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Wine of the Week: Woodenhead French Colombard Limited Reserve

Sonoma County Wine Country

Sonoma County vineyards are full of rags-to-riches-to-rags stories. Take French Colombard — please — a grower might have said a decade ago.

Once upon a time a major California white wine grape with a good reputation, French Colombard’s fortunes declined as Chardonnay’s star rose. For the last few decades, it’s been derided as a “junk grape” along with out-of-fashion types like Burger and Palomino.

More recently, small wineries have rediscovered almost-lost enclaves of forgotten vines, presenting them now as winsome underdogs.

Hard to believe, but French Colombard has actually been on the march, occupying some 20,600 California vineyard acres in 2015 compared to 17,000 in 2007. There are only 28 acres in Sonoma County, where the grape’s high natural acidity doesn’t just make a palatable wine — as in the hot Central Valley — but contributes to a spritely sparkling, which Woodenhead also makes from a little vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

Ironically, much of the rest of the French Colombard grown in the state is not varietally labeled, but is blended with Chardonnay to stretch the budget on that more fashionable varietal.

A boutique outfit that specializes in Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, Woodenhead crafted the 2014 Wes Cameron Vineyard “Limited Reserve” Russian River Valley French Colombard ($30) in a familiar, “I can’t believe it’s not Chardonnay” style — yet the alcohol is only 11.93 percent by volume.

Served cool, the wine shows frosty aromas of “oak ice cream” overlaid with sweet notes of toffee candy. Buoyant and silky on first sip, it has the richness of malolactic fermentation (I’d be surprised if it wasn’t) spiced with oak, before streamers of lemon juice-like acidity draw the finish to a firm, crisp conclusion.

Honestly, this reminds me most of some recent Jordan Vineyards & Winery Chardonnays, and is best served at the table — it’s probably deserving of fancier fare than the pesto pizza I sampled it with, but indeed, it was a much better pairing than Pinot.

See more about wine tasting at Woodenhead, or learn about last week's wine of the week.

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