Domestic Selection: Chardonnay, 1989. Josu

The Joshua Hill Winery label is a proud premium brand offered by what is, actually, the ninth largest winery in the U.S., Delicato Vine­yards. A vintner’s vintner, Delica­to is a family owned Central Valley winery, now in its 56th successful year. It operates the second largest single-plant winery in the nation, with a storage capacity of over 40 million gallons. It also owns the San Bernabe vineyard which yields a phenomenal 30% of all the wine grapes grown in Monterey County. It is the largest single vineyard in the world! Additional­ly, Delicato owns another major vineyard in the Sierra Foothills and also sources grapes from all princi­pal growing areas in the state.

The majority of Delicato’s pro­duction, not surprisingly, is of the jug and bag-in-box genre, with sales amounting to about two mil­lion cases annually.

Joshua Hill, on the other hand, is operated as a “negociant” brand, and is produced on a much smaller scale. (The word “negociant” is French, and comes from the Latin negotium which means “busi­ness”.) The idea of a negociant is to produce the best wine he/she can by taking control of all steps of the process. Negociants can sub­contract for special grapes, winemakers, winery facilities, and, in fact, everything necessary to achieve whatever quality level they desire. The desire in this case was a superb, vintage Napa Chardonnay.

The fruit (80%) came from a prestigious estate in St. Helena; the rest (20%) from various Napa growers. The wine matured in Limousin Forest oak casks; the most sought-after medium for this purpose.

Oak mellows Chardonnay’s le­mony, citrusy character with toas­ty, buttery, vanilla-like top-notes. Such treatment is traditional in Chardonnay’s homeland, Bour­gogne (Burgundy, France). Cali­fornia vintners love to treat this grape to a “kiss of the oak”, too.

Our selection has a lovely gold­en-green hue and a complex bou­quet of green plum, peach, toast and vanilla. It is medium-full in the mouth, somewhat viscous, mellow and yet offers refreshingly good, crisp acidity. The wine finishes dry and clean with the green plum flavors lingering on.

Serve moder­ately chilled to accompany sautéed spiced (nutmeg and white pepper) chicken breast fillets topped with a rich cream sauce, or broiled swordfish or halibut steaks with lemon and butter, or lobster ravioli in a butter and garlic sauce.

Cellaring Notes: Nearing its peak. Drink now through 1994.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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