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Wine Review: Time for chardonnay, pinot noir as temperature changes

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With winter on the way, the wines that I call the Burgundy twins – pinot noir and chardonnay – are in line to replace softer, fruitier wines that dominate the warmer seasons.

I was fortunate enough to be able to taste a few before they arrive on dealers’ shelves or the internet. Fortunately for us, there are some very fine chardonnay and pinot noir wines being made right here in the United States. These wines are well made and properly aged.

Gary Farrell 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50)
The Gary Farrell winemakers have made the best possible wine from this very difficult to work with grape. Where most winemakers struggle with this grape, Gary Farrell has made it a star. The traditional aromas of cherries and rose petals that are the signature of wines of this grape are prominent and are balanced by the aroma of cranberries. The cranberry aroma carries over to the flavor where it mingles with cherry and plum. The background of this wine proves to be just as interesting, displaying the flavors of cinnamon, clove, dark chocolate, oak and vanilla. Those move on to the finish, where they slowly trail off and end in a smoky sensation. This pinot noir is just a bit different than most from California, but it is about as enjoyable as they come.

Head High 2019 Pinot Noir ($24)
Here is a way to enjoy a true Burgundian style pinot noir without having to mortgage the house. While the price is in the affordable range, the quality is right up there with the best of them. The wine accents cherries and rose petals in the aroma and cherries, oak and vanilla in the flavor. It is a bright and open wine with a soft fruit flavor and an interesting aftertaste. While this wine is not a rival to the great Burgundies of France, it most certainly is a fine example of a well-made and affordable pinot noir. The Head High 2019 Pinot Noir is an excellent ambassador for the variety and proof that a good wine does not need to be costly.

Gary Farrell 2019 Chardonnay ($35)
Here we have a wine in which the fruit is boldly expressed in both the aroma and the flavor. The grapes have been selected from vineyards that lie in some of California's cooler regions, which resemble the weather in Burgundy and assure the winemakers have a selection of quality grapes. In a “true to the traditional” technique for making chardonnay wines, this wine was fermented and aged in oak barrels. The aroma stresses a floral note, which includes orange blossom and jasmine, coupled with a melange of tropical fruits and a great deal of citrus. The citrus and tropical fruits carry over to the flavor where they merge with oak and vanilla. The finish rounds off this cornucopia of flavor by presenting soft tropical fruits and citrus wrapped in a silky mouthfeel, a trait found only in better chardonnays.

Head High 2021 Chardonnay ($22)
The choice is yours. This wine was fermented using the latest technique called cold fermentation, and it took three months to complete, whereas normal fermentation takes only a few weeks. Why the difference? Normal fermentation is exothermic, a big word that indicates that the process generates its own heat. Heat and wine are something that should be avoided as it can have a negative effect on the wine. This is the same philosophy of freeze drying where the product is frozen and then put in a vacuum chamber, where the pressure is reduced until the water in the product turns to a gas and escapes. The cold fermentation reduces the flavor and aroma loss that normally results during fermentation and has resulted in a chardonnay wine that offers everything that a chardonnay wine is famous for and then some.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at


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