The Consensus #1 Under-$25 Chardonnay in America
Michael Madrigale, recently named the #1 Sommelier in America, called Brian Talley's estate-grown gem, "The most under-priced Chardonnay in America" -- something not lost on Stephen Tanzer, the stingiest, most respected Chardonnay critic in the world.
So, when we reached out to Brian last year, requesting an allocation of the rich, wonderfully mineral 2010, he played it close to the vest. "I'll put aside two hundred cases for you, but the offer has to go before the reviews come out." Unlike so many others, Brian wasn't being coy. He was just telling it like it is. "More often than not, after the ratings hit, it's way too late."
Never did Talley's words ring truer than last year. Those who managed to grab a case of that luscious 2010 Estate Grown Chardonnay, trusted us, hitting the Buy Button well before Tanzer's International Wine Cellar weighed in.
Eight months later, Tanzer's 92pt review hit the web -- the highest score Tanzer's International Wine Cellar has given to any like-priced Chardonnay in the last three years. The next day, Brian Talley's inbox was full and the rest of the production had been hastily allocated.
Today, we're back to our old tricks, this time with Talley's brilliant 2011, which, for reasons Brian would explain, ranks among the two or three finest estate-grown bottles in the last two decades.
In a growing season that would prove problematic in Russian River and Sonoma Coast, Talley's somewhat warmer, magically protected setting, managed to skate through the spring frost that would punish much of Santa Barbara County. Still, as Brian explained as we sat on the sun-drenched patio outside the most frequented Terra Cotta tasting room this side of Paso Robles, the vintage wasn't without its challenges.
"2011 was a great vintage for the consumer, but not so much for the grower. Even if we were spared the shatter of the spring frost, both April and May were damp, leaving us with a set that was 30% smaller than the norm. The summer was cool, and even if the small crop size helped spike sugars, at the end of August, we were concerned. The vines were still 10 days behind. The vintage -- one of the finest ever for Rincon and Rosemary's Vineyard -- was really made by the Indian summer."
Late September and October were glorious, filled with blue skies and hot autumn sun. The vines, still quenching their thirst on the spring rainfall, beamed with health. Acids were firm, so Talley let the clusters hang. Sugars climbed incrementally without sacrificing a gram of riveting backbone. The last patch of Rosemary's wouldn't come in until October 20th -- one of the latest Chardonnay harvests on record.
Brilliant golden-straw in color with fleshy, mouth-watering aromas of lemon and lime zest, laced with new wood vanilla. Unusually rich, yet marvelously restrained on the attack, the finely layered tangerine-like core straddles the line between coastal opulence and Burgundian nerve. Nutty, classy and tightly wound, the finish is bright, firm and piercing, elegantly for a 5-7 year stay in a cool cellar.