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Carmel Road Arroyo Seco Chardonnay 2001
Founded in 1996, Carmel Road's mission is to produce wine showcasing the unique nature of Monterey County terrior. The winery's debut release, the 1997 Chardonnay, demonstrates the potential of the Monterey County appellation to produce world-class wines.
Located just a few miles over the ridges from the Pacific Ocean, Carmel Road produces wines from vineyards set against the Santa Lucia range and in the Gabilan foothills. Winemaker Kris Kato grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he developed "the beer bug." But the fermentation science program at Oregon State University led him down the path of winemaking. He's worked at Central Coast wineries large and small, and notes both experiences prepared him for his role at Carmel Road, where he focuses on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
"Pinot expresses itself more than any other variety, in terms of being nuanced-driven," Kris says. He's excited to be working with Monterey fruit, including from the winery's Panorama Vineyard. "I love to make small lots of wine from different parcels. It’s incredible to be able to choose the most distinct wines from the vineyard, and showcase them in different bottlings."
The largest and perhaps most varied of California’s wine-growing regions, the Central Coast produces the majority of the state's wine. The sprawling district covers most of the vineyard land between San Francisco and Santa Barbara from the coast inland nearly all the way to the Central Valley. Encompassing an extremely diverse array of climates, soil types, and wine styles, it contains many smaller sub-AVAs, including Monterey, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, and Santa Cruz Mountains.
Just about every major international grape variety is planted within this vast AVA, from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. A significant proportion of the region’s produce is generic, inexpensive bulk wine, but the Central Coast is also home to many small, artisanal wineries crafting unique, high-quality wines, as well as everything in between.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.