--By Mac McCarthy
I've never been much of a white-wine fan, always preferring reds. But over the past year I've been finding more and more whites that capture the interest of my taste buds with their flavorfulness and pleasant tang.
The initial provocation was an unoaked Chardonnay from Cynthia Cosco's Passaggio brand, "New Generations California Unoaked" from 2008, priced at $14 at the winery--which is at The Crushpad custom-crush facility, where Cindy is manager. That Chardonnay redeemed the reputation of Chardonnay to my taste buds with such enthusiasm that I find myself these days, when attending tastings, checking the Chardonnays and other whites before heading to the red end of the pool.
The Passaggio Chard was just plain flavorful. You'd take a sip, and a few moments later, you'd really want another sip. Not my usual reaction to Chardonnay.
More Chard makers, it seems, have been experimenting lately, looking for solutions to the 'oaked Chardonnay problem," but hers is the most successful. So for my birthday treat this year, I drove with my wife up to the Crushpad's new facility on the Silverado Trail in Napa, where they now have a tasting facility, to get a case of Cindy's current release--the 2009, which has risen in price to a more rational $16. Still, I'd be saving myself a lot in shipping charges.
I discovered that Ms. Cosco has been experimenting further, producing a Passagio 2009 New Generation California Pinot Grigio. Good! PG's are all too often watery; my guess would be that the Cosco PG would be anything but watery. So I picked up a couple of bottles of that too.
By happy good luck, Foppiano Vineyards sent me a few days later a bottle of their first experiment in Chardonnay, their newly released 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Bottled Chardonnay.
So let's taste all three whites and see what we think.
Spoiler alert: Nice! Warning: These wines are all newly bottled current vintages, so they will be barrel-sample fresh but with no aging to integrate any of the elements. With luck, these will only get better over the next year or three, I would think.
PASSAGIO WINES 'NEW GENERATION' CHARDONNAY CALIFORNIA UNOAKED, 13.4%, Silverado Trail, Napa, CA
Like last year's vintage, this Chardonnay, being unoaked and with no malolactic fermentation, has none of the buttery, vanilla flavors characteristic of the standard California Chardonnay style beloved of chain restaurants, by-the-glass bars, and college girls. Instead, the Passaggio Chards are, as the site says, "clean, light, and crisp." The fruit comes out much more strongly, and the acid, giving this wine a lot of flavor, and a lightly crisp red-grapefruit tang that lets it work well as a 'beverage wine,' as I call them -- in other words, a food-friendly wine. I plan to open a bottle for Thanksgiving.
I have to say that the 'flavorfulness' didn't seem to me to be as pronounced upon first opening the bottle as it was last year. Not sure what I mean by 'flavorfulness,' except that it's a lip-smacking quality that lacks technical precision but definitely has you reaching for another pour. The next day, however, the Chard calmed down a bit, the acid settled down, and more fruit came up to balance it. Yet this is a very tasty, rounded wine that I'm glad I have a case of. You should have a case of it, too.
By the way, Cindy's wines are sealed with a Zork, which is a plastic cork attached to a plastic cap -- you can remove the plastic seal and open the wine without needing a corkscrew, then push the Zork back in like a cork to reseal -- great for picnics!
FOPPIANO VINEYARDS RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY ESTATE BOTTLED CHARDONNAY 2009, 14.5%, Healdsburg, CA
This bottle is Foppiano's first venture into Chardonnay, their legacy wine being Petite Sirah as well as Pinot Noir. This is also only the second vintage released by the winery's new winemaker, Natalie West.
This wine is the opposite of Cindy's Passaggio Chard, in that it was fermented in oak rather than steel barrels, and put through malolactic fermentation. Yet it's not so radically different -- flavorful, with a nice tang, similarly food-friendly, and well rounded. This may be because of the restraint in the winemaking: The wine was fermented only 35% in new French Oak, the rest in neutral French oak, and only a third went through malolactic fermentation -- just enough to give it a hint of creaminess without turning it into an overly buttery Chard archtype. The result is quite a success, especially for a first vintage!
PASSAGGIO NEW GENERATION PINOT GRIGIO 2009 CALIFORNIA, 13.4%
I was happy to get a chance to see what Cindy can do with this grape. Pinot Grigios can be all over the map -- wonderful aroma and no flavor, just water; less aroma but more flavor; and no aroma and no flavor, just pricey water. Even Cal-Italia makers are unpredictable. My hope was that Cindy would be able to bring her flavor-enhancing skills to this wine.
And indeed she does. It has no particular nose, but it's got enough mouth-filling flavor to compete with a Chard. Yet it's not heavy or overdone, either: Again, a nice light crispness, which will make it a great palate-cleanser at our Thanksgiving dinner this year. My technical wine-reviewer verdict: Yum.
I can't believe it, but youse guys are turning me into a white-wine lover! Well, enjoyer, anyway. I've been discovering Chenin Blancs--CheninBlancs?! Bad enough I have an infinity of interesting, fun, delicious, varied red wines still to taste -- now I have another infinity of whites to experiment with? What have you done!