[97 pts Wine Spectator, #3 Wine Spectator Top 100] Ma Belle-Fille is the youngest vineyard on the winery's Knights Valley estate, as well as the highest, reaching an elevation of 1,900 feet, and is quickly becoming the winery's best source for Chardonnay. It's a cool location but situated above the summer fog line, allowing for excellent sun exposure. Winemaker Nick Morlet uses native yeast; the wine is 100 percent barrel-fermented in French oak.
Chardonnay is the most popular white wine grape grown throughout the world. The most prized Chardonnay growing regions are Burgundy, Champagne and California. The Chardonnays of Burgundy tend to produce dry, elegant wines with vibrant acidity and minerality; little or no oak is imparted into the wine for these "Old World" beauties and allows the essence of the Chardonnay grape to reveal itself. On the other hand, the New World Chardonnay producers of California (Oregon, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand as well) tend to use new oak. These wines are often described as being "buttery" given their oak influence. Some Italian Chardonnays fall somewhere in between Old and New World. They too tend to be quite expressive and retain some of the best qualities of both Old and New World Chardonnays.
Chardonnay's weight and texture can be very different depending on the terroir and amount of oak used. Sometimes the oak is new and sometimes, in the case of Burgundy, the oak is used. If oak casks have been used, they impart less of an influence on the Chardonnay grapes. These wines tend to have mild oak notes in the wine and can often represent itself as roasted nut flavors. Yet no matter where Chardonnay is grown, there are some common threads that reveal themselves: apple, pear, honey, lemon and butterscotch.
From whiskey to wine, the United States is quickly becoming one of the premier countries for a variety of styles and categories of alcohol. From Napa Cabernets, to Kentucky Bourbon, to craft beer, gin and vodka, the list of exceptional style and quality continues to impress the most discerning palates.
The largest domestic wine growing region in the United States is by far California. California wines took international recognition in the 1976 competition known as "The Judgement Of Paris." In this famous blind tasting, California wines were put up against the best wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux - and won.
Today, California wines are among some of the finest made throughout the world. For California red wines, grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah are among the most popular. California "meritages" have also become quite popular. These red "blends" commonly use the classic Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, though many winemakers blend with other varietals. For California white wines, grapes such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most popular - as they are throughout the rest of the wine world. Whether red or white wine, the most popular wine AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) in California are the wine subregions of Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma.
California wines are often referred to as "New World" wines (as opposed to "Old World"). New World wines tend to be fruit forward and have new oak barrel influence, while Old World wines tend to be more mineral driven and have less oak influence. Today, there is an emerging trend among California wineamakers to use less oak influence in their wines allowing the grapes' characteristics to better express themselves.