Oak-N-Butter. A History Lesson.

Even though no one can buy these and they really are quite worthless examples, we drank them the other night and I feel I might jot down a couple interesting observations.  For those who don’t remember, Clos Du Bois used to be one of the Sonoma-County powerhouses with, in addition to their super-market mass-bottlers which are always solid (the 1994 CdB Merlot got *** in CGCW as I recall), Briarcrest and Marlstone cabs were stunning and there were also two high-end Chardonnays.  Flintwood and Calcaire.  I have no idea if they make any of these anymore.  Actually, I saw Marlestone in a shop not too long ago under glass in the 85-100$ range.  Of course, many corporate buy-outs and restructurings have taken place in the past two decades and I honestly have no clue who owns Clos Du Bois, but I’m fairly certain it is not Mr. Dubois and his three daughters, two dogs and his wife runnin the tasting room on Saturdays.   This 1998 Flintwood CH was probably full-retail 35$-ish and I bought several.

You have to remember:  15 or so years ago a 35$ chardonnay was not to be taken lightly.  These were the days at the PINNACLE of oak-n-butter chardonnay.  The rear label brags of the “heavily toasted new oak” programme for 18 months and even indicates full-malo.  No one had started the talk about ‘SS Chard” or “ABC” or any of that yet.  Chardonnay and Chablis were opposite poles on a globe.  If you wanted acidity and vibrancy, go drink Sauv Blanc.  Oak-N-Butter is just how chardonnay IS.

Belvedere was somewhat of a no-name little place famous for being quality negociants in the area.  Nice tasting room, cellar on site, but no estate fruit.  Quite prolific–lots of small batches from all over DCV and RRV.  They had a strong futures program which I took great advantage of.  This was at the tail-end of the ‘frontier days’ of Sonoma County.  I could name all the wineries on that road.  There were no tasting fees.  These were also the days before wine-clubs.  You know–those things wineries call “FREE MONEY”.  No, these were the days where Futures were king.  Gather ’round, kids:  Story time.  ‘Futures’ were a way for wineries to raise money from their true devotees by… Oh nevermind.  Just join the club and drink what they send you which you didn’t order and have no idea what they are going to charge you for but you can tell all your friends you are a member of the club.

So I barrel-tasted this 1999 probably fall 1999 or spring 2000 and purchased futures probably in the 12-15$ range (knowing my budget at the time) and it was probably 25-ish on release–again, not a slacker price in the Chardonnay world in those days.  But considerably below the price of the Clos Du Bois.

So I’m cleaning out the ‘1990’s Chardonnay’ bin in the cellar the other day–knowing full well these should have been opened 5 years ago at WORST.  The Flintwood is a brown, toasted-almond, petrol, oxidized, flat, border-line undrinkable lifeless glass.  The Belvedere is a bright almost-chartreuse canary with a nose of flowery fruit, a touch of brown sugar and bright acidity.  Completely drinkable.  Both 14.1

I like to bring up such instances to illustrate how dangerous it is to feel somehow ‘cheap’ or ‘unsophisticated’ when you purchase the cheaper wine.  This is most-observable in Burgundian varietals, although I have also tasted BILLIONS of “reserve” Cabs which were so manipulated past what shows as simple, pure fruit and vibrancy in their lower-priced siblings.  We just had this conversation the other day on social media.  Cherry Pie vs. Cherry Tart.  The go-fast crowd on the resty-scene with the big-bang glass loves the 60$ Cherry Pie–as it is the yummy flagship and looks really good on that crumb-ridden tablecloth.  But the pinot-people peep up from the sidelines and very timidly hint–almost embarrassed–just maybe kinda thinking–I mean, if it’s not too much trouble… maybe the 25$ Cherry Tart just might almost be maybe the better wine?  Obviously, to each their own taste.  Just don’t feel shy about calling the top dawg a farce now and then.


No www for Belvedere

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