Posted by: tomciocco | December 5, 2012

CHARDONNAY’S NEW BEST BUD’S NAME IS WARREN HILLS

Chablis, Macon, Oregon: three of the less celebrated areas in which the truly ubiquitous Chardonnay excels, but for which the the proper accolades come with less frequency. And here comes New Jersey (cue record scratch sound effect). The Great State of New Jersey, and my beloved home, is, for those who don’t know, the first documented site for viticulture in what was to become the U.S. of A. and today, is represented by THREE A.V.A.s (American Viticultural Area): Outer Coastal Plain, Central Delaware Valley (that is shared with neighboring Pennsylvania) and our hero, Warren Hills.

The name “Warren” refers to one of New Jersey’s 21 counties, and not surprisingly, this entirely rural county is comprised of hilly to low mountainous terrain. Its western border is marked by the Delaware River, and it is situated roughly  in the north-central area of the state. Summers days here are warm to hot and quite humid, but at night, temperatures cool, especially for the producers whose vineyards are situated right on the river, and indeed Alba Vineyards, located in the little village of Finesville finds itself in just such a place.

In years past, due largely to a lack of confidence in the ability of this terroir to fully ripen any white vitis vinifera grape variety, much less the red ones, this area, and indeed most of the state apart from the deep southern, ocean-influenced regions, was planted to American hybrid varieties like Vidal and Chambourcin. These types, and many others like them, are crosses of Old World, vitis vinifera  varieties (like Pinot Gris, Sangiovese, etc.) with native American vine varieties that lend their cold-hardiness and resistance to disease (like the all-American vine-munching louse phylloxera) to the mix, but unfortunately, subtract from the overall quality of the final product. But thanks(?) to both a warming climate, and a better understanding of the proper clonal selection for the region, much of the acreage of hybrid varieties have begun to be ripped up in favor of all-vitis vinifera plots.

This particular wine is made from a select sub-set of the celebrated cluster of the so-called “Dijon” Chardonnay clones that hail from the colder, more northerly regions of France. This selection of clones has then been planted on a well-drained, south-facing (sunny) slope with soils rich in limestone – Chard’s preferred turf…All “homer” bias aside, this is a really well made, sophisticated wine that in its price range, can compete with any Chardonnay made anywhere in the world…Go back and read it again…

Dinner was made up of an appetizer of breaded and fried cauliflower florets, and then a main course of grilled thinly-sliced chicken breasts marinated in Clementine orange juice, olive oil, garlic and marjoram, with a side of roasted turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas.

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Alba Vineyards Warren Hills A.V.A. Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2010

Bright, golden-straw color. Clean and complex nose of lemon, nectarine, minerals, cashews, sesame paste, pine tar, and Bradford Pear blossoms (a.k.a…well,…look it up…). The palate is quite full, unctuous, and weighty, but with a taut, tidy, and discreet acidity, and polished flavors of apricot, quince paste, cocoa butter, and just a hint of butterscotch. Long, quinine-laced finish. 

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