THE YEAR'S BEST
  Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category for the year.

April 2005

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 610 chardonnay.

The following 15 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all chardonnays wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com.

Chardonnay
94 I Ramey $56
2002 Russian River Valley Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay

The Ritchie Vineyard was planted 30 years ago, just outside Forestville on Gold Ridge soils. ItÕs the old Wente selection of chardonnay, producing a wine with complexity of fruit flavor, its alcohol completely integrated so it tastes substantial rather than weighty or warm. Spices hover at the edges, melding into the fresh lime flavor. It grows more crystal clear with air, the clean lines of the wine well suited for age. Or drink it now with Friulian-style braised polpo. (323 cases) Ramey Wine Cellars, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
93 I Dutton Estate $40
2002 Russian River Valley Dutton Palms Vineyard Chardonnay

This chardonnay has the sweep of a Corton-Charlemagne, the expansive aromatics that feel like sun and wind over a field of wheat. The fruit flavors are grounded in SonomaÕs coastal fog, a clean, fresh tree fruit flavor somewhere between nectarine and white peach. The oak works as a transparent vector, pointing toward kasu cod. (225 cases) Dutton Estate Winery, Sebastopol, CA
 

 
93 I Williams Selyem $30
Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Brisk, ripe nectarine flavors glance off the oak elements of this chardonnay. Stay with it, and the fruit reveals more layers, ripe as pineapple, tart as lemon, all tightening into the mineral tones of lees. The wine is gentle and lasting, what some would call Burgundian; IÕd rather call it honest, vinous chardonnay. Decant a bottle for roast salmon. Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
92 I Clendenen Family $50
2001 Santa Maria Valley Le Bon Climat Chardonnay

Clean as rainwater, completely dry, this has a richness and fleshy apple fruit that makes it savory and juicy at once. ItÕs fragrant with granny smith apple and pear-butter scents, leesy and tight. Age should build on the wineÕs complexity, as will roast salmon with frizzled leeks. (140 cases) Jim, Morgan, Isabelle, and Knox Clendenen, Santa Maria, CA
 

 
92 I Stephen Ross $25
Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

Stephen Dooley preserved the fresh complexities of Bien Nacido fruit in this chardonnay, in scents of apple blossom, in flavors of pear and peach, in the satisfying contrast between an austere structure and rich texture. All the dry, gentle fruit would fill in the grain of a thick cut veal chop; or age this and let the flavors develop further. (94 cases) Stephen R. Dooley, San Luis Obispo, CA
 

 
92 I Peter Michael $65
2002 Sonoma County La Carriere Chardonnay

This wineÕs taut structure focuses its apple and lemon flavors, a fruit-orientation that brings M‰connais wines to mind; this is just significantly bigger. ItÕs grown in a rocky hillside vineyard high up Peter MichaelÕs Knights Valley estate, and gives a distinctive, talc-like mineral tone under the fruit. (1,439 cases) Peter Michael, Calistoga, CA
 

 
92 I Peter Michael $75
2002 Sonoma County Ma Belle-Fille Chardonnay

The first release from Peter MichaelÕs newest vineyard, Ma Belle-Fille, comes from the highest point on the estate, a southeast-facing slope. The vines grow above the fog line at 1,800 to 2,000 ft.; their fruit from 2002 balances the full, toasty, caramelized influence of oak with scents of fresh yellow herbs and corn silk. Fresh apple holds in the end, integrating the oak and lees and finishing clean. Built to age. (881 cases) Peter Michael, Calistoga, CA
 

 
92 I Testarossa $35
2002 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

Intriguing fruit character dominates this chardonnay, even as itÕs backed by plenty of oak influence. The wood comes up in scents of maple sap and jasmine, while the fruit comes on stronger, with orange oil and sweet nectarine flavors. Densely packed, this is a substantial white for roast veal. Testarossa Vineyards, Los Gatos, CA
 

 
92 I Gary Farrell $38
2002 Russian River Valley Rochioli-Allen Chardonnay

Once the oak begins to fade with air, this tastes of the fall, the nutmeg spice of the oak absorbed into umami tones ready for autumnal dishes of truffled scallops or grilled hedgehog mushrooms. WhatÕs going on underneath the oak grows more powerful, a succulent texture meshing citrus tones with fall flowers. Smooth as velvet. (388 cases) Gary Farrell, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
92 I Hanzell $55
2001 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay

The Hanzell vineyard sits at 800 feet, high above the town of Sonoma and directly in sight of the Petaluma Gap. The cooling winds from that gap in the coastal hills has made the chardonnay from this vineyard a California classic Ń along with the fact that itÕs one of the oldest chardonnay plantings in the state (some of the vines are 50 years old). The Õ01 is all of a piece, its scents of nectarine, kumquat and apple incorporating the wineÕs oak and acidity into a smooth richness. This will reward years in the cellar. (2,422 cases) Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma, CA
 

 
92 I Flowers $48
2002 Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay

From the vineyard surrounding the FlowersÕ winery in the far coastal hills, this is a fruit-driven chardonnay, and it is lovely fruit. It may bring melon to mind, the ripe, fleshy texture of a Crenshaw melon, or the creamy richness of papaya. Part of that richness is alcohol, but it shows as fat, toasted lees rather than heat. Plump and mineral-tinged in the end, this wineÕs complexities should develop over the next several years. (465 cases) Flowers Vineyard & Winery, Cazadero, CA
 

 
92 I Williams Selyem $44
2002 Russian River Valley Hawk Hill Vineyard Chardonnay

Complex scents of honeysuckle and chamomile fill this smooth, savory chardonnay. The wine achieves a fine integration of alcohol completely enfolded within the nectarine flavor. The fruit character lasts, along with mineral tones and yellow herbs, a mouthwatering balance for sautˇed veal sweetbreads and chanterelles. Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
92 I Domaine Alfred $38
2002 Edna Valley Chamisal Vineyards Califa Chardonnay

A reserve selection from the oldest vineyard site in Edna Valley (first planted in 1972), this is dry and powerful. The white mineral expression of the lees structures and lengthens the flavor, with an unctuous, pear-like savor underneath. ItÕs rich enough for lobster, or a lemony roast chicken with mushrooms. (580 cases) Domaine Alfred, San Luis Obispo, CA
 

 
92 I Morgan $20
2003 Santa Lucia Highlands Metallico Chardonnay

This sophisticated chardonnay offers complex flavors without reliance on new oak. Its richness is built on fruit and lees aged in three-year-old barrels, with no malolactic. That results in a robust, toasty mineral structure holding savory white peach and yellow herb flavors. A ripe, round wine for boudin blanc. (1,700 cases) Morgan Winery, Salinas, CA
 

 
92 I Ramey $56
Napa Valley Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay

A big, satisfyingly rich wine, this starts on wood, then ends on fresh pear. The fruit keeps developing along a clean sweep of flavor, a vinous character of well-grown grapes, their acidity hitting the tongue just as their voluptuous textures relieve it. With a day of air, the buttery pear builds toward gooseberry and white chocolate flavors, delicious with the caramelized edge of roast veal. (2,400 cases) Ramey Wine Cellars, Healdsburg, CA