2020 Samuel Louis Smith, Chardonnay, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
This wine, with its Chablis like stony intensity, is one of my favorite domestic Chardonnays, with each vintage I find more and more to love about it and Sam Smith, who is the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, is a very talented winemaker who is becoming a big star on the central coast, with his 2020 and soon to be released 2021vintages already getting a lot of attention. Remarkable considering all the difficulties this fire year brought, the 2020 Spear Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay is a brilliant effort with ripe fruit, leaning on lemon, pear and apple, pumped up with racy acidity and chalky notes. There’s a lot to admire here, especially the round textures, low alcohol 12.9%, and divine length, it is a wine of pleasure and tension, with a medium bodied and lithe palate, reminiscent of some top white Burgundies. As it opens you see an expansion and extra depth along with floral elegance, some leesy marshmallow and subtle wood shadings. Just six barrels were made of this gorgeous stony Chardonnay that was 100% barrel fermented with native yeasts, with both primary and full malos allowed to go naturally. This vintage saw, as Smith notes, nine months of elevage in a combination of new and used French oak with just about 17% new, 17% second-fill, and 66% neutral wood employed, making it an exceptionally pure wine and one that has the potential to age for a decade, not that you’ll need that kind of patience, but I do suggest pairing this wine with lobster, crab and or soft farm cheeses to see all of its complexity and rewards.

California Chardonnay is now seeing a renaissance, with many stylish examples, like this Samuel Louis Smith Spear Vineyard, as well as exciting examples from Kutch, Arnot Roberts, Cerritos, Greg Brewer’s Diatom, Whitcraft, Beauregard’s Bald Mountain, Big Basin’s Coast View, Poe, Drew’s Valenti and Farm Cottage’s Trout Gulch to name a few. Plus classic and historic wineries that have continued excellent versions, including Mount Eden, Stony Hill and Hanzell. All of these wines rely on distinct terroir and great farming to achieve such awesome results. To that end, Smith has been very particular in his choice of vines here and it shows. The Spear Vineyard is already highly regarded and the wines coming from here are wonderfully balanced, have great depth and lovely aromatics, making it one of the Sta. Rita Hill’s prime locations and Sam’s Chardonnay is proof positive of the greatness here and its future potential. Planted in 2014, Spear has Pinot Noir and Chardonnay primarily in the ground and it is farmed organically by Ofer Shepher, who deserves much praise for his efforts. Spear’s northern border, as Smith notes, and steep north-facing slopes hug Highway 246, giving the site a cooler tone and a long growing season that allows for complete ripeness with low sugars. Smith also notes that Spear’s varied elevation reaches 900 feet, getting some of the coldest blasts of Ocean air in the region and soils are mainly comprised of marine sedimentary clay and sand, meaning they are well drained, but provide a good defense to drought conditions, important for vine health and quality. So, as this wine proves, California Chardonnay is still a thing and capable of true greatest, love live the queen, and I highly recommend the wines mentioned above and this one should be one of the first you get.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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