The Sonoma Chardonnay Shortlist
His name is Eric Stern, and along with a young David Ramey, Steve Kistler and John Kongsgaard, he's authored some of the greatest Sonoma Valley Chardonnays of the last two decades. Still, few collectors know Eric's name. Why? Simple. Unlike the other names on Sonoma's shortlist, the storied winery for which Stern crafted those honeyed Chardonnays didn't carry his name.
If Steve Kistler's Chardonnays were the most backwards of the bunch, often requiring years of bottle age to come into their own, John Kongsgaard's were the richest and most forward. At Landmark, Stern deftly walked the tightrope, straddling the line between Kongsgaard ultra-concentration and Ramey's mineral cut. As far back as the mid-1990s, if you were to ask any serious California wine critic to recommend a single under-$40 coastal Chardonnay, Stern's Damaris Reserve would be #1 on the list.
Since 1995, Robert Parker and the world's stingiest and most respected Chardonnay critic, Stephen Tanzer, have showered twenty-nine 90-93 point scores on Landmark's Damaris Reserve. Few vintages better display Stern's and winemaker Greg Stach's brilliance in the vineyard and cellar than this electrifying new release from 2010.
Generally speaking, the 2010 growing season in Sonoma Valley was the coolest in decades. But, the most riveting success stories of the vintage would be told during two torrid heat spikes that punctuated an otherwise chilly summer. Spring had been chilly and wet. June was no better. Many growers panicked, pulling leaves so as to expose clusters to the July sun, desperately hoping to jump start maturity -- a decision all would regret a month later.
Landmark, like Kistler, Ramey and Kongsgaard, had seen this movie before. Trusting the manicured vines on two single-vineyard sites -- Lorenzo and Rodgers Creek -- Stern and Stach held tight, instructing vineyard crews to leave canopies in place. When the heat spike came -- first in July, then again in August -- the Damaris Reserve Chardonnay was spared the blistered fate of many of the vineyards in the valley. When the cool weather returned in September, the tiny crop of golden berries matured incrementally, providing for one of Landmark's finest Reserve Chardonnays since the mid-1990s.
Tanzer's International Wine Cellar is tough on coastal Chardonnay. Many believe, far too tough. But Landmark's Damaris Reserve seems to have found the soft spot in Steve Tanzer's critical heart. With the release of this brilliant 2010, once again, Tanzer describes just how beautifully Stern and Stach have walked that tightrope between Kongsgaard lushness and Ramey vibrancy.
Brilliant golden in color, with luscious aromas of ripe pear and apple, still mineral and persistent. The attack, as always, is rich and Kongsgaard plush, with a juicy core of what Tanzer would call "ripe orchard and pit fruit flavors complicated by notes of honeysuckle and ginger." Still, the finish remains high-toned and bracing, beautifully buttressing all the 2010 natural concentration.