My All-Time Greatest Napa Valley Chardonnay
I’ve tried thousands of Chardonnays over the years, but it was at a recent tasting with legendary vigneron Tor Kenward at his home near St. Helena that I tried my greatest young Napa Valley Chardonnay to date. The 2015 TOR Chardonnay Reserve Cuvée Susan is a 100-case micro-cuvée of the best four barrels from Tor’s three single-vineyard Chardonnays. Admittedly, the vintages I’ve enjoyed of Kongsgaard The Judge have shown awesome potential, but this Tor Reserve was so complete straight out of the gate. The wine is so incredible that I immediately set about discussing with Tor how much I could have for Wine Access clients. Over a couple more glasses of wine, I managed to secure 50 cases — half of the entire vintage — offered at $79.99 per bottle today.
I couldn't be more delighted, and admittedly I have cordoned a case for myself. The 2015 TOR Reserve Chardonnay Cuvée Susan is phenomenal, very complex, with banana, peach, cantaloupe, layered with savoreray minerality and super tight-grained French oak spice, brioche and vanilla cream. The wine is super-concentrated and dense, with a compelling thickness through the palate and seamless acidity. The finish is long and powerful with a gliding texture.
The Cuvée Susan was selected from the four best barrels from the Torchiana, Hyde and Durell Vineyard wines. Tor described the selection process to me: he and winemaker Jeff Ames are not necessarily looking for the biggest parcels, just the best. Each contributes unique layers: Torchiana provides the backbone, a balance of richness and great acidity; Hyde Vineyard brings additional complexity and minerality; and Durrell brings richness and power. They are the barrels with the greatest density, length, complexity and beauty.
Drawing on his learnings from tremendous time spent with Bernard Noblet at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, winemaking is geared to making vins de garde. Each parcel was fermented in the highest quality French barriques with native yeasts, and the wine was bottled without fining or filtration, providing a perfect expression of each vineyard and bringing together the best attributes of each parcel.
This wine also received high critical acclaim. Robert Parker scored it 96 points saying, “The 2015 Chardonnay Reserve Cuvée Susan, which is the best barrels, is only the second release of this wine. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Torchiana, perhaps slightly more smoked hazelnuts in it, but it exhibits great acidity, terrific fruit intensity and a long, full-bodied finish. It should drink well for 7-8 years.” While Parker suggests a drink date of now through 2024, I will be drinking mine through to 2025. This is a 10-year Napa Chardonnay if ever I’ve tasted one.
Matt Deller MW
Master of Wine