Determining a winner is of academic interest only. Both are elegant wines with precision, presence and a personal expression. Both are top class chardonnays. But they’re for sure different, the 2010 White Bones and the 2009 White Stones from Catena in Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina.
You can’t neglect the risk-taking at the Adrianna vineyard. Located 1,450 meters above the sea-level it does provide the vines with a more intense sunlight but at the same time it’s cold at night time. Really cold. Up here, temperatures varies a lot between night and day. This of course prolongs the season and it also results in varying harvest times of the different lots of the vineyard. As a high-altitude wine guy, these wines work as a force of attraction for me, I’m drawn to them.
The premium red wines from the Catena family has impressed me several times, especially when the wines have had some age. It’s easy to dismiss the red wines at a young stage, as brutal forces and not trying to envision their future. I occasionally do it myself. But when providing these youngsters with an assessment, it’s easy to forget that the fruit is there, the balance, the acidity and the general feel of a wine that has the potential to develop complexity.
Adrianna, chardonnay clones & what’s in a name
When it comes to the two chardonnays, White Bones and White Stones, I’m not feeling as locked. A great Chardonnay is easier to recognize as it probably is my favorite white grape varietal. Both wines are from Block 1 in the Adrianna Vineyard. Catena works with two Dijon clones of Chardonnay, the 76 and the 95. If you’re not that in to learning about Chardonnay clones developed at the University of Burgundy (Dijon) that’s fine. But it’s worth noting there are more than 30 clonal varieties of the grape only in France. All have their special set of characteristics but the reason for choosing 76 and 95 are probably related to the surroundings and soil of Adrianna, combined with the fact that both are low-yielding and offers a higher concentration of flavors.
Both wines are limited in production but the White Bones is only a tenth of the Whites Stones, being a selection of the superior grapes from Block 1. The rock filled soil structure doesn’t allow for the roots to dig deep which might be a reason for why there’s such a distinct association of minerals in the aromas of the two wines. The top soil reveals the history of the vineyard, an old river. Lots of limestone and fossilized bones. Hence the names.
2009 White Stones Chardonnay, Adrianna Vineyard, Catena Zapata
Do you like cool climate Chardonnay? How about some beautifully handled toasted oak on top of that? Throw in some wet rocks, spring flowers, peaches, unripe pineapples, grey pears and there you have it – the bouquet of the 2009 White Stones. A bit shy from the start but opens up and stays remarkably elegant over two days. Never flabby, it keeps alert and precise all the time. Still a young nose that will develop with age.
On the palate it’s basically repeat mode from the nose. The wet rocks, the loads of fruit that will make you look like a drooling dog, the most present acidity; all is there in this refreshing mouthfeel. Pure taste, perhaps not as gracile as a Puligny-Montrachet, but the peaches, the toasted oak, the flowers and the mineral feel are so elegantly wrapped in that you start associating with the prototype from the mother country. Long, intense. Delicious. I could drink this every week. Give it a few more years though, for the sake of complexity.
(No decanting ahead. The wine was allowed to develop over two days.)
2010 White Bones Chardonnay, Adrianna Vineyard, Catena Zapata
Ok, so it’s two vintages but still, the difference between the wines are fascinating. Same Block 1, same clones, same vinifiaction and aging. And people wonder why we become wine geeks? Lighter in color and initially not offering much on the nose. Then, when it slowly evolves, discrete scents of flowers, the lilacs and jasmine kind of. Lemon peel, oozing wet rocks and white peaches. But where’s the oak? It actually takes two-three hours before a gentle toasted vanilla feel enters the bouquet. Perhaps not as elegant as the White Stones but it surely has a depth which promises more for the patient ones.
Dry, mineral driven and with generous amounts of fruit. That’s the initial impression on the palate. Yellow fruits, some mature red apples, lemon peel and more full-bodied than the White Stones. Full-bodied; perhaps not the best chosen expression on a wine that shows such precision, but it’s not a wine attempting to copy Burgundy. It doesn’t have to as this is the unique expression of a great site, a great region and a great producer. Give the 2010 White Bones at least around five years to develop further. It has the structure. The purity, the length. A must have wine if you’re in to top Chardonnay.
(No decanting ahead. The wine was allowed to develop during the evening.)
The eager-to-know-more section
Both wines are whole cluster pressed and were entirely fermented at low temperatures in French oak barrels of varying size. Since the vineyards has been harvested at different occasions, the fermentation goes from around 45 to 95 days. Then kept in barrel between a year and a further four months. Little stirring of the lees. One third of the wines didn’t see any malolactic fermentation. Both wines clock in at 13 percent alcohol and with an total acidity ranging from 7.2 to 7.5. Unfined. Unfiltered.
And just for the fun of it…
A sparring partner from Burgundy – the 2011 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Referts from Marc Morey. A great, delicate, stone fruits oriented Chardonnay with a totally different expression. Better? Guess that’s up to your own point of reference. Personally I wouldn’t want to be without any of the three wines.
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