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Elin’s Wine Pick: 2009 Hess Collection Chardonnay

Hess Collection Chardonnay

Hess Collection Chardonnay

Last week I was in the Napa Valley, speaking at the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium and attending the annual Premiere wine auction. In my many tastings, some wines surprised me. One of them was this deliciously balanced 2009 Hess Collection Chardonnay from Mt. Veeder, with pear-like fruit flavors, juicy acidity and very restrained use of oak.

Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week

2009 Hess Collection Mt. Veeder Chardonnay

Price: $40

Region: Napa Valley, California

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 14.6%

Serve with: Lobster, halibut, fish with rich sauces

More of Elin's wine picks:

» A filmmaker's chardonnay

» Chanin Bien Nacido chardonnay

» A vibrant value from Montelciano

Over the years, I’ve found the lower-priced Hess Select wines, especially Chardonnays, far too oaky, heavy and lacking finesse. But this one from the estate vineyard is lively, almost racy, with lovely aromas of honeysuckle. It was perfect with a rich Maine lobster dish garnished with Meyer lemon and caviar, the first course at the Wine Writers Symposium Fellowship dinner at Meadowood resort.

Winery owner Donald Hess, a Swiss entrepreneur, began purchasing land on Mt. Veeder, in the Mayacamas mountain range on the western side of the valley, in 1978. By 1982 he had 900 acres, and in 1989 his winery opened to the public. It contains a huge two-story space with a portion of Hess’ stunning art collection; this winery gallery is one of the valley’s must-visit non-wine sites. Paintings by Anselm Kiefer and sculptures by Magdalena Abakanowicz are among the highlights. (Hess also owns several other wineries in California, South Africa, Argentina and Australia.)

To preserve bright acidity, the wine is fermented and aged in neutral French oak barrels, and winemaker Dave Guffy avoids malolactic fermentation. The grapes come from Hess’ cool, high Summit Estate vineyard, with blocks of vines at elevations of 1,300 to 2,000 feet. The 2009 vintage was textbook perfect, with none of the heat spikes that often lead to high alcohol.

The vineyards aren’t organic, but Hess has instituted many admirable green practices — like using the winery’s 100 goats to help control weeds. And it was one of the first wineries to be certified “Napa Green,” a new program to encourage ever-improving sustainable grape-growing processes.

Hess produces several lines of wines from entry level to a group of single-vineyard cuvées. His estate Chardonnay is far, far superior to the basic Hess Select version. It’s not cheap, but then most Napa Valley Chardonnays aren’t. This 2009 Hess Collection Mt. Veeder Chardonnay is one of the good values.

Top photo composite:

Hess Selection Chardonnay bottle and label. Credit: Courtesy of the Hess Collection