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Posted by gustav at 07:01AM, Thursday, December 01st, 2005

Kistler Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2001

We had our first bottle of the Sonoma Coast in a long while recently, and were reminded why we hold Kistler in such high regard.

We've actually had two bottles of this while eating out in the last two weeks (once at Evoo, in Somerville, and once at Front Street, in Provincetown), which is remarkable, because we've seen hardly any Kistler stuff on restaurant wine lists before now, unless it's in the top-tier, $250-a-seat kind of places. Perhaps they're changing their marketing or distribution. Whatever the cause, it's a pleasant development -- especially as the prices we've paid have seemed quite reasonable compared to the prices to get it direct from Kistler.

It's fascinating to observe the change in characteristics -- dominant notes and odor, and even mouth-feel -- as this Chardonnay warms up. It's got a remarkable panoply of notes, either chilled or at room temperature, but their relationships and powers change significantly. Right out of the wine fridge, it's a tiny bit bitter -- which, surprisingly, isn't at all negative here. This isn't over-oaked, American-marketed bitterness; I can't really explain, but it adds pleasing tartness and structure, rather than compensating for or hiding weaknesses elsewhere. There's a bit of a shrimp shell thing, which is weird; and a good amount of a pine resin note. There's also some underripe green apple and still more pear, but this doesn't come across as a fruity wine. There's a hint of a honeysuckle thing going on, which becomes significantly more prominent as the wine warms.

Closer to room temperature -- and we sincerely recommend you drink at least some of this on the warmer side -- the honeysuckle starts to become pretty powerful, and a honeydew melon element starts to come in. The overall effect ends up being very "nectar-of-the-gods" -- that's more or less the reason I adore all the Kistler Chardonnays I've had. As it warms, the resin notes also shift and become more oaky -- though again, not in an offensive, stereotypical California Chard way. The bitterness recedes (along with the shellfish), and the pear becomes more pronounced.

There's a lot more going on here than I have the vocabulary to describe. Suffice it to say there's more complexity here than I get out of all but a very few reds, let alone other, lesser whites. The finish is long and sublime, and the way the envelopes of each note change as the wine warms are fascinating enough to keep us entertained for hours -- literally. Expect to pay about $90 a bottle -- and don't expect to see this in wine shops. It's expensive, but well worth the money. It's also pretty weird, but that's a big part of the interest here: I'd much rather pay for weirdness than competent genericism, especially when it's as well-presented as all the flavors and smells in a bottle of this stuff. The 2001, like the earlier vintages, remains amongst the very best and most interesting wines I've had the fortune to taste.
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