Chateau Montelena produced the most famous Chardonnay in the world, the 1973 vintage Chardonnay that beat out the top French Burgundy Chardonnays in the 1976 Judgement of Paris, shocking the French and the world. An event that was depicted in the movie, Bottle Shock. A bottle of that famous wine is now in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. A bottle is also on display at the San Francisco Chateau Montelena tasting room in the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square.
Recently at the Westin St. Francis, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matthew Crafton hosted a luncheon in which he shared a vertical tasting of seven Chateau Montelena Chardonnays from 2006 through 2012. These wines each showed a significant difference between vintages but continued to show the distinct quality that is displayed in Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay – While the three previous years had unusually cool temperatures, the climate for this year was perfect and produced a bumper crop of grapes. As winemaker Crafton stated it was a “Goldilocks” vintage, not too hot and not too cold. In the glass, this vintage was bursting with aromas and flavors of ripe peach, green apple and honeydew melon. Beneath these fruit flavors you will enjoy the touch of vanilla, lavender and orange blossom. All this comes together with a nice balance of acidity and minerality to provide a beautiful finish that doesn’t quit.
2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This year was a cool growing year with a later than average harvest period. At Chateau Montelena they strive to showcase the differences and nuances inherent in each vintage while still remaining in the traditional Montelena framework. The lower sugar content allowed the winemaker to focus on a narrow band of flavors. This vintage provides aromas and flavors of pear and crisp green apple with a touch of tropical quality and honeysuckle. It delivered a nice creaminess without being heavy. Here the finish resulted in a pear tart quality with the oak pulling it together in a well-balanced fashion.
2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This was the second year of a cool growing season, but with a brutal heat wave in late August. Due to Chateau Montelena’s experience in vine management the canopy had not be pruned back as sharply as other growers and thus provided the shade necessary for this heat wave. The winemaker still maintained the typical citrus quality on the nose and palate, along with a touch of stone fruit, honey and tropical notes. Of particular note with this vintage is a distinct minerality that shines through, on the palate and continuing on into the finish.
Note that we tasted the 2011 and 2010 vintages with hors d’oeurvres of turkey meatballs, pressed watermelon with curry yogurt, and a smoked chicken “Waldorf” sandwich. Both wines paired wonderfully with this food, with the food adding to the acidity and minerality of the wine.
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This year was a mild growing season and resulted in an abundance of fruit. This year they also added some quantities of Dijon clones of Chardonnay. This vintage was particularly refreshing and lighter than the others. Nice delicate nuances of wet stone, lychee, white peach and orange blossom. The citrus tones leaned more in the direction of mandarin orange and Meyer lemon rather than lemon. This wine was paired with a white asparagus Polonaise.
2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This year saw a particularly cold spring followed by the typical warm summer with heat spikes in late-August resulting in an early harvest and a lower yield. Slight changes in the pressing program and aging a small percentage in stainless steel were necessary to bring this fruit into the Montelena program. The result was a wine with a good amount of tropical passion fruit and lychee flavors, good minerality and oak spiciness. On the palate the wide opens quickly and then softens in mid-palate but breaks open again on the finish with a long and spicy finish.
2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay – The climate for this year was ideal, one of the best for Napa, with a big harvest. This wine has aromas and flavors of orange blossom, citrus rind, stone fruit and underlying tones of tropical pineapple and starfruit. The fresh fruit qualities tie in with the great acidity and minerality that leads to a very long finish.
2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay – Cold and wet weather started the year slowing spring vine development leading to a later than normal harvest. The gentle harvest and careful whole cluster pressing was used to retain the fruit flavors and the oak barrel treatment and avoiding malolactic fermentation was used to retain crisp refreshing quality to the wine. The result was a wine that has a strong apple quality and light citrus quality, plus the typical Montelena tropical layer.
The luncheon in the St. Francis Oak Room was prepared by Mel Borbola, Chef de Cuisine at the Westin St. Francis. The main course was a roasted Poussin, corn puree and English peas and spiced baby carrots. The dessert was strawberry rhubarb compote that was paired with the 2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
The end result of this vertical tasting was learning that while each vintage saw significant differences in climate, the Montelena winemakers were able to adjust the winemaking program to reflect the nuances of the vintage, yet still maintain the Chateau Montelena signature Chardonnay style.
Chateau Montelena Winery has been welcoming guests since the late 1800s when founder Alfred L. Tubbs built one of the first traditional old-world chateaus in the Napa Valley upon his return from Europe. In the late 1950’s the Frank family purchased the chateau and added to the grounds a magnificent Chinese gardens, creating one of the most unique settings in the Napa Valley – a stunning stone chateau carved into a hillside overlooking a Chinese garden and Jade Lake.
The Barrett family bought the property in 1972 and stunned the world when the 1973 vintage won the Judgment of Paris tasting on May 24, 1976. The movie Bottle Shock was based upon the Barrett family efforts towards this key tasting. Calistoga in the northern part of Napa Valley, and home to Chateau Montelena, was finally recognized as an AVA within the Napa Valley in 2010 and in 2013 the U.S. National Park Service named Chateau Montelena to the National Register of Historic Places.
The winemaker, Matt Crafton, joined Chateau Montelena in 2008 as Assistant Winemaker and was named winemaker in 2014. Matt has spearheaded Chateau Montelena’s sustainability program focusing on responsible conservation, industry best practices and practical economics. Chateau Montelena is certified as a Bay Area Green Business and a Napa Green Winery. This philosophy continues the steps started by James Barrett. A quote attributed to Jim Barrett in the movie Bottle Shock states, “A vineyard’s best fertilizer is its owner’s footsteps.” Thus a good winemaker starts in the vineyard, knowing his fruit and what is necessary to maintain the desired quality.
For more information: Chateau Montelena Winery