Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2005
Paul Hobbs has been crafting artisanal wines in Sonoma since 1991. The 2005 Russian River
Valley Chardonnay ($40-$50 retail) is an ambitious wine, as if the makers have endeavored to
provide consumers with every attribute possible in a Chardonnay. The grapes are hand
harvested and brought in whole clusters to the press, after which the wine is barrel-fermented
three months using natural yeasts, with concurrent malolactic fermentation. The wine then
undergoes eleven months of aging on the lees in French oak barrels, 55% new, before being
bottled, unfined and unfiltered, a full year after harvest. When you add all these procedures to
quality grapes, you usually get something to talk about.
I should start with the color; the certainty is that the color is alive. It may be straw, it may be a greenish-gold; it doesn't want to commit to any quality except clarity and loveliness. Looking for aromatic notes, I was first mightily pleased with orange blossom, lemon and orange peel, then peach. The real reward on the nose, however, is an apple pie with nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. Apple pie, let us remember, is the quintessential American reference.
On the palate the apple asserts itself further over the hints of citrus, aided by stewed pear, laced with vanilla, a touch of nutty caramel, and some more of the baking spice. At a higher harmonic level I perceived the warm echo of tropical fruit: pineapple and mango. The acidity, from both tree fruit and citrus, keeps the show on the road without being overbearing, and in fact plays a leading role in a successful and fruit-filled finish.
As the aromas and flavors of this wine are ripe and rich, so too is the mouthfeel; I cannot say
the taste is buttery to any great degree, but the wine has the mouthfeel of a luxurious custard,
the kind people wax nostalgically about in, say, Missouri (another American taste reference).
The crème brûlée analogue could also apply, but though Chardonnay is a French grape, this
is an American wine. We need more like this.
Chardonnay rewards, above all qualities, patience and care. The grape has colonized the known world because it gives as much as it takes.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman