The Chardonnay Conundrum; Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2007

Okay folks as you know I've reviewed quite a few chardonnays over the past month and I have another one to bring to your attention today. It is from the folks at Louis M. Martini in Healdsburg, in northern California, where Mr. Martini purchased 178 acres of land in the eastern hills of Napa Valley. This plot of land acquired its name as a tribute to the native grey pines, which some have thought to look like spirits lurking about at dusk.

However before I jump into the review please permit me a small aside, I want to speak with those folks in the audience who may find themselves in a Chardonnay Conundrum, which can basically easily be defined a couple of ways. First there's anyone who subscribes to the notion that New World Chardonnay is nothing more than over-oaked plonk. You know who you are, gathered around the wine-bar, sneering at California Chardonnay dismissively and deriding folks who like a little oak and Malolactic [MLF] touches in their wine and on the other side of this so-called conundrum you have everyday folks that really love Chardonnay that has done some time in [evil] new French-oak and has hung out with Malolactic Fermentation. So is there really a "conundrum", I don't think so as their plenty of choices in the wine market places for these two very different styles of Chardonnay. Still there is a lot of sniping and back-biting among folks who consider themselves "insiders" who will dismiss anyone that does not see their favorite style of Chardonnay as being superlative.

Naked-Chard Club: I've wondered about this movement towards austerity and leanness in wines made here in California. Read this snippet of what I found on the Wine Speculator site which I have linked above under the word Chardonnay: They call think of themselves as the The Minimalists" and describe themselves this way; "We are winemakers who prefer not to manipulate the pure "blank slate" of Chardonnay  and we are attracting a wider audience. We are a small contingent of California Chardonnay makers who now embrace an aesthetic that shuns new oak and emphasizes bright acidity." Too funny, sounds like my philosophy prof from college, sitting on the desk, in his corduroy jacket, bushy-hair and Birkenstock's waxing ever so eloquently against the excesses of [evil] capitalism.

While it may be true that the popular style leans toward high ripeness, oaky and tropical fruits [where wines are sometime as cloying as your garden variety lounge drink] and this has certainly been an unfortunate trend in the over-produced bulk wine market. I don't think labeling every New World [specifically California] Chardonnay as inherently flawed is a fair evaluation of all chardonnay made in the golden-state. But this is exactly the position [and the problem] that many of those who think of themselves as having an "educated" [the insiders] palate will tell you. I know just writing about this subject will not win me any fans with wine-snobs, but I don't care, it needs to be said and that is why I'm attempting to hammer home the point, "that all New World Chardonnay is not made in the Chateau Two by Four style" and neither will you necessarily feel like you're drinking a pool of warm butter from the movie theatre spigot waiting to be drizzled over stale popcorn either.

It's too funny because I mingle with these folks on a semi-regular basis and hearing the wine-cooler chatter, I've found that it's indeed trendy [sorry you lost me at trendy] and regarded as some-how more noble to "dislike" New World Chardonnay and dismiss it out of hand.

If you find yourself speaking to someone with this mindset [POV] and in conversation you happen to mention that you like or adore a certain American Chardonnay [say, Rombauer], they may not say it to your face but honestly they're thinking "my what a pedestrian palate you have" or that you have just arrived from the school of the uninitiated [short-bus].

On the other hand, if want to be one of the cool kids, just tell them how much you love "un-oaked" Chardonnay or perhaps explain you are a fan of a little village in Chablis
which produces picture-perfect fruit-only driven Chardonnay, where the wines will rarely go through malolactic fermentation or be exposed to any oak and you're in like flint. You'll will have automatically become their best friend and be given membership into their snob-tastic club.

It's precisely implications such as I've alluded to above which may be found on many a wine review [not this one] websites or places where enophiles have discussions about the purity of Chablis style Chardonnay. Though I appreciate [assume] these are not their exact words, still it's that premise which causes me to openly rebel and question this supposed "universal truth" that the New Generation of New World
Chardonnay begins and ends without the presence of any oak influence or malolactic fermentation.

Honestly there is nothing wrong with that [Chablis] type of wine and sometimes depending on what I may be eating I will prefer that style of Chardonnay myself, but on the other hand you won't find me running around bashing Chablis either, though it tends to have a generally austere, with blazing acidity. This type of Chardonnay is NOT going to be your cocktail type wine or one you want to open when you just want to unwind at the end of hard day. So, if you were looking to fill that empty glass covered container, which says "break in the case of an emergency" sorry in my opinion a Chablis type of Chardonnay will never due.

Okay folks it's time to get down to the review, [see me stepping down from the proverbial soapbox] one of the primary purposes of this blog, which is to evaluate wine and make recommendations. So here we go, like I mentioned in the very first paragraph, the wine in the review spotlight today is the Ghost Pines 2007 Chardonnay. The Ghost Pine Wine Ambassador who has been reading this blog and I have been having a few conversations about Chardonnay, so I told their wine-ambassador once I seen a bottle of this wine in the store I would pick a bottle up for review, so here it is.

Swirly-swish: After putting a slight chill on the wine and uncorking the bottle and pouring a few ounces into my glass, giving it a swirl, tipping it toward the light, I found a lightly golden colored core and a straw colored rim.

Sniff-Snort: Abundant aromas flowing from the glass of freshly baked-pear turnover and apple tarts, fig with some deliciously enticing citrus fruits notes.

Sip and Slurp: After splash-down, this wine delightfully combines vibrant acidity with fruity apple and citrus intensity. Just wave after wave of tropical fruits and freshly buttered toast making for nice transition to the crowd pleasing finish.

Grape and ABV:  100% Chardonnay, produced from three of the best places where Chardonnay thrives in California, thus producing a nice blend of 25% Sonoma, 35% Napa and 40% Monterey. The wine weighed in at a very reasonable 14.2% ABV and well integrated.

Winemakers Note: To create a more complex mouth-feel, a portion of the wine underwent sur lies aging and was influenced by oak. 100% of our Chardonnay completed malolactic fermentation, contributing a buttery texture along with deep, layered flavors

Price and where to Purchase: I picked this bottle up at my local Ralphs in San Diego but you can also find this in in plentiful supplies at a local BevMo near you and they charge $19.99 per bottle. The price I paid for mine was only $12.99 as they had it mis-marked. The scanned price was $14.99 and if I had bought six I could have saved an additional 10% [everyday discount] which would have amounted to more than another $1 off per bottle and sometimes they even have a super wine saver where you can get 20% off a six pack of all the same or mix and match. As a friendly reminder not all grocery stores are created equal, some will carry better-labels so be a savvy-shopper.

Other Voices: In case my opinion didn't sway you at all, had this to say about the '07 Ghost Pines Chardonnay: This wine exhibits plenty of pineapple, nectarine, pear and peach characteristics; fresh, lively and crisp with a touch of oak and gave this wine 88 points. I know not quite the ringing endorsement you may have hoped for if you are 90 plus kind of shopper, not sure price was part of the score achieved. Price points are not something that all reviewers take into account in their review process. You really have to read the fine details closely to understand their scoring criteria [print publications].

What's the Score: Hey point seekers here's my score if your interested: I gave this wine a fat 91 points on the CCWB 100 point scale. The QPR [quality-price-ratio] is through the roof at the $12-14 price range.

My Recommendation: This is a wonderfully well made wine that won't disappoint anyone except the anti-oak crowd. It's not your everyday big oaky, butter Chardonnay. In fact it's is quite the opposite, being balanced, having a refined note of butter (from malolactic fermentation) which is skillfully integrated into the mix and to which I say, "nicely done". So I would definitely grab a few the next time you are in the wine shop or at your local grab and go [grocery store]. This wine is head and shoulders over other Chardonnays in the $10 and under category. So until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!


JT said…
Never had this wine but looks really good. Thanks for the post!

expensive wine
Will Eyer said…
Hey JT and Beth,
Thanks for taking the time to comment, hope you both enjoy this tasty little number, cheers!
Sharon said…
Thank you for your review. I just bought some today at BevMo since it is part of their $.05 wine sale. I love buttery Chardonays and have also heard the wine snobs that prefer steel to oak for their fermentation. I like my Chardonnays buttery and my Pino Grigios crisp. Just my humble opinion. My favorite chardonnay is from Trinitas right now.
Will Eyer said…
Hi Sharon,

Glad you enjoyed the review, I believe you're right on point, if you want crisp there are alternatives, but geez I've heard enough whining from the Anti-oak crowd.

It's a good deal if you get it from Bev-mo during their 5 cent sale, but their everyday price is too high.
Unknown said…
Just picked one of these up at Raley's today in Folsom. They're marked fifty percent off at twelve bucks. Glad to see that my leap of faith has a solid review and I'll go back to grab a few more after trying it this evening.

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