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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

Tasting Today: 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

Tasting Today is a series of WSET-style tasting notes, based on their Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT). While the SAT can be used to deduce a variety or region during a blind tasting, it is especially useful for determining the style and quality of a wine. I wrote hundreds of SAT tasting notes and assessments while I worked my way through the WSET Level 3 Award in Wine and then the Diploma. It is no secret that I am a big fan of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and their approach to wine education; click here for more information on their programs. I am always available to answer any questions about the different levels and my experiences as well!


On to the tasting...


Appearance: This wine is medium gold.


Nose: Intensity on the nose is medium+. Aromas include dried apricot, yellow peach, dried pineapple, golden apple, dried white blossoms, vanilla, butterscotch, buttered popcorn, almond skins, and mushroom. Fruit is ripe and dried.


Palate: This wine is dry with medium acidity, medium alcohol (label abv is 13.6%), a medium body and medium+ finish. Flavor intensity is medium+, and flavors include dried apricot, yellow peach, dried pineapple, golden apple, dried white blossoms, vanilla, butterscotch, and buttered popcorn. Fruit is ripe and dried. There is no tannin.


Quality: This wine is very good. The medium acidity is balanced by ripe fruit characteristics and a medium body. Both aromas and flavors have medium+ intensity, and the flavors are concentrated. This wine also displays complexity with aromas and flavors ranging from orchard fruits and tropical fruits to floral and nutty. The wine has some texture and weight as well, adding to the complexity. The finish is medium+; a longer finish would push this wine into outstanding territory. As it is, the fine balance, complexity, and medium+ intensity prevent the wine from being anything less than very good.


Suitability for Bottle Aging: No, this wine is not suitable for bottle aging. When first bottled, this was not the case -- the 2010 vintage is drinking superbly now in 2021. The initial acidity and concentration have held the wine for 11 years. However, the wine is at its peak and will not continue to evolve in an interesting manner; tertiary notes have already developed (dried fruits, dried flowers, nuts, mushroom) and are prominent.


Region of Origin: Napa Valley, California, United States


Grape Variety/Varieties: Chardonnay


Additional notes: Chateau Montelena ages this wine for 10 months in French oak, a mix of new and used barrels. However, they typically do not put their Chardonnay through malolactic conversion, helping to maintain acidity -- a diversion from many high-quality Napa chards. And before you ask, yes, this is the Chateau Montelena of Judgement of Paris fame -- in 1976, their Chardonnay beat several French white burgundies in a blind tasting, instantly boosting the status and perception of Napa wines. More of the competition and its lasting effects in a future note. And watch for a "Watching Between the Wines' entry featuring Bottle Shock and some Montelena chard.


Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellar wrote about this wine, "This rather uncompromising no-malolactic chardonnay displays a serious structure for aging, and will probably need five to seven years to soften up and come into harmony. Assistant winemaker Matthew Crafton noted that in the cool growing season of 2010 it was a challenge to ripen chardonnay in cooler sites in Napa Valley."


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