Wine Review: 2008 Fog Crest Vineyard “Laguna West” Chardonnay

15 02 2012

I had to use the promo pic from the website instead of my actual pic, for obvious reasons. Sure is foggy.

I just finished reading the book Judgment of Paris by George Taber, which is primarily a recounting of the now-legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting where California Cabernets and Chardonnays shockingly upset top French Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind tasting evaluated by renowned French judges, but which also tangentially describes the birth and rapid growth of the California wine industry.  The truly amazing thing about the J of P tasting wasn’t that the California wines upset the French; it was that the California wineries represented in the competition didn’t even exist a decade earlier.  Many of them entered their first, second or third vintages EVER in a tasting contest against historic French bottlings that dated back centuries, which in the world of wine should have been a recipe for embarrassment.  I now think about this every time I open a Cali Cab or Chard because, as a recent disciple of wine, I’ve only ever known California as a world vinous powerhouse; it’s remarkable to think that 40 years ago it would have been laughable to describe it that way.

To coincide with my finishing the book, I felt it only appropriate to open a California wine in commemoration, and the Fog Crest has been a bottle I’ve been very interested in trying, largely because the producer brings in ultra-famous Cali winemaker David Ramey as a consultant to help craft its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  Fog Crest is based out of the Russian River Valley sub-region of Sonoma County, an area known for having a notably cooler climate than the surrounding area, helped in part by cold morning fogs (hence the winery name).  These climatic conditions make RRV an ideal spot for growing grapes like Chardonnay that show their best in cooler sites.  My favourite thing about this wine has to be its thematically-accurate, dry-ice-induced foggy promo pic from its website (see above left), the set up for which almost inevitably involved some marketing guru saying:  “See, FOG Crest?  Get it?”  (I get it.)  

Back-label words like "Produced and Cellared" actually have specified legal meanings...it pays to know!

The Laguna West Chardonnay is Fog Crest’s introductory-level Chard and appears to be made from grapes purchased from local growers instead of those grown in FC’s own vineyards.  If you were ever curious about how to tell whether the grapes in a wine were grown by its producer or not, one way you can decipher the grapes’ origin is by looking at how the production of the wine is described on the back label.  The back of this bottle says that the Laguna West was “Produced and Bottled by Fog Crest”; in California at least, the words “produced and bottled” mean that Fog Crest has fermented (not necessarily grown) at least 75% of the wine itself.  If FC had also grown the grapes, the back label wording would almost certainly have been “Grown, Produced & Bottled” or simply “Estate Bottled”, each of which signifies that the grapes for the wine came from the producer’s own vineyards.  (Be particularly on the lookout for back labels that say a wine was “Bottled & Cellared” by the producer, which means they didn’t grow the grapes OR make the wine, but just stuck pre-made wine in their own bottles.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is bad, but to me at least it does reduce the authenticity factor a little bit.)

Cork Rating: 2/10 (I almost thought about Photoshopping some fog into this cork pic to make it less boring.)

Like most Cali Chardonnays, the Laguna West was a medium golden colour in the glass, and it showcased its varietal and origin quite convincingly with an enticing nose of brioche, buttered popcorn, vanilla, red apple, cinnamon and rubber.  I thought I was heading towards a home run on the front end of the palate, as the wine started out lush, flavourful and exotic, with Asian pear, lemon zest and honeydew melon fruit accented by sweet shortbread and coconut flavours and oaky sawdust notes.  However, the Fog Crest then finished in prickly fashion with a surprising peppery streak, a tongue-scratching coating of spice that unfortunately coincided with a spike in the always-far-from-shy 14.6% alcohol level, which meant that the prickling pepper was matched up with a boozy burning sensation every time I swallowed.  For the first three quarters of each sip I was all over this wine, but the palate boot camp on the finish took a bit of the bloom off the rose.  I seem to be getting more sensitive to strong alcohol levels in wine, so if you have no such concerns and like a bigger, bolder style of Chardonnay, then this might be right up your alley.  For me, a cool-climate Chardonnay should be a wine of length and nuance rather than in-your-face power, and I think this one got a little away from itself at the end.  It was still enjoyable, but I can’t say that it’s recommended.

87 points

$30 to $35 CDN

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