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No one can doubt that winemaking runs in the blood of the Cotat family. On the slopes of the Monts Damnés in Chavignol, the family has tended both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir since the end of the second World War. It was only in the 1990s when two brothers, Paul and Francis, handed over the family domaine to their sons, François and Pascal, respectively. Today there are two Cotat domaines—one in Chavignol, headed by François, and one in Sancerre, run by Pascal. What sets these cousins apart is less important than what they share—a passion for natural winemaking and a truly amazing touch with Sauvignon Blanc.
Pascal believes in natural winemaking—the vast majority of his plots are cared for organically, often combining seaweed and other natural preparations to fertilize his vines. Harvest is never rushed; in fact, Pascal (as does his cousin François) harvests more than a week after every other winery in the region. Needless to say, extra maturity on the vine means extra body and complexity in the wine. Vineyards are located on very steep slopes, requiring a hand harvest that has become a bit of a pilgrimage for Cotat devotees. The steepest plots can only be worked by sliding down with a cushion tied to your rear while you hold the bucket in front of you. The cousins invented this amusing system, and pickers come from all over Europe every year to volunteer for the harvest.
Grapes from each vineyard plot are vinified separately. The Cotat family pioneered single-vineyard bottlings in Sancerre, and each terroir—whether “Les Monts Damnés” or “Grande Côte”—has its own unique personality. Soils share the same chalky heart as do those in Chablis. In general Pascal wines show a more luxurious, plush mouthfeel in combination with this balanced acidity. (François wines, in comparison, often show more flinty, Chablis-like notes.) Wines are always bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Cotat’s wines truly benefit from age. While these wines are irresistible when they are young, one of the unique pleasures of putting down a few bottles is to later discover a rich, custard-like Sancerre that defies everything you would expect from racy Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
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.