What to Expect from a Sonoma County Ramey Chardonnay
Going on his forty-first crush, renowned Sonoma County winemaker David Ramey has made wine for notable wineries Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus, and Rudd — even Château Pétrus. But at his own winery founded in 1966, Ramey Wine Cellars, he focuses primarily on Chardonnay.
People who love Chardonnay may want to know: what should I expect from a Sonoma County Chardonnay?
If you follow the wine trade and the wine press even a little bit, you’ll hear a lot of talk about the differences between a “California” style Chardonnay and a “Burgundian” white. While the classic Chardonnay wines of Burgundy are indeed the gold standard for the world’s most popular golden-hued wine, this talk can trend toward naysaying the California version.
It’s a little ironic that the so-called “oaky, buttery” style was originally lauded as a successful result once California wineries learned to copy Burgundian cellar techniques.
In any case, as the appellation system of regions, valleys, and sub-AVAs is meant to help wine consumers understand, the character and quality of varietal wines varies considerably within a huge wine-producing area like California. To understand what Sonoma County’s cooler regions like Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast can do for Chardonnay, it’s instructive to sample those from the hand of a winemaker like Ramey.
He also makes Cabernet blends and Syrah, and a side project, called Sidebar, allows Ramey and winemaker Lydia Cummins to have “a little fun” with varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. But his primary focus is definitely Chardonnay.
Ramey says his style is “neoclassical Chardonnay.” That entails barrel fermentation, sur lie aging, malolactic conversion, and bottling without filtration, just like many a richly styled California Chardonnay. Surely, it’s both the quality of the fruit and the hand of the vintner that shift these wines a little more toward Burgundy.
Ramey 2014 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($40)
This displays classic aromas of lemon custard tart. If there’s a toasty note, and a buttery one, it’s wandering over from the crust of the tart, and is not dominant. More sweet Meyer lemon than apple, the fruit flavors are tangy through the finish, making this wine probably the more immediately enjoyable of the group.
Ramey 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($40)
Here the barrel fermentation left an aroma that is “leesy,” not “buttery,” and more like vintage sparkling wine or Champagne than anything else. The oak shows just as a faint spice in a fresh buttermilk scone, and the apple fruit is soft, like dehydrated apple slices, instead of bright green Granny Smith or baked apple pie. Perhaps this is a wine some would like to age a few years longer.
Ramey 2014 Woolsey Road Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($65)
Again the oak is wood spice instead of obvious, toasty barrel, and accents of sandalwood play with vegetal nuances, like a fresh, white rose. Compared to what’s considered a typical California Chardonnay, the finish is severe, yet classic sweet oak and apple notes echo on the firm finish. I would bet that this really shines with apropos cuisine at the table.
These lean and structured wines should handily dispel any simplistic notions of what California Chardonnay is all about, and further your exploration into the nuances that winemakers coax out of Sonoma County grapes.