Friday, February 5, 2010

Chardonnays from Walter Hansel Winery

The successful business man and car dealer Stephen Hansel is the man behind Walter Hansel Winery in the heartland of Russian River. The first 250 vines were planted already in 1978 by his father Walter Hansel, to whom Stephen gives tribute with the winery’s name. The first wines were made 1996, with some assistance of their friend Tom Rochioli. Today the Hansel family has 30 hectares of vines, equal acreage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which makes a yearly production of about 10 000 to 11 000 cases.
Overall, the wines from Walter Hansel Winery are exquisite, always pure and intense, with a good portion of finesse. They are also among the best buys there is in Sonoma.

2006 Russian River Chardonnay / 90 p
This estate chardonnay is mainly made from grapes in the older parts of the vineyard. As the other wines, whole cluster pressing and fermentation with natural yeast in French oak barrels is utilized. Although Stephen Hansel prefers the barrels from François Frères, the wines are never oaky or toasty. On the contrary, both on the nose and on the palate, this wine is purely fruit scented, very elegant, almost to the point I would like to use the word neutral. This, however, is a positive description, by neutral I mean extremely elegant. I could swear that a fraction of this wine is fermented in steel drums, at least it taste like that, but I find no notes in my database that this is the case. Instead of oak flavors, the wine shows more of citrus, lemon peel and cool climate apples, and there’s also a tingling touch of mineral in the medium light body. Delicious is a perfect word to use.
Drink it as an aperitif or to lighter fish dishes over the next 2-3 years.

2006 North Slope Chardonnay / 91 p
Made from a specific two hectares block with Dijon 76 and Dijon 96 clones on a north slope in the vineyards, this is a kind of vineyard selection bottling from the estate. Fermentation and upbringing is identical with that of the Russian River Chardonnay, but the wine has more depths and slightly higher acidity. The oak is present, but again very well integrated and it’s more like it gives some texture to the wine, rather than taste. Only in the end of the taste, there is a hint of that typical toasted aroma typically found in wines raised in François Frères barrels. Acidity is vibrant, even though all wines go through full malolactic fermentation, and that’s one of the beauty about this wine.
Drink it over the next 2-3 years.

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