Don’t be misled by the “California” appellation, which on many other brands usually means that at least a portion of the fruit was sourced from the Central Valley, an inferior place to grow wine grapes. In this bottling, all the fruit comes from premium estate vineyards in four coastal counties: Santa Barbara, Monterey, Mendocino and Sonoma. The result is an extraordinarily bright, crisp wine that shows plenty of elegance and finesse. Beyond the flavors of the grapes, oak barrels–in the true Burgundian tradition–add notes of buttered toast and vanilla bean, while what the French call battonage–sur lie aging, or stirring the wine in barrel on the spent yeast cells–imparts a savory touch of sourdough and fresh cream.
K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay was, of course, the wine that launched Kendall-Jackson, and it’s easy to see why it’s been a crowd pleaser all these years. Winemaker Randy Ullom says he wanted a wine that “explodes in your mouth,” yet never loses its sense of poise–a sort of equilibrium of all the parts. This isn’t the easiest thing to do with Chardonnay, a grape that grows just about everywhere in California, but whose preferred home is only in coastal regions, and then best on hillsides and mountains.
Those of us lucky enough to live in California know that “the coast” is a relative term. The temperature warms up as you head inland, which has a huge impact on the flavor of the wines. This is why the K-J 2012 VR Chardonnay is so balanced. The cooler Santa Barbara and Monterey vineyards give the tropical fruits–mangoes, papayas–but above all the mouthwatering acidity that makes the wine feel so clean and vibrant in the mouth. Meanwhile, the warmer (but with cold nights) Mendocino fruit, grown in the Ukiah area, brings telltale green apple complexities. The Sonoma County grapes are poised right in the middle of the warm-cool spectrum; they bring a delicious ripe pear note, which fermentation and aging in oak barrels lifts to the pastry richness of a smoky, buttery fruit tart.
There’s another reason why K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay represents exceptional value, beyond the everyday price. It quite often achieves nearly the levels of deliciousness of K-J’s higher-priced Chardonnays, such as K-J Grand Reserve. I can tell you, having tasted tens of thousands of Chardonnays over many years, that Chardonnay is one wine where high price does not equate with quality. It all comes down to–not just the pedigree of the grapes–but the winemaker’s taste and talents, and Randy’s proprietary approach to Chard, developed over many years, consistently results in a wine this rewarding to drink.
Slightly sweet and honeyed, this affordable wine shows why Chardonnay is America’s favorite wine, red or white. The K-J 2012 Vintner’s Reserve will pair well with all of your favorite Chardonnay foods: grilled salmon in butter sauce, roasted chicken, mushroom risotto, a ham sandwich slathered with Dijon mustard, modern Asian fusion, a Sunday brunch of scrambled eggs and smoked fish, or, for something a little rich and desserty, try this KJ favorite, pumpkin cornbread.