Friday, September 18, 2009

2005 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Kistler

Since inaugural vintage 1979, winemaker Steve Kistler who teamed up with Mark Bixler, has produced chardonnays and pinots of exquisite quality. The wines of the first decade I didn’t taste, and they’re now all gone (at least the remaining bottles will not have last – these kind of wines should be drunk within their first ten years). The first bottles I came along in the early 90s, were all good to very good, but since the last vintages of the 90s, the quality improvement has been remarkable. Kistler and Bixler now owns 24 hectares of vineyards, but they also source grapes from various cool and great vineyards around Carneros, Russian River and Sonoma Coast. Methods are all the same utilized at leading premium domains of Burgundy, but style wise wines are Californian, of course. However, over the last vintages, the style has become more and more elegant.
These two wines, tasted at a full day California Wine Seminar I held for sommeliers, both showed what a talented winemaker Steve Kistler is.

2005 Chardonnay McCrea Vineyard / 94
Steve Kistler shows his skills with Chardonnay in this lovely, pure and elegant wine, made from grapes bought from the well known McCrea Vineyard on 240 meters altitude in Sonoma Mountain. It was planted with low yielding clones in 1970, but has been managed (very well) by Kistler and his partner Mark Bixler since 1983. Grapes are whole bunch pressed, and the grape must is then completely fermented in French oak barrels, not more than 50 percent new, and kept on its lees with full malolactic fermentation for around one year.
Color is young and pale, and the nose is quite discrete with fine notes of cool climate fruit, pure and fresh with a finesse normally found in fine wines from Burgundy, but not too often in California. The oak is also very well integrated, and I find no buttery or creamy notes of the malolactic fermentation. Great finesse and balance is also found on the palate, medium bodied with a lively acidity, and just a touch of spiciness (almost like cloves) from the oak. One way to check the quality of New World chardonnays is to let them sit in glass for 30 minutes. Wines that loose most of its aromas and flavors are rarely of great quality. Wines that keep their finer fragrances, and even improve in the glass, are great. This wine stays perfectly well and keeps its finesse at even higher temperatures than its recommended 12-14 degrees. Drink it thru 2012.

2005 Pinot Noir Kistler Vineyards / 92-93
Things I look for in a pinot, is fragrance and elegance. A Pinot should never be heavy, neither to week, and its seductive fruit shouldn’t be covered in oak. In that sense, this is a lovely and well recommended wine. Grapes comes from cool sites in Occidental in the coolest parts of Russian River, and production is classic with no stems, a few days of cold soak and a total of 22-28 days of skin contact with pigeage, natural yeast, malolactic fermentation in French oak casks, and then only a year in total in oak. At first, the nose is upfront fruity with intense aromas of red and dark cherries, sloe and also wild raspberries. With some air, more elegant och complex nuances make its way through the fruit, and as always (nowadays) the oak is very well integrated. On the palate, this is a very seductive wine, soft and silky with ripe tannins and a lively and fresh acidity that make a fine balance with the almost sweet and very elegant fruit. It’s hard not to like this wine. It should keep well over the next 6-8 years.

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