Peay Estate Chardonnay: A Retrospective Tasting

Every August we invite our local sommeliers and wine directors to the vineyard for an event we call Peay Vineyards “Sommelier Love Fest.” Around 40-50 people drive all the way out to the coast for a special tasting followed by a seated dinner we prepare for them on the lawn. Everyone brings a few bottles of wine to share with the meal and we burn a bonfire and share stories deep into the night. It is our opportunity to serve and provide for our customers as they work the rest of the year representing us in their restaurants and shops.

This past August we thought it might be interesting for us to taste our Estate Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage back to the 2004 vintage. We had never done this before. Sure, we drink older vintages at wine dinners and regularly implore our customers to age our Chardonnay a few years to witness what happens to them with more time in the bottle. But this was a rare opportunity for us to taste (almost) all of our Chardonnay at a single snapshot in time: To allow us to really reflect on the character of Peay Chardonnay. To observe what they had in common and what was different based on the time in bottle, the weather during the vintage, the age of the vineyard, and our understanding of how best to grow and make the wines. Our impressions of each wine are below.
In summary, there is a focused, chalky, lime-inflected minerality evident in every wine and declares that you are drinking Peay Vineyards Chardonnay grown in a cold place. In cooler years, this character is more pronounced, in warmer years it serves as a scaffold for the wine’s increased roundness and texture. But this is not the tropical, blowsy, god-forbid-butter-drenched Chardonnay of yore. These wines not only have snap and vitality but also possess a multi-faceted complexity revealed by Vanessa’s deft and intentional husbandry. All our Chardonnay go through 100% malolactic fermentation (changing the perceived acid perception from apple to milk) and we stir the lees for texture and to promote certain lees-based aromas. We use about 40% new French oak barrels though low toast and after a year or so in bottle oak-derived aromas integrate with other characteristics and become practically unnoticeable. We do not fine or filter. The methods are traditional and can be employed with success as the fruit comes from such a cold site.
People often ask me – Andy – what my favorite Peay wine is; I demure as I like them all most of the time. But, between you and me, often our Chardonnay is what I drink at the end of the day. Maybe my Cleveland roots force me to pull for life’s much-beleaguered underdogs. As much as white Burgundy is my favorite white wine, the Burgundians, however, do not have a lock on making complex, terroir-driven Chardonnay. Great Chardonnay is being made right here in the New World.

2004 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink) I opened this wine many times in 2013 for wine dinners. It is quite possibly my favorite Chardonnay we have made (2012 gives it a run). There is a flinty, gunmetal quality on the nose and palate I have found in benchmark Burgundies. I started to have some bottle variation in early 2014. I thought perhaps it had moved past its prime drinking window until last December when I drank a bottle at The Progress’s opening dinner. It was smoking. That bottle came from my cellar so it did not see any adverse shipping or storage conditions. If you have cellared this wine well, it should really deliver. 610 cases
2005 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink) Yields were low in 2005 due to a spring frost. The wine had a fuller, more truffle driven nose on release and this has persisted throughout its life. At this juncture, however, I feel the wine has reached its peak and moved on. The oxidative qualities have begun to dominate and overtake the snap and mineral qualities this wine expressed in its youth. 500 cases

2006 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink) I poured the 2006 Estate Chardonnay often in 2014. The various features have become a singular, unified expression of Peay Chardonnay. The core of lemon and pear have leesy, chalky and nutty aromas from bottle age I find very compelling. It is time to drink now, though, as oxidative qualities are peeking under the tent. 885 cases
2007 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink/Hold) The 2007 has more verve and snap than the 2006. The waxy and nutty aromas are just starting to develop. The wine is in good form and has less roundness than the 2005 or 2006. I will start pouring this wine at dinners in 2015. 720 cases
2008 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink/Hold) The 2008 Estate Chardonnay has great depth of flavor with a refined melon nose and a rich, full body that is kept nimble by lively acidity. Frosts decimated yields in 2008. I also plan to pour this wine at dinners this year. 300 cases
2009 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink/Hold) Due to the exuberance of the 2009 wines, I expected this wine to still emphasize richness over elegance and was quite surprised by how the mineral and citrus notes have come to the fore. There is great verve and the depth of the wine bodes well for further aging. I liked this wine so much at our tasting that I released it this past fall as our first library release to our entire mailing list. I plan to release more library wines from time to time as I stumble across exciting wines in our library. 545 cases
2010 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink/Hold) The cold, low yielding 2010 vintage influences the style of the estate Chardonnay emphasizing the mineral, lime and unripe pear flavors. I like this expression of Chardonnay and, as a result, am bullish on this wine. It has not yet developed much bottle bouquet (nuttiness, waxiness, truffle, etc.) but is laser precise. It has more roundness and depth than Chablis but has the acidity of a Chablis. I will wait a year or so to see if some more complexity from bottle age will emerge before pouring it at wine dinners or releasing it to you. 400 cases
2011 Estate Chardonnay: (Drink/Hold) This may be a polarizing wine. The very cold and wet year resulted in wines with incredible snap, minerality and precision. The youthful flavors lean to kaffir lime, citrus and green almonds. It lacks the roundness and complexity you will find in the 2012, for example, as the fruit aromas are fairly undeveloped but it has such intensity. I love that quality in Chardonnay. As you can see by production amounts, we made half our normal amount due to the weather. I will pour the little I have at dinners to contrast with older Chardonnay. 240 cases
2012 Estate Chardonnay: (Hold) The 2012 Estate Chardonnay has the flinty, toasty and leesy notes of the 2004 with more pronounced minerality and intensity due to vine age and the relatively colder 2012 vintage. I have been raving about this wine since we bottled it and it has only gotten better with time. It still shows its youthfulness with some of the oak aromas peeking out. Give this wine 1-2 years to coalesce and another 5 years to bloom into something really special. Or, pop it now and enjoy it, I have been. 535 cases

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