2018 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley
Region: Napa Valley
Golden straw-colored in the glass, the wine opens with cinnamon and ripe peach, bolstered by aromas of melon, fig, and pear. More fruity than floral upon release, there’s nonetheless plenty of honeysuckle and spice, softening to green apple and vanilla. Initially fused with lemon curd and ripe orange, there’s dynamic tension transitioning to the midpalate between the suppleness of summer stonefruit and the austere acid beneath. The citrus lingers as well, amidst a billowy texture that bolsters the bare minerality, contrasted only by the whisper-soft hint of fresh baked bread. Bright and fresh, ripe apricot along with orange marmalade lend a slight sweetness peppered by toasted almond and clove.
Chateau Montelena’s history is one of the deepest and most storied in the Napa Valley and California. Founded just north of Calistoga by a senator and San Francisco entrepreneur in 1882 at the turn of the century, it was one of the largest wineries in the state. Prohibition put an end to Montelena’s winemaking, and the next major era began in 1968, when Jim Barrett purchased the estate. Jim fell in love with this exceptional property, blessed with a complex mix of soils, slopes and biodiversity of wildlife and fauna. He had a dream of creating wine at the level of the great First Growths of Bordeaux, and set about replanting the vineyard, outfitting the winery with modern equipment, and studying the processes necessary for farming and winemaking at the highest quality level.
In 1976 Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who’s-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. This seminal event has been memorialized in the book "The Judgment of Paris," by George Taber, as well as in the 2008 feature film Bottle Shock.
Today Chateau Montelena’s distinct 19th century stone structure stands as a quality icon in Napa Valley, consistently producing some of the finest wines in California. Master Winemaker Bo Barrett, Jim’s son, now runs the estate with the help of Winemaker Matt Crafton and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella.
Notes From Winemaker, Matt Crafton
Paradoxically, the “easy” or “straightforward” vintages can be the most di ̋cult for me as a winemaker. ̨e media, critics, and industry representatives tend to praise classic California vintages as a tide that lifts all ships, providing a simple, neat narrative that makes for clean headlines and a universal endorsement of the resulting wines. And they’re correct. For those wineries making high-volume, formulaic products, these vintages can be a godsend. But for us at Montelena, the challenge becomes how to artfully craft the mosaic, that beautiful composition of the disparate parts of each vineyard block into something truly captivating and nuanced, amidst so much uniformity. 2018 certainly qualiÿes in that it would have been tantalizingly easy to fall into the rut of recipe-driven, prescribed process. ̨us our objective became how to highlight subtlety; how to tactfully magnify the shades of °avor that are so easily obscured by the abundant sunshine. It’s a unique mindset in that we actively search for and embrace the challenge. It’s the Montelena way.
Vinous 92 Pts
"Chateau Montelena's 2018 Chardonnay is bright and finely sculpted, with terrific energy driving the citrus and floral flavors. Blocking malolactic fermentation keeps the flavors brisk. This cool site in Oak Knoll suits the Montelena style very nicely. Readers who enjoy focused Chardonnays will find plenty to like. This is an especially fine vintage for the Montelena Chardonnay. (AG) "