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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Shafer Vineyards and Stone Cottage Cellars

Preface: The Napa Valley and the entire world lost two pillars of the wine community this week. Donn Chappellet and Molly Shafer both passed away recently. Both were instrumental in establishing the Napa Valley as the United States' preeminent wine region over the past half decade. Their family names are now firmly entrenched with American wine history. Their families and the greater wine community will no doubt miss them dearly.

Chardonnay often gets a bad rap. Sure, white Burgundy is said to be some of the finest wine in the world, but some of the Californian examples of the grape has also been labeled Cougar Juice. The cultivar has also given rise to the ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – crowd.

Share 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Chardonnay because I find more pleasure in exploring other varieties – and Chardonnay is too often uninteresting. However, when produced with purpose and care. A few weeks ago, in celebration of Mothers' Day, we celebrated with a prime example of such a Chardonnay. Shafer Vineyards 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay (14.9% abv, Sample $52) is often cited as one of the top Napa Valley Chardonnays. It straddles the line of litheness and voluptuousness like few Chardonnay can. There is no doubt this is a rich wine from the nose. The aromas of baked apples, mango, and shortbread are complemented with flavors of pineapples, vanilla and smoke. The high alcohol comes through, but is not a distraction. Ample acidity balances the richness. This is a great wine for those that like big, rich California Chardonnays, but also enjoy a steely version of the grape.

Stone Cottage 2013 Chardonnay
Still in somewhat of a Chardonnay mood, the following night I decided to open a Colorado rendition of the grape. Stone Cottage Cellars' 2013 Chardonnay (14% abv, Purchased $22) is grown at 6300 feet about sea level in the West Elks AVA overlooking the quaint hamlet of Paonia. When I first opened it, the nose struck me as non-Chardonnay-like. It starts coy with steely aromas of lemon and limes. After being open for a while, the wine just blossoms and I like it more with each sniff and sip. The Chardonnay characteristics start to come to the forefront as the aromas and flavors build with baked apples, pears, brioche and a touch of cinnamon. The flavors and finish kept building all night until the bottle was gone and the wine could evolve no more. The acidity is so lovely and amazingly at about a pH of 3.1! I actually prefer this to the Shafer. At only $22 for a 25 case production, this is a screaming value and I'd suggest this would favorably out-compete with Grand Cru Chablis that cost more than 10 times what this humble little Colorado Chardonnay costs. Simply put: this is an amazing wine.

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