WHAT: As the weather warms up we head into prime Chardonnay season. It’s that time of year when you can sit on the porch, sip a wine and dream. There’s not too much heat, no bugs, and nothing much to do except enjoy life.
FEL Chardonnay is the perfect wine for those kinds of days. It is great for sipping by itself, but the complex flavors really come alive when you pair it with food.
The grapes come from the Anderson Valley, about 100 miles north of San Francisco in western Mendocino County. The climate is ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, FEL’s signature wines. Warm days are tempered by cool marine air, while steep hills and mountains lead to alluvial soils in the flat valley.
While the price puts this beyond the everyday wine category for most people, it is definitely worth the slight splurge for special meals. It is one of the most well-rounded Chardonnays I have had in a long time.
It has a slight buttery taste, reminiscent of old-time Chardonnay, but it is not a fat, flabby wine. There is plenty of fresh acidity and a slight minerality to keep the wine lively.
It is a beautiful gold in the glass with powerful aromatics of pineapple and grapefruit. Each sip brings out a new layer of flavor. Lemon starts, followed by peach, tangerine, pear, honey, butterscotch, lemon custard, toffee, and finally some flint and limestone leading to a long finish. The acidity keeps the tastes fresh and helps with the food pairing.
The grapes were picked during a period that lasted more than three weeks, as each clone and plot ripened. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and spent 24 hours settling in tanks. Fermentation occurred in neutral French oak barrels, so you don’t get any oaky notes. The wine was aged sur lie in 60-gallon neutral French oak barrels for nine months.
Unknown to many, the Anderson Valley is an up-and-coming region in California, a “hidden gem” in the world of winemaking. The cool climate of the Anderson Valley Appellation and the proximity to the Pacific Ocean create some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growing regions in California.
FEL Wines produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris grown in the Anderson Valley and on the Sonoma Coast. These regions are known for producing wines of bright acidity and considerable complexity. Crafted by Winemaker Ryan Hodgins, FEL bottlings consistently offer the elusive combination of concentration and elegance.
WINERY: FEL is owned by Lede (lay-dee) Family Wines, which was founded by Canadian born Cliff Lede in 2002 when he bought 60 acres in the prestigious Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. He had gained success in his family’s construction business in Canada before moving on to wine.
His first task was to replant the vineyards. Then with a bit of whimsey, he named each vineyard block after some of his favorite rock albums and song. There are about four dozen rock blocks. So, one day they might be picking from “Pinball Wizard,” another from “Touch of Grey,” and another from “Purple Haze.”
When I visited the Lede winery off the Silverado Trail last summer, the gorgeous reserve tasting room, called Backstage, was showing some of Lede’s art collection that included images from Stanley Mouse. He was most famous for producing concert posters and album covers for the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. The winery is filled with huge windows and wooden beams, making for a spectacular setting.
The Cliff Lede wines focus on estate vineyards, including the flagship Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, made from the steep hillside portion of the estate.
Lede has been a Bordeaux enthusiast for years, and with his estate wines he creates wines with Old World values of linking the wine to the place where the grapes are grown. The wines also show the freshness and creativity of the New World.
“I love to build and create things,” Lede says. “After 25 years of wearing a suit every day, constructing plant sites, buildings and pipelines, it’s far more fun and rewarding to create something that offers people such pleasure, like wine.”
In 2005, the winery also opened the luxurious Poetry Inn, perched on a steep hillside on the eastern side of the property. Each of the five rooms has a breath-taking view of the valley. The rooms feature wood-burning fireplaces, private balconies and indoor and outdoor showers.
Lede bought Breggo Cellars in Anderson Valley in 2009 and renamed it FEL wines. The letters in the name are from his mother’s name, Florence Elsie Lede. She inspired his early interest in wine. Later he bought the Savoy vineyard from which the winery makes vineyard-specific Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
FEL produces outstanding Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as the single-vineyard wines from Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this with steamed king crab legs and large salads. The mingling of flavors was sublime.
The buttery aspect of the wine perfectly matched the butter in which we dipped the crab. The mineral aspect was a nice counterpoint to the cocktail sauce I used when making an impromptu crab cocktail.
This is one of my favorite elegant but easy meals. When you buy the crab legs they are already cooked. You merely have to warm them. We drop them in boiling water for about five minutes, often with Old Bay seafood seasonings.
It’s fun to use kitchen scissors and pliers or crab crackers to get the meat out. We make it a game to see if we can pull out large chunks intact before we dip them in the butter. I also sprinkle the crab liberally with lemon juice to sharpen the taste.
This chardonnay also would go well with fish, scallops, fried chicken or beer can chicken and creamy cheeses.