Chamisal Vineyards in Edna Valley
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Chamisal Vineyards in Edna Valley

Winery genealogy is sometimes convoluted. Suffice it to say that Chamisal Vineyards, in the Edna Valley just south of San Luis Obispo, after a spell as Domaine Alfred, is once again Chamisal Vineyards (following its purchase by Crimson Wine Group.) Winemaker Fintan du Fresne benefits from 80 acres of vines, mainly of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and I myself benefit from five of these, plus a delightful Pinot Gris. All the wines I received were 100% single varietals.

The 2008 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Estate Pinot Gris, $24, is worth starting with, since I found it unusually pure and refreshing. This wine was fermented in neutral French oak barrels, given six months sur lie aging, and was put through no malolactic fermentation in order to preserve acidity. And preserve they did. The medium straw colored wine gives a focused nose of white flowers, lemon and apricot. The wine is bone dry, the acidity forceful and yet not punchy, with palate notes of lemon, a touch of peach, orange and lemon zest, all the fruit quite bright. The finish has a mineral edge and an essence of slightly bitter lemon pit. Quintessentially refreshing.

The 2007 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Califa Pinot Noir, $60, sees a 14 month aging in 60% new French oak barrels. This wine is a clear, deep purple, with a violet rim. The nose is subtle and sophisticated, with rosemary, marjoram, nutmeg and orange peel to guide the berry and plum fruit. Medium bodied and dry in the mouth, the wine gave me palate notes of cherry, black cherry, pomegranate, chocolate, vanilla and mocha. Acidity is tangy and a little forward and, at 15.1%, the alcohol level took some adjustment. This finish is pleasant, with chocolate and cocoa.

The 2007 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Califa Chardonnay, $38 is barrel fermented, stirred on the lees a full eight months, sent through full malolactic fermentation, and barrel aged six months in new French oak. The wine is a medium gold. Nose is fruity, with citrus, mango, peach, pineapple, and golden delicious apple, adding some honeysuckle and vanilla. The wine is dry with restrained acidity. Palate notes are varied and well integrated: peach, citrus, mango, honey, toast, biscuit, sweet oak and vanilla. The wine finishes as a confection, with toasty sweet oak, tropical fruit, pastry crust and a tinge of roasted walnut. Mouth-filling, full-bodied, and everything it purports to be.

The 2007 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Estate Pinot Noir, $38, started with a good long cold soak before native yeasts started the fermentation. The fermented wine as aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. A medium purple of great clarity, the wine brings aromas of blackberry, black cherry, a dusty dried cherry, a touch of nutmeg and one of clove. The wine is medium-bodied, with well placed acidity, good fruit extraction without too much tanginess, and well rounded tannins. Fruit is a nice mix of warm ripe berry and plum. The finish is long, showing ripe fruit but also good spice and the warmth of well-employed wood.

The 2007 Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Estate Chardonnay, $24, a medium clear straw, is an amalgam of all seven Chardonnay clones Chamisal uses. Whole-cluster pressed after a careful hand-harvest at night, the juice was fermented in French oak using a mixture of yeasts. Eight months of malolactic fermentation on the lees followed, before a final six month aging in French oak, 40% new. I like the philosophy. You have some oak and vanilla on the nose, but very pure fruit leads: lemon, melon, and pineapple (just the stuff for a fruit salad). The palate brings a creamy note with some baking spice, piecrust, or specifically, a lemon pie, with nice caramelization on the just baked edges. The finish arranges a long stay for you in this particular pastry shop.

The 2008 Chamisal Vineyards Central Coast Stainless Chardonnay, $18, is sourced from a mix of Monterey Santa Lucia Highlands fruit and some from nearby San Luis Obispo County vineyards. Whole cluster pressing, then cool-temperature tank fermentation, no oak at all, with 25% of the wine allowed malolactic fermentation. Good acidity in this wine, straight honest fruit: golden delicious apple, peach, pear, lemon, pineapple, with touches of mango and banana on the finish. Matter of taste; a refreshing wine, with stimulating fruit, but I would have liked some oak contact, albeit restrained. The absence of that buttery character, so often overdone, was a plus. The final word on this: great fruit.

Verdict: Good Old World touches

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Edna Valley produces beautiful wines to match its exceptional landscape. Time to put it on the map.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Edna Valley

The author toured the Edna Valley recently and took this shot.

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