“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
* Review sample provided by the winery