93-94pt Miracle Chardonnay Vintage of 2009
|Tanzer and Wine Advocate's Chardonnay
Honor Roll – Average Ratings 2005-2009
|Aubert Ritchie Vineyard
|Kistler Hyde Vineyard
|Ramey Hyde Vineyard
|Ramey Ritchie Vineyard
|Morlet Ma Douce
Their names, credentials and resumes are hardly a secret. Precious few California winemakers challenge the greats of Chassagne Montrachet, Meursault, and Puligny Montrachet on the Chardonnay world stage. But as much as any noble variety, the makers -- through a combination of cellar protocol, terroir, and viticultural direction -- leave an almost indelible signature on their most precious single-vineyard Chardonnays.
In the case of Mark Aubert and the Morlet brothers (Luc at his new winery on Highway 29 and Nicolas up at Peter Michael), that signature includes deep color, exotic lemon custard concentration, and sneaky alcohol levels. Steve Kistler's bottles sit at the other end of the varietal spectrum. Often slightly reduced on release, Kistler's wines often benefit from 3-5 years of bottle age before popping corks. John Kongsgaard prefers to push the envelope on concentration even further than the Morlet brothers. If your predilection is for full-throttle New World renderings, and you're willing to trade crispness for unctuousness, Kongsgaard sits at the top of the heap.
But if you're a purist, and you like to walk the tightrope between Russian River bitter honey opulence and steely, cold climate underpinnings, David Ramey is in a class of his own. In truly magical vintages (if you're a Burgundy collector, think 1978, 1985, 1995 and 2010), Ramey's small-production, single-vineyard bottlings off of Hyde, Hudson, Platt, and Ritchie Vineyards are among the highest scoring Chardonnays in the world on both Robert Parker's and Stephen Tanzer's scorecards.
In his thirty-year career, Ramey told us over lunch at Bistro Ralph's in Healdsburg, he's never seen a more perfect vintage than 2009.
The vines got off to an early start on Ramey's hand-selected blocks at Hudson and Ritchie. But May turned cool and wet, an event that would pay handsome dividends in mid-September. June was filled with turquoise sky days, mild temperatures, but barely a drop of rain. Drought conditions would continue through July and August. While the plants were stressed -- putting out just 3 tons per acre of small, golden cluster, 'shot' berries -- due to the spring rain, there was little sign of dehydration.
"I've been making Chardonnay in Sonoma for almost thirty years, but I still tend to pull my hair out every September. We need ripeness, but we also need firm acidity. Typically, the window for capturing both is narrow. 2009 was the exception. There were really NO heat spikes. Sugars climbed slowly and incrementally. It was one of those rare Septembers where I felt I could have picked at almost any time over a two-week period and made excellent Chardonnay. In the end, I probably waited a little longer than I normally would have, but in retrospect, I think the call was right."
The 2009 Ramey Chardonnay "Ritchie Vineyard," is one of the greatest bottles David's ever turned out off this Goldridge Soil property on the cool banks of the Russian River. Brilliant yellow-gold in color with luscious aromas of orange peel, a hint of honey, high-toned and fantastically vibrant. The attack actually reminds us a bit of the Morlet 09s. Terrifically juicy and ripe, packed with orange zest/apricot minerality, yet still braced by textbook Ramey acid backbone.
As to the 2009 "Hyde Vineyard," the color is a bit lighter, though still golden. Aromatically, this is a dead ringer for a top shelf Premier Cru Meursault. Explosive on the nose, laced with ripe citrus, pear, a hint of licorice, yet terrifically wound up and energetic. The attack is more high-toned than Ritchie, crisp and vibrant, loaded with tangerine and bitter apricot, almost ethereally floral. The finish is endless, arguing eloquently for a DECADE of rest in the coolest of cellars.
Perhaps, the only thing more riveting than David Ramey's single-vineyard Chardonnays from what most out here believe to be the greatest vintage in decades, is Ramey's continued reluctance to push prices to the level of his competition. Chardonnays from Aubert, the Morlets and Kongsgaard often set us back $100+ -- and often, justifiably so. As to America's most brilliant Chardonnay purist, he remains a downside player, making these 2009s two of the most irresistible single-vineyard bargains in decades.