“Chardonnay is polarizing,” says Lisa Hinton, winemaker at Maryland’s Old Westminster Winery, adding “No one tastes Chardonnay without preconceived ideas and bias.”

She’s right. I have plenty of bias when it comes to Chardonnay. After several years of tasting East Coast examples that were often some combination of boring, over-oaked, flabby, or just not very good, I basically stopped writing about them. I stopped tasting them too. It was a category that I just wasn’t interested in anymore.

So when Drew Baker, Hinton’s brother who also manages the winery’s vineyards, sent me a bottle of Old Westminster Winery 2016 “Home Vineyard” Chardonnay ($28) late last year, I thought it was a gag. He knew how I felt about most domestic Chardonnay, after all.

But he also wanted me to try it and I’m glad that I did. It’s the kind of Chardonnay I can get behind — and reach for regularly.

The vines in Old Westminster’s Home Vineyard Chardonnay block, located just steps from the tasting room, were planted in 2011 on a gentle (5%) slope that is 750 feet above sea level and faces south. The soils are channery loam overlaying a bedrock of greenstone schist.

Chardonnay has become one of Hinton’s favorite varieties for experimentation. With myriad combinations of oak versus steel, still or sparkling, lees aging, sparkling or not it “has all of the potential to make some interesting — and delicious juice,” she said.

15% of this wine was fermented (inoculated) and aged in new French oak. The rest was reared entirely in stainless steel with ambient yeasts. The combination is a wine with great balance of richness and texture with fresh-cut fruit flavors.

Mixing stainless- and oak-born Chardonnay together in a final blend isn’t unique, though. What sets this wine apart is the inclusion of 5% Albarino in the final blend. The Albarino brings a certain freshness and some higher tones — particularly floral and minerally aromatics. What Hinton calls “bracing acidity” helps enliven the palate and mouthfeel too.

Producer: Old Westminster Winery
Grapes: 95% Chardonnay, 5% Albarino
ABV: 12.2%
Price: $28

* Review sample provided by the winery

Old Westminster Winery 2016 Home Vineyard Chardonnay

88 points

Balanced and layered, this fresh, food-friendly Chardonnay has fresh-cut fruit aromas --Golden Delicious and green apple -- with added hints of roasted nuts, vanilla and white flowers. That nutty, spicy leesy note continues to the palate where it brings complexity to layers of apple and citrus fruits. The mid-palate shows nice creaminess before turning brisk and nervy with acidity that slices through a nice bit of concentration toward a long, slightly saline finish.

About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. After running that site -- which became the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news -- for 12 years, he launched TheCorkReport.us in late 2016 to add the wines of Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Vermont and beyond to his beat. Lenn currently serves as the wine columnist for The Suffolk Times weekly newspaper and is the former editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette. He contributes or has contributed to publications like Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Beverage Media, Edible Brooklyn, Edible East End and Edible Hudson Valley. Lenn served on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, an annual regional wine immersion conference for writers and trade. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.

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