Here’s the problem: I’m way too particular when it comes to Chardonnay. If we’re drinking Merlot, I can appreciate a wide variety of styles and takes on the varietal, from green Chilean merlot to huge, Cab-like Napa Merlot, to subtle Right bank reds. Merlot and I are cool like that. Chardonnay, not so much. To me, Chardonnay should be crisp and light and dry, give me some green apple and a few tropical fruits, and call it a day. As soon as I even catch a whiff of a “butter bomb” I’m turned off, which is why I so rarely write about them; I don’t usually have anything nice to say, so I just stay quiet.
Pellet Estate, one of Napa’s premier boutique wineries, is one of the first wineries that comes to my mind when I want a killer Napa Cab (and I almost always want a killer Napa Cab). Winemaker Tom Rinaldi pours himself into these wines, and the result is undeniable. On a recent visit, however, I got to try a few of the Chardonnays as well, and it opened my eyes a bit to what Chardonnay, even Chardonnay that has spent time on oak, can be. The 2013 barrel-fermented Chardonnay from Pellet Estate is as smooth as silk, with only the gentlest touches of oak on the palate, and considerably softer in the mouth for the time it spent in the barrel. Notes of tropical fruit — mostly pineapple and passion fruit, maybe some mango I thought, do persist, the green apple appearing briefly if at all on the finish. The presence of oak is noteworthy, mostly because I normally avoid it, yet on this wine I can’t deny that it enhances the experience. If you love traditional Napa Chardonnay, you may appreciate this wine for its subtlety. If you, like me, tend to avoid California’s take on Chard, I’d strongly suggest you give this one a shot nevertheless. It may just change your mind.
Robert Parker famously said that this wine “comes across like a premier cru or possibly a grand cru from Puligny Montrachet.” Who am I to argue? The 2013 Pellet Estate Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay gets 94 points on my scale, and I highly recommend it.