September 30, 2010
Mer Soleil Chardonnay – $35 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay – $25 Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterrey, CA (samples provided by Mer Soliel)
I’m combining the review of these wines for one simple reason. The grapes are grown in the same vineyard with exactly the same treatment. The only difference is the wine making techniques. It isn’t often that you get to taste two wines side by side where the technique is the only difference. The wines are made by Charlie Wagner, grandson of his namesake Charles Wagner, founder of Caymus Vineyards.
While we thoroughly enjoyed both wines, it was the Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay that really got my attention. Admittedly, I am not normally a big fan of un-oaked, non-malolactic chardonnays. I like oak and I like a buttery creaminess. That said; this un-oaked chard with no malolactic fermentation really surprised me. It had a really lush mouth feel and a subtle but unexpectedly rich creaminess especially as it warmed up. If served too cold you may miss some of the depth this wine has to offer. For those who like an un-oaked style, this wine will hit the spot with nice tropical flavors, well balanced acidity and minerality so you really taste the fruit and terrior. Monterrey Chardonnay fruit, like Carneros, is full bodied.
But let’s get back to the lushness and complexity of this wine. I did a little research and found that Mer Soleil is using un-lined concrete fermentation tanks. This is a new trend which is gaining in popularity and Mer Soleil was one of the first to embrace it. Click Here to see a wonderful video by Frankie Gutierrez and discussion of the tanks. Theory is that the porous concrete tanks breathe like wood which adds depth without adding oak flavors. The 2008 vintage is offered in a ceramic bottle to bring attention to the concrete fermentation style. This wine has consistently received well deserved ratings in excess of 90. We paired it with grilled bacon-wrapped scallops for a lovely end of summer meal.
The Mer Soleil Chardonnay (again 90+ scores) is a more traditional chard. Half the wine is fermented in oak (the rest in steel) and half receives malolactic fermentation. Now this wine was no surprise and was right up my palate alley. Because only half the blend is oaked, it is softer than many and is by no stretch of the imagination a “butter bomb.” Look for rich flavors like apricot, pineapple and butterscotch in addition to some tropical and citrus flavors. Still plenty of acidity and some minerality shine through with a long and lush finish. Grilled Ahi Tuna with peach salsa paired beautifully with this lightly oaked Chardonnay.
The bottom line: two excellent Chardonnays. If you’re a fan of oaked chardonnays, the Silver has enough complexity and lushness to satisfy your palate. On the other hand, if un-oaked is your style, the balance, acidity and subtleness of the oaked Chardonnay may be a pleasant surprise.