No two grapes – especially a red and a white – are so linked together historically and in actuality as are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Every harvest they are the homecoming king and queen of Burgundy. They are the royalty of bubbly wines in Champagne. They are legendary for their frolics in the wind and fog of the Russian River, and they vamp bohemian along the Central Coast.
Sure, there are other almost-famous pairs – Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah together with Viognier – but those are – how can I say this delicately? – marriages of convenience. Unlike the always-together Chard and Pinot, these unions don’t always travel well to some of their more-famous venues. Have you seen much Cabernet in Marlborough? Viognier in the Barossa?
So with this Dozen, we celebrate the seductive togetherness of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of California.
2019 Balleto “Teresa’s Vineyard” Russian River Valley Unoaked Chardonnay ($19).
Pleasant and lightly floral – a little reminiscent of Chenin Blanc – with a hint of vanilla in the finish in spite of the lack of wood.
2017 Balleto Russian River Chardonnay ($29). There is an eau-de-vie-like maturity to the fruit, and the wine is a little tight with not-toasty wood notes.
2019 Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay ($33). A very mellow Chard – creamy apple flavors with some baking spices, moderate body, and not much of a bite in the finish.
2018 Bouchaine Carneros Chardonnay ($35). A very good wine that is both lean and having substance – apples and some tropical fruit flavors, some vanilla, some minerality with light tannins.
2019 Pfendler Petaluma Gap Chardonnay ($45). Very elegant, perhaps even sophisticated, with pear flavors blending with the apples and a long, lean finish.
2018 Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir ($30). A very good buy – dark raspberry and blackberry fruits, a note of rooty/cola, some spiciness, and a finishing hint of balsamic.
2019 Frank Family Carneros Pinot Noir ($35). On the lighter side – a little gamey, a little savory, with bright berry flavors and some powdery tannins.
2019 Landmark “Grand Detour” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($37). A lighter and more limpid Pinot, not “big” yet one with concentrated fruit flavors and noticeable tannins.
2018 Ram’s Gate Carneros Pinot Noir ($47). Tart but rich cherry flavors with a very long, delightful finish.
2018 Ram’s Gate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($48). Very vibrant, with bright acidity, raspberry fruitiness, a little rootiness, dusty tannins and a hint of bitters in the finish.
2019 Pfendler Petaluma Gate Pinot Noir ($55). Very textured with lovely murky fruit, almost blackberry, with good earthiness and long persistence on the palate. This wine would be great with either a hearty stew or a coq au vin.
2018 J Vineyards & Winery “Canfield Vineyard” Russian River Pinot Noir ($76). An excellent wine – very fruity without being fruit-forward and very minerally without being overly so. A little rooty and mildly tannic. Sometimes a wine that goes to the edge without leaping over it is the best.
Prices listed are generally SRP or from wine-searcher.com. As more wineries are now shipping direct-to-consumer, check the winery website if you can’t find a bottle in your retail store.
Feature photo is of Landmark Vineyard in Sonoma.