Chardonnay continues to be the world’s most popular white, so I’m always on the lookout for good ones. Among the many delicious California examples being poured at the first New York City “In Pursuit of Balance” tasting, this chalk-and-pear-flavored 2010 Lioco Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, with aromas of white flowers and citrus, stood out for its combination of richness and edgy minerality.
It’s one of the few California chardonnays to remind me of wines from France’s Chablis. Why? This is an un-oaked white, fermented with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks, that has depth and minerality. Aging on the lees for five months and no filtration gives the wine richness. It has elegant acidity and modest alcohol well below the state’s bigger-is-better buttery examples. Best of all, unlike the growing number of boring no-oak Chardonnays that also have no flavor, the tangy Lioco tastes of the terroir in which the grapes were grown.
A collaboration between Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor that started only a few years ago, Lioco has focused from the beginning on single-vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs with Burgundy as the model. This 2010 Russian River Valley is an appellation cuvée, made for the first time from older vines growing on the Russian River region’s western edge, only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The summer of 2010 was the coldest in 50 years, which meant a long growing season and a wine with more intense flavors.
Lioco’s winemaking goals fit neatly with the aims of “In Pursuit of Balance,” a group of like-minded wineries organized by Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards and Rajat Parr, wine director of Michael Mina restaurants. It’s a pushback among some 30 winemakers against the many overripe, over-oaky, over-alcoholic Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in the state. Instead, the winemakers who belong, like Lioco, are looking for grace, championing a balance of fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol where no one element overwhelms. If you’re suffering from old-style California Chardonnay fatigue, the 2010 Lioco Russian River Valley will perk up your taste buds.
Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”