Where K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is ripe and zesty, the K-J 2012 Grand Reserve is that much richer and creamier. Think of the difference between silk and satin, or perhaps the weather is a better analogy. VR is the cool freshness of a summer morning, GR the luxuriant afternoon when the sun is high in the sky.
It’s not that the K-J GR Chardonnay is oakier. Aging in only 29% new French and American oak does give it the creamy, vanilla-tinged smokiness of fine barrels. But the difference is in the particular lots, or barrel selections, that Randy Ullum and his team choose to make up the K-J GR blend. Tasting through dozens of individual barrels each vintage can be a tedious task, but it’s the only way for the winemaker to single out the best ones for a select tier such as K-J Grand Reserve.
The grapes come exclusively from the Central Coast counties of Monterey and Santa Barbara. Says Randy, “Seventy percent of the wine is from the same vineyard blocks year-to-year,” a remarkable achievement that not only assures continuity of flavor (which is important to loyal consumers), but that can only come from a winery that owns many vineyards and has a long history of winemaking.
Wine geeks immediately suspect that the wine was sur lie aged from the telltale aroma and taste of sourdough yeast and lees. In fact, the battonage, or actual stirring of the wine on the spent yeast, occurred twice a month. If you stir up the spent yeast cells too frequently (some wineries do it several times a week), the wine can taste too yeasty, although this, of course, is a matter of personal preference.
The 2012 vintage, by the way, was glorious. It came after difficult back-to-back vintages, 2010 and 2011, both of which challenged grapegrowers due to their cool conditions. (In California, the running gag was that 2011 was the year summer never came!) By contrast 2012 was just right in every respect, a fabulous summer not only for wine grapes but for humans.
Ripe and opulent, K-J 2012 GR Chard hits all the right notes. You’ll find delicious flavors of tropical fruits, green apples and peaches, while a combination of new and older oak barrels adds richer notes of butter cream and toast. The complexity is due in part to the mixture of clones, or Chardonnay types, Randy chose to make up the wine. The level of alcohol, only 13.5% by volume, means the wine is delicate in the mouth despite its power.
Unusually for a glass of cold white wine, it changes and improves as it breathes in the glass and warms up to room temperature, which typically is behavior more associated with red wines. This is a Chardonnay to drink with the most upscale foods imaginable. Lobster, scallops and crab, in season, come to mind. But it also will elevate even a sandwich. Try a grilled panini with smoked ham, gruyere cheese, butter lettuce and avocado.