Ramey, Russian River Valley, Chardonnnay 2016
($42): Long before the Ramey name appeared on wine labels as a brand of fine California wines, David Ramey was widely recognized as one of this country’s most talented winemakers. I personally encountered him in the late 1980s when he was
winemaker at Chalk Hill Winery in Sonoma and I was a Master of Wine student eager to devour the knowledge and experience he so generously shared. Most recently, I encountered him through this 2016 Chardonnay. Searching for the ideal California Chardonnay to use in my most advanced wine class, I tasted through various wines and, no surprise, I zeroed in on David Ramey’s Russian River Valley bottling.
David Ramey began making a Chardonnay under the Ramey Wine Cellars label in 1996 as a side gig while working as winemaker at Dominus Winery. Ramey Wine Cellars — a joint project with his wife, Carla Ramey — grew slowly while David was winemaker at Rudd, expanding the Chardonnay sourcing, and adding two Napa Valley Cabernets to its line-up. In 2002 David Ramey went independent, ultimately expanding his winemaking to include Pinot Noir and some Syrah and also bringing the next generation of Rameys into the company. The accolades continue to pour in.
Despite his technical training at U.C. Davis, David was an early practitioner of artisan winemaking techniques such as ambient yeast fermentations, among other then-innovations in California. His wines today are “pure California,” as the website boasts, and yet they exhibit nuances that set them far apart from the California norm. The nuances might show themselves in the wine’s texture, or its finesse, its aromatic amplitude, its vibrancy, and so forth. In the case of Chardonnay, these nuances bring dimensions to the wine beyond straightforward pleasure.
The 2016 Ramey Russian River Valley Chardonnay shows a fascinating combination of richness and delicacy. Its aromas and flavors are complex, with fruity notes of lemon, ripe melon, ripe apple and lemon curd as well as vanilla, butterscotch, smoke, and crème caramel — the fruit’s characteristics blending beautifully with the winemaking elements of oak, malolactic and lees contact. In your mouth, the wine is dry and full bodied with high acidity that’s so well integrated you might hardly notice it without trying. Its flavors have good intensity, freshness and terrific concentration. The wine’s texture is creamy but not overly soft, thanks to the balancing high acidity, and its lemony finish is long. This is a wine of depth, vibrancy, richness and yet delicacy.
The grapes for this wine were whole-cluster pressed to minimize skin contact and phenolics (tannins). Fermentation took place in French oak barrels with native yeasts. The wine underwent full malolactic conversion instigated by native bacteria, and twelve months of lees aging, with stirring, in 20 percent new oak barrels.
This Russian River Valley Chardonnay is one of seven 2016 Chardonnays from Ramey, five of which are single-vineyard bottlings. It is a blend of seven vineyards, all cool sites with low-vigor soils.