Wednesday May 18

Montelena-thumb Spring has sprung and summer has begun. Well, not officially, but as soon as June arises my palate begins to crave the delicious white wines that have been relaxing, waiting all season for just the right time. In a previous review, I stated that I only drink white wine during the summer months. I do make an occasional expectation; enjoying a lovely dessert wine after a fine meal. My two favorite dessert wines are Dolce by Far Niente and the outstanding Sauternes from Château d'Yquem.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about all different types of wines, about grape selection, about finding the perfect paring - the list goes on. But what I hear more often than not is “I don’t like whites, only reds” or “I don’t like reds, only whites.” Many people think they can’t have the palate for both, and I’m here to tell you that you can. And since I love a good conversation about wine, when I hear that I always ask “why?”

When it comes to the ‘whites’ what they tell me is “white wine is too sweet or it lacks real depth.” On the other side of the coin when I ask “why” regarding the ‘reds’ they say, “the sulfates give me a head headache, it’s too strong or it’s too heavy.” My reply is ALWAYS (in both cases) - it’s because you drink low-priced wine! As a side note: Sulfites are not the cause of headaches when it comes to red wine, it’s the histamine and in some cases it’s the yeast, which is certainly known to contribute to headaches (among a dozen other issues… again, another time) and many low-priced wines add all types of filler. But don’t take my word for it, here’s an expert quoted from a Wall Street Journal article written in 2000 on the matter: “Sulfites can cause allergy and asthma symptoms, but they don’t cause headaches,” says Frederick Freitag, associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and a board member of the National Headache Foundation.

My wife is a lifelong sufferer of migraines and she only gets headaches from wine when she is at a business event or a networking mixer and drinks the wine. In other words, she only gets a headache if she drinks ‘cheap wine’. Inexpensive wine equates to added low-cost sugar juice, food coloring, cut-rate yeast, even acids are added to mellow the harshness of the sour grapes. I call all of this Frankenwine. Acids are sometimes added to higher end wines as well in an effort to mellow the tannins down. This is why Merlot (don’t get me started on that varietal) is grown, so it can be used as filler for the heavy grapes of Bordeaux. It is illegal in California and others parts of the world to add cane sugar to wine so, instead, high concentrated grape juice is used.

When you are drinking a wine that has been nurtured by quality winemakers, there is something so unmistakable about it from the care of the vines through the quality of the oak barrels and everything in-between. It all plays into how someone is going to react to a wine. A wine that has had some nice age to it will mellow the sugar and the yeast. The harshness you find in a young wine naturally fades over time with a mature wine.

If you always get headaches when drinking wine, talk to a doctor. Also try taking an aspirin or two before you begin drinking for the night and absolutely drink plenty of water throughout. In addition, try to avoid sugary foods. And keep in mind, those things really only work when you are drinking quality wine that has been properly stored and aged. Your blood vessels will thank you – trust me on this. Maybe not so much your bank account, but as Sir Robert Scott Caywood said "Compromises are for relationships, not wine."

With quality being the banner that I’m waving this month, I better be reviewing a pretty spectacular wine. And simply put – I AM! I present to you one of the most famous and one of my favorite chardonnays. This wine is also produced from a very important winemaker, not only for the Unites States, but for the world. This wine changed the face of wine and is one of the reasons that you have heard of Napa Valley.

The wine I am reviewing this month is from the infamous Chateau Montelena. Why is their wine so important? In 1976 there was a wine competition and Montelena smacked France in the head with their now legendary 1973 Chardonnay. Here is what happened courtesy of Wikipedia: The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 or the Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized in Paris on May 24th 1976 by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, in which French judges carried out two blind tasting comparisons: one of top-quality Chardonnays and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California). A California wine rated best in each category, which caused surprise as France was generally regarded as being the foremost producer of the world's best wines. Spurrier sold only French wine and believed that the California wines would not win.

In addition, this competition was held again thirty years later and once again California beat France. You can watch a feel-good fictionalized film version of Chateau Montelena's historic victory in the 2008 film ‘Bottle Shock’ staring Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Bill Pullman. It is a great film and even though a lot of it is Hollywood’s version of what happened, it was shot on location in Napa Valley. If you have Netflix streaming it’s available there. A bottle of the winning 1973 chardonnay is housed in the Smithsonian.

On a sad note founder of Chateau Montelena and California wine pioneer Jim Barrett died on March 14, 2013 he was 86, so I raise a glass to you sir. Salute and thank you! My wife and I will be paying a visit to your brilliance and your passion as we road trip in our classic Porsche up north this summer.

Note: Not many California Chardonnays can or should be aged for an extended period of time: 5+ years. Most are bottled and ready to drink. But with the complexity of Montelena and how it’s produced, it can be aged for over 10 years. This lovely 2009 is considered young, but I have starred at it for too long in my cellar and now it must be enjoyed

If you have trouble acquiring the 2009 seek out a 2010 as the 2010’s are opening up quite nicely and becoming a year to collect and sit one for a while. This goes for all wines in Northern California.

Montelena Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 2009
Produced by: Chateau Montelena
Winemaker: Bo Barrett (Jim’s son)

Winery: Chateau Montelena
Vintage: 2009
Region: Napa Valley
Location: California
Varietal: Chardonnay

Appearance (Color): Butter Popcorn
Aroma (Complexity): Apricot, Peach
Body (Texture and Weight): Full
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Butter, Peach, Watercress
Finish (What lingers): Peach and Wild Flowers
Price: $45

Food Paring: Fresh Water Fish, Appetizers, Peppery Cheeses, Popcorn
Serving Temperature: 54°
Drink now through 2019

Final Rating: 93


My rating system is based on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.

Wine Points     How Good the Wine Is

95-100             Classic: a great wine
90-94               Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
85-89               Very Good: wine with special qualities
80-84               Good: a solid, well-made wine
70-79               Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69               Below Average: drinkable wine but not recommended
50-59               Poor: undrinkable wine, not recommended

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JohnTuri02 John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry.  He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science. With a desire for writing he switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California as a graphic designer / sculptor. For over six years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals.  For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, but his true love is the Italian Sassicaia. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / designer for an adult sex toy company. He is also training to be a certified master sommelier. Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife Shawn-Marie.