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Chardonnay Series: Russian River Valley AVA

A quick overview

Chardonnay is the biggest name in white wine for wine lovers and the most planted white grape in the world. Sometimes fruity, sometimes creamy, Chardonnay is a non-aromatic grape with delicate fruit flavours. Express the place where is planted, also brings happiness to winegrowers and winemakers. Easy to deal with in the vineyard, can be planted in a range of climates from cool to warm, it is not fussy like Pinot Noir and can produce more wine (less yield sensitive). In the winery, the grape allows a range of techniques to add complex flavours to the wine. Develop notes of butter and cream from malolactic fermentation (also, soften harsh acids). Some time in contact with the lees* add a creamy texture and savoury flavours like cheese, bread dought, yoghurt, etc. The grape is also oak-friendly, getting the oak flavours of toasty, vanilla and coconut.

*Dead yeast cells left behind after fermentation has finished

Dominant flavours and Styles

Cool climate (Chablis)

Green Apple and pear, Lemon/Lime (citrus), chalk/Minerality

Moderate Climate (Burgundy, premium new world)

Peach, citrus notes, melon, chalk/Minerality (Burgundy)

Warm Climate (new world)

Pineapple, peach, banana, mango, fig

The grape can be seen in 3 common styles:

Oaked rich and creamy

Found in California, Chile, Australia, Argentina, Spain & Cote de Beaune, Burgundy

Unoaked Light

Found in Maconnais, Chablis, Western Australia


Part of a blend with Pinot Noir and Meunier (Champagne style) or in the Blanc des Blancs made with 100% Chardonnay.

Serving and Food Pairings

Oaked rich and creamy

Slightly warmer than normal whites - 13 degrees celsius

- Perfect with:

Richer food

Crab, smoked salmon, grilled prawns

Buttery sauce

Cheddar, Brie

Roasted Chicken

Pasta with white sauce (Mac and Cheese)

Unoaked Light

Chilled - 7 to 10 degrees celsius

- Perfect with:

Lighter, grilled fishes


Lemon and herbs based sauces

Goat cheese



Well chilled - 6 to 10 degrees celsius

- Perfect with:

More flexible than all the other styles

Hard cheeses, soft and semi-soft cheeses

Desserts (Crème brûlée, puddings, cheesecakes)

The expression in Russian River Valley AVA

USA > California > Sonoma County AVA > Russian River Valley AVA

The most planted grapes are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The climate ranges from moderate to warm (flat parts). The hilly topography influences the climate.

The south and western parts of the AVA has a cooling effect from fog and wind brought by the Petaluma Gap.

The Petaluma Gap is an opening in the coastal hills of southwestern Sonoma County that allows marine air to pass into the Bay Area and Russian River Valley. Also, a geographic winegrowing region defined by the cooling “wind tunnel” effect resulting from this break in the coastal mountain range.

The fog comes in the evening, retreat in the morning causes a drop in temperature, retaining acidity in the grape, slow the accumulation of sugar. All of that while aromas and flavours ripen.

More inland and in the Northeast part of the AVA, the vineyards are sheltered (from fog and breezes) by the hills which gives a warmer temperature. Because of that, makes it possible to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and riper styles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Chardonnay from Russian River Valley AVA often has medium to medium (+) body and medium to medium (+) acidity with ripe peach and pineapple flavours. Often creamy and spicy flavours from malolactic conversion and oak maturation.

The region has two sub-AVAs: Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA and Chalk Hill AVA.

The wine and Tasting Notes (WSET lexicon)

Frei Brothers Sonoma Reserve 2018

100% Chardonnay

Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA

£17.99 (Waitrose)

Colour pale gold.

On the nose, medium (+) intensity with aromas of apple, pear, lemon, peach, butter, cream, bread.

On the Palate, It is dry, medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol (13.5%).

Medium (+) body with medium (+) flavour intensity.

The finish is medium (+).

Quality assessment: Very Good

The wine is well balanced with a great fruit concentration on the palate balanced by the higher end of the acidity bringing freshness to the wine. The amount of fruit is preventing the wine from being sour on the mouth. The fruit comes back on the final taste, with a good length to keep the wine lingering on the palate. On the nose and palate, great intensity of aromas and flavours just lacking a bit more to be considered pronounced. The wine is showing different clusters of primary fruits, also notes coming from malolactic fermentation. The contact with lees, bringing complexity to the wine.

Suitable for bottle ageing.

The fruits can evolve from primary fresh to drier from bottle ageing. The amount of acidity from this wine can keep the freshness and preservation for bottle ageing.

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