, it would be like a Chard producer, who wants to do a heavily-extracted, oaky Chard, and to get to the last part, they throw in a bunch of oak chips.

                      For Old World style, there are many decisions, that a Chard producer can adopt. I feel that it is less an imitation, than producing a wine, that the winemaker loves, that happens to deviate from the US norm. Things like a lack of ML, will contribute. Also, choosing American oak (normally done in France), will contribute to the finished wines. It's about what the "vision" of the winemaker is.

                      At some time in the future, it might well be difficult to tell Old World from New World, as techniques are shared.


                2. Try Rhones from Tablas Creek, Edmunds St. Johns, Cedarville, Terre Rouge, Twisted Oak and Cold Heaven. Melanie Wong recently posted about Cold Heaven. They have several bottlings of viognier.
                  A Donkey and a Goat actually uses a European method in making their chardonnay where they pick some of the grapes early and ferment them to get a highly acidic wine that they blend in. It's hard to track down.
                  Varner has three botlings of chardonnay. The Amphitheater is the least oaked and my favorite. Foxglove is the second label for Varner and their chardonnay is not oaky and usually a steal for about $12 a bottle.
                  Arnot Roberts has a chardonnay from some place in south Napa that's supposed to be old World style. I've been meaning to hunt it down.
                  Landmark makes several styles of chardonnay.
                  The Landmark Damaris Reserve was more Old World style.
                  Finally, you post in the San Francisco area. A good wine store like K&L or Paul Marcus could steer you towards wines you'll like.
                  Edit: I just reread this and saw that you'll be visiting Napa and Sonoma.
                  Rather than delete what I wrote, I'll add Bedrock wines in Sonoma. Also, the girl & the fig in Sonoma is a nice restuarant that features Rhone wines. A nice lunch there could lead to recommendations for nice, locally produced Rhones.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: SteveTimko

                    IMHO, the top Napa Chardonnay is HDV from Hyde Vineyard in Carneros. For me, It's not a pass/fail test of oak vs no oak or ML vs no ML. Rather, it's the balance of flavors and textures achieved by the winemaker. HDV achieves the rich fruit balanced with definite acidity with a hint of minerality. The wine maker has a restrained touch and a definite nod to Burgundy, his home.

                    Give it a try. $65.

                    In a similar style, an even smaller producer is Silverpoint Cellars. Made from Sonoma Coast fruit from just west of Carneros on the foggy hills of the Petaluma Gap. $45.

                    1. re: cortez

                      Amen to HdV Hyde Chardonnay. One of the best examples of California chardonnay when oak, fruit, and minerals all contribute to the final wine.

                      1. re: cortez

                        I agree on the "balance." To me, that is the important part of the equation. It could be the ABV in a Zin, or the oak in a Chard. The balance is what it should be about.

                        Except for parlor games, I seldom pay much attention to the "numbers," and just drink wines that I find in balance.


                    2. I recall recently confusing totally a bunch of fellow wine anoraks at a blind tasting wine dinner in Newcastle with a bottle of the entry level Sonoma Cutrer chardonnay. Everyone was emphatic that it couldn't be from California and was instead a white burg.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Al Toon

                        It's been my favorite go-to Chardonnay since 1984. And still loving it. ;)

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Thanks to all for the feedback.

                          Maria Lorraine....we took you advice and headed up tp Spring Mtn. and we werenot dissapointed! We tasted (and purchased) at Schweiger, Smith Madrone and the highlight was Stony Hill.

                          Their Chard is awesome and their reisling was not too shabby either. FYI ......they are also producing a cab blend as of 2008 that will be quite fine in the future.

                          1. re: tito

                            Glad you found something you liked. I love the Spring Mountain District.

                      2. More here:
                        Wanted: Buttery Chardonnay for everyday drinking

                        Buttery Chardonnays