2011 Ledson Winery & Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Lightly-Oaked Sonoma Darling

Just off Highway 12, at the northern point of Sonoma Valley, lies a castle. Really, it's a huge home, but Ledson calls it a castle, and I'm inclined to let them have it; it's really quite stunning. Some of the wines you can taste inside, however, are the real showstoppers.

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Ledson Winery & Vineyards' Castle in northern Sonoma Valley

Designed initially as the home of the Ledson family, the 16,000 square foot French Normandy-style chatêau now houses their tasting facilities. Multiple tasting bars spread throughout the home offer guests plenty of space to experience Ledson's numerous (and there are multitudes) different wines available at any given time.

Certified Sommelier Anthony was our host on our trip to Ledson's Castle, and he was a knowledgeable, funny, and friendly guide to the wines of Ledson Winery & Vineyards.

One of the wines that particularly stood out to me was this Russian River Valley Chardonnay. It would appear that the trend among California winemakers to bombard their chard with oak and secondary malolactic fermentation until the cows come home--literally, if the cream and butter flavor profile of such wines is to be drawn to its logical conclusion--is finally dying off. This wine is an example of neither that extreme, nor the extreme of oakless steel tank fermentation, a truly lightly oaked chardonnay.

The 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay from Ledson spent 9 months in 40% new French oak, and this light oaking is evident in the notes present here, but they in no way overpower either the nose or the palate.

In the glass, the 2011 RRV Chardonnay is a bright, but light gold. Lighter than many chardonnays, but a much more brilliant gold than a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris.

On the nose is a bright, clean minerality. Notes of pear and apple--granny smith, or perhaps golden delicious--mingle with the minerals here. At first whiff, this wine comes across a bit like the steel-fermented Old World wines of Chablis.

But that similarity goes out the window once you take a sip. There is a fullness, a roundness here that the unoaked wines of Chablis tend not to have (and I say this, loving Chablis). The wine is bright and well-balanced, with a lingering finish of bright apple and pear, and more of the minerality from the nose.

But it's here that the oaking really shines through. Just a brief amount of time in mostly-used oak barrels gives this Russian River Valley chardonnay a wonderful round fullness, without any of the cloying cream-and-butter elements that too many oaked California chardonnays have--even very recently--suffered from.

Price Point: $36

Verdict: A-

Photo courtesy Flickr user darylmitchell, CC BY-NC-SA-2.0_

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