Sips: California chardonnay the way we like it

I’ve just tasted a couple of superb new California chardonnays in a crisp, cool-climate style that makes them delightfully refreshing and easy to enjoy their complexity and sophistication. Both are from Rusack Vineyards, which I’ve written about before and is located in Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. This area produces some of California’s most exciting chardonnays, notable for their exceptional balRusackance produced in part by the cooling influences of the nearby Pacific Ocean. 

The wines reminded me of my visit to this breathtaking region three and a half years ago during which I got to sample a fair number of chardonnays, pinot noirs, syrahs and other wines (my MSNBC.com column on the area and an accompanying video won a James Beard Award). The Rusack chardonnays immediately brought to mind some of the wines I tasted from fruit grown in  the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, which I visited on that trip and which for years has been supplying grapes to some of the region’s most notable wineries. And so I wasn’t at all surprised when I read that a good deal of the fruit for both Rusack chardonnays came from Bien Nacido (as well as the Sierra Madre Vineyard).

Rusack’s 2008 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, a bargain at $23, shows a delicious combination of Meyer lemon, pear and a bit of vanilla reflecting judicious use of oak aging. The 2008 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay Resreve is a bit richer, showing those same flavor profiles, along with some pineapple, a spicy note and a good deal of minerality on its long finish (2,228 cases produced). A much greater percentage of the Reserve wine is aged in new oak, giving it that spice and a bit more fullness. It’s $36 with just 338 cases produced. Alcohol in both wines is listed at at a moderate 14.2 percent. With their limited production, I suspect that a visit to Rusack’s Web site may be the preferred method of buying the wines. (Wines received as press samples.)

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