Russian River Valley
As you move inland from the southern portions of the true Sonoma Coast, you hit the Russian River Valley, which is another region generally billed as a cool climate region, but one that also covers a lot of ground with varying elevations and exposures. As such, one can find a relatively broad range of styles here, though, if pushed, one would expect the prototypical RRV Chardonnay to show fruits that are a little riper than those found on the Sonoma Coast, yet with enough acidity to keep the wines bright and lively.
First up was the 2010 Duckhorn Wine Company Chardonnay Migration Russian River Valley ($30) which showed a classic Californian creaminess paired wth flavors that ranged from lemon and pineapple, to apple. The winemaking definitely showed through here, but its medium weight and lime-toned finish spoke of its origins. The 2010 Gallo Family Chardonnay Signature Series Russian River Valley ($25) followed, and while it also had a bit of a creamy texture, it showed an impressive array of mineral-tinged green apple and citrus flavors that accurately reflects a cooler climate example of Chardonnay. I’ve got to give it to the Gallo Family; they made a pretty convincing Chardonnay that many people are going to be surprised by.
South of the southern inland portion of the Sonoma Coast is the Carneros appellation, unusual because it straddles two counties: Napa and Sonoma. The appellation map was drawn this way because it was felt that the region as a whole shared certain traits, primarily the cooling effects of nearby San Pablo Bay and the winds that came through the Petaluma gap, and travelled south through the Carneros region.
To make this as interesting as possible I selected a wine from each county, beginning with the 2010 Schug Family Chardonnay Carneros ($25). Schug is as closely associated with Carneros, the Sonoma side to be specific, as just about anybody, and tend to have a rather low key winemaker’s imprint on their wines, so I wasn’t surprised to find their Chardonnay offered a crisp mouthful of green apple and lime flavors. This was a relatively rich wine, but it didn’t lack for snap. In contrast, the 2010 Frank Family Chardonnay Reserve Lewis Vineyard Carneros Napa Valley ($55) was decidedly more opulent with a rich, creamy mouthfeel and flavors that drifted off towards tropical tones of mango and pineapple, leaving an impression of a decidedly warm clime than the Schug.