2009 Cakebread Chardonnay

Year: 2009
Appellation: Napa Valley
Country: USA - California
Wine Spectator: 90
White Wine
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"Delivers a beam of ripe pear, green apple, floral and spicy scents that are fresh, lively and full-bodied, ending with a snappy fruit and mineral edge. Drink now through 2016. 25,000 cases made." (WS)

"Cakebread is probably the most famous name in domestic Chardonnay. It’s the wine business people drop $100+ on at restaurants when they are trying to impress clients and the wine I buy to celebrate my wife’s birthday. The Cakebread name is synonymous with luxury and quality. When you order Cakebread, you know you are going to get a great Chardonnay with remarkable consistency from vintage to vintage.

So when I opened a bottle of Cakebread’s 2009 Chardonnay to celebrate a friend’s engagement, I was a little surprised at what I tasted. Not because the quality was anything different- the wine was fantastic. I was surprised because what I tasted was a departure, although not a dramatic one, from the rich, oaky style Cakebread is known (and sometimes criticized) for. As one who enjoys both citrus focused stainless steel Chardonnay and the buttery, oak and honey focused barrel aged version, I won’t get into the debate about which style is better. Wondering if my taster was off, I emailed Dennis Cakebread, who has been nice enough to contribute his thoughts in the past, to see if he could offer any insight.

He confirmed my observations that the ‘09 had less oak, saying “We did back off on the amount of new oak used as we noticed the ‘08 was more oak focused than we prefer”. But what I perceived as less malolactic fermentation (turning crisp citric acid to buttery lactic acid), was more a function of a culmination of factors than a change in winemaking style.

Cakebread (the man not the wine) said “The 2009 has about 7% malo while the 2008 actually had no malo. A lot has to do with the growing season and how the acids and pH’s come together”. He goes on to cite variations in “growing season, crop size, berry size, cluster weights, weather just before harvest, how even was the set, how was the spring, was the winter wet, when in the growing season did we get heat spikes” as factors contributing to the overall style. Make no mistake about it, Cakebread is still making rich, complex Chardonnay that many consider to the the benchmark of the varietal in the U.S. Consider the 2009 vintage a small step toward satisfying emerging trends while still sticking to their overall winemaking ideals. This vintage is absolutely another in a long line of Cakebread fantastic Chardonnay. If you haven’t tried Cakebread in a while, maybe it’s time to give it another shot. If you have always enjoyed the wine, as I have, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the updated style. Special thanks to Dennis Cakebread for his commentary for our readers." (Nickel & Dime)

Winery Notes:
The first wine produced by Cakebread Cellars was a Chardonnay from the 1973 vintage, and this varietal has become the most widely appreciated of its range. Grapes are sourced from Napa's best Chardonnay microclimates: the southernmost section of the Napa Valley, and the Carneros region, cool-climate areas recognized for the superb quality of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir they produce. These vineyards, which Cakebread directly manages, are planted in a variety of clones which lend the wine depth and complex aromas. Because the different clones ripen at different rates in different vineyard sites, harvest may begin as early as the first of September and last until mid-October. The grapes are harvested at night or in the early hours of the morning, when the fruit is coolest. Fermentation can then begin with very little, if any, cooling.

The grapes are whole-cluster pressed, a technique that gently presses the juice from the skins, minimizing contact with the skins and avoiding extraction of harsh phenolics and tannins. This lends a smooth, silky texture to the wine's finish and increases its aging potential. A long, cool alcoholic fermentation with multiple yeast strains is carried out partly in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and partly in French oak barrels. Depending on the vintage, 60 to 70 percent of the wine is barrel-fermented and up to a quarter undergoes malolactic fermentation, which converts tart malic acid (as in apples) to softer lactic acid (as in milk) to lend roundness to the wine. Following fermentation, the wine is racked into fine-grained French oak barrels of new, one and two year's use, where it spends seven to ten months. Weekly stirrings of the yeast lees promotes further integration of the complex flavors and silky texture.

Cakebread Cellars' Napa Valley Chardonnay is light straw in color with a glint of gold. Its aromas are reminiscent of green apples and the faint scent of apricots with a clean scent of mineral suggestive of flint. These impressions are repeated on the palate with a very slight buttery finish and a subtle hint of French oak vanillin in the background. Good depth with an ideal balance of fruit and crisp acidity lead into a fresh, silky finish.