Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cornerstone Cellars Oregon Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2010

Cornerstone Cellars is expanding their line of wines, offering more than just the top-shelf Cab that made their reputation.  Part of that expansion is the Cornerstone/Oregon label, the wines for which are grown, produced and bottled in Oregon's Willamette Valley.  It’s a collaboration between Cornerstone’s managing partner Craig Camp and noted Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders.

Camp calls his Oregon Chardonnay a “lean, mean, fighting machine type of Chardonnay.  No sweet, oaky fruit bombs for me.  If you love classic Chablis, you’ll love our Oregon Chardonnay.”  He cites the wine’s backbone as its strength.  “A concentrated minerality and racy acidity that will hurt the teeth of those who love oaky, sweet Chardonnay.  I would never dream of making a spineless Chardonnay.  Cornerstone has never been about spineless wines, and I have no place for them at my table.”  Stand back.  He sounds like he means business.

2010 offered a cool growing season in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, cooler than usual.  The usual warm and dry summer never really materialized, so the fruit was harvested at a lower sugar level, which results in a higher level of acidity.

The grapes are a 50/50 mix of fruit from the Yamhill-Carlton and Chehalem Mountains AVAs.  The wine was aged on its lees - in contact with the expired yeast - for 16 months in French oak, only 24% of it new.  Aging sur lie is the Burgundian style, often giving wine a heavier, creamier mouthfeel.  It's definitely a small-production wine, as only 166 cases were made.

The rich, golden color of this Chardonnay signifies oak right away, and the nose bears out that suspicion.  To my senses, there's plenty of oak here for anybody, but Camp's claim of "lean and mean" is not a red herring.  This not a fat butterball of a Chardonnay.  That backbone shows itself easily in an acidity that is bracing, despite what would appear to be efforts to negate it - 16 months in wood, on the lees.

The wine's bouquet shows apricot and pineapple and citrus, with spices to complement them.  The oak is apparent on the palate in the form a spicy angle.  I keep waiting for that butter to coat my taste buds, but it doesn't.  Besides the fruit - which isn't bashful - the minerality is up front, in the middle and on the finish as well.

From the description given by Camp, I expected a nervy, steely white wine.  That's not what we have here.  The wood effect, however, coexists with the minerality of the wine in a way I find very attractive.  It is oaky, but it's quick on its feet and screams out loud for seafood - crabs or lobster, anyone?  It's a fair match with my Christmas cashews, too.

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