2017 Morgan, Chardonnay, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The groove is back at Morgan, and with the talents of Sam Smith in the cellar the last two vintages have been exceptional putting Dan Lee’s winery back in the top echelon in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in particular are Smith’s versions of the Double L Estate Chardonnay from the home ranch that was planted back in 1997. Especially this absolutely stunning 2017 vintage, which is an upcoming release, and is maybe my favorite young Chardonnay ever from the Highlands, more than matching the best stuff from the elite guys there, including Jeff Pisoni’s wonderful estate and Lucia bottlings as well as the best from Roar and their famous Rosella’s Vineyard, and others. I was lucky enough to run into Smith post harvest to taste this wine and a few from his own label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, that is also a great set of 2017 offerings with a recently reviewed duo of Syrah from the Santa Cruz mountains and a Pinot Noir from Albatros Ridge in Carmel Valley. Smith and his team at Morgan, carefully hand sorted the Double L grapes then they were gently whole cluster pressed to yield the highest quality juice, according to Morgan,  with barrel ferments starting with Montrachet yeast in French oak, with between 15%-30% new Burgundy barriques being used to raise this Chardonnay along with a combination of used oak. About 90% of the lots go through malo-lactic fermentation, with just 10% non malo to preserve crispness and Smith uses lees stirring or batonage to expand the wine’s glycerin and give the wine a touch of rich density and presence without overt or flabby. When you think of Monterey’s history in premium wine, Morgan pops up more than a few times from their beginnings back in 1982, at almost the same time as Talbott came into being, with Dan Morgan Lee as the owner/winemaker, who then created wines under the St. Vrain brand until switching to Morgan Winery in 1986. Adding Joe Davis as head winemaker and focusing on Pinot Noir and Chard, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, which they made from Carmel Valley grapes and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc made a huge difference with Davis crafting some world class stuff into the mid nineties, especially his reserve Pinot that included some Pisoni Vineyard fruit. Then there was a good run of wines, but certainly the addition of Sam Smith has raised the game here as the new 2017 Double L Chardonnay clearly shows, it’s impressive right from the start, even from the nose alone you just know you are tasting something extraordinary with striking minerallity, citrus blossom and delicate oak shadings leading the way to the medium/full palate. The Lee family estate Double L Vineyard is all organic, was certified in 2002, though it has always been farmed that way from the beginning, it’s a site that gets plenty of cool ocean influence, it was named the Double L (Double Luck) in honor of Dan’s twin daughters, it was planted to multiple clones, on the Highlands sandy loams, to get the most complex flavors as possible from this Cru terroir, with nod to some of the most renowned Burgundy legends the farming was done in a holistic way that seemed the best way to get the results Lee dreamed of in this wonderfully sloping hillside location. Back to the gorgeous 2017 edition, it has incredible mouth feel without being heavy and it has dynamic layers of fresh picked gold delicious apple, bosc pear, vivid tangerine/orange, lemon curd and inviting white peach as well as hits of tropical fruits, creme brûlée, steely/stony elements, melon fleshiness, hazelnut, clove and saline before the rich wood notes return with a touch of cream and vanilla. The inner brightness and vitality is irresistible and those cool marine breezes and fog keeps that lively acidity in play all the way throughout, it’s hard to get me this excited for many Chardonnays, but this one rocks, and Smith tells me he thinks the 2018 will be even better, which is awesome, even if it is hard to imagine improving on what is close to perfect in California Chardonnay! This is a sleeper wine, and I bet it will fly under the radar, but it seriously deserves your attention, it’s in league, though not the same as, with some heroic wines, like those of Ceritas, Sandhi, Littorai and the likes! There is also, a single clone version called Clone 15 that is bigger and more luxurious too, though I haven’t gotten around to that one yet, and I honestly think this regular Double L is as good as I could ever hope full, it’s energy and complexity of detail, while being totally seamless is mind-blowing, it should go a decade with stellar and graceful ease.
($44 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive

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