WHAT: When chardonnay is well made it is one of the best white wines you can find. Unfortunately, many winemakers try to do too much, and the wine sometimes comes out too oaky or too full of acid.
Martinelli has been making beautiful chardonnays for a long time, and they know what they are doing. They make some incredible single-vineyard chardonnays, so this might be considered an entry level chardonnay for them.
Bella Vigna is a blend of selected single-vineyard chardonnay estate grapes, most of them two Dijon clones. These clones generally do well in cool climates, such as the Sonoma vineyards owned by Martinelli. The 2011 vintage was one of the coolest in 30 years, so the grapes had a long time to ripen and develop flavor.
Starting with great grapes the winemakers try to follow as natural a process as possible, letting the wine reflect the vineyard. Working with the best of the Martinelli estate grapes they use only wild yeast to ferment the wine in oak barrels.
It is neither heat nor cold stabilized and spends 10 months in 70 percent new French oak on the lees before being bottled unfiltered and unfined. The result is a memorable wine.
It is a beautiful golden yellow in the glass, with mellow aromas of lemon, pear and toast, with a touch of mineral. My wife, Teri, thought it had a beautiful color, but not much on the nose.
She liked the crispness of the wine, full of pleasant fruit with an undertone of crab apple. I tasted golden delicious apples, lemon and a bit of orange peel. We both loved the creaminess and balanced flavors.
Such is the Martinelli skill that neither of us detected oak flavors you sometimes get with overdone chardonnay. Instead we got the buttery, creamy taste we like, balanced with crisp acidity.
Serve it well chilled and let it warm up in the glass. The flavors will continue to unfold as you sip. The wine should age well because of the acidity.
WINERY: The Martinelli family is one of California’s pioneering wine families, with Russian River Valley roots going back to the 1800s.
Today, they own vineyards throughout the Russian River Valley and the Fort Ross – Seaview AVAs, with the very best fruit going into their estate chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and zinfandel bottlings. They also produce Gewurztraminer and tiny quantities of sauvignon blanc and muscat.
With 450 acres of prime vineyards and four generations of Sonoma County grape-growing experience, the Martinelli family sells grapes to many of Sonoma County’s best producers. Each year at harvest the family selects the top 10 percent of the grapes for their own wines, which are made by Winemaker Bryan Kvamme.
Kvamme and consulting winemaker Erin Green carry on in the tradition of superstar winemaker Helen Turley, who was consulting winemaker at Martinelli from 1992 to 2010, when Martinelli really gained a reputation for fine wine. Turley grew up in Augusta before achieving winemaking fame in California.
Giuseppe Martinelli started it all when he and Luisa Vellutini eloped and ended up in California. Giuseppe thought the Russian River Valley looked like his Italian homeland, so he settled there, planting his first zinfandel vineyard on the steep, and now famous, Jackass Hill.
After Giuseppe died, his elder sons told their youngest brother Leno that nobody would farm a hill that steep, but Leno persisted. It is still the steepest nonterraced vineyard in Sonoma County. Leno loved farming, and kept the family’s grape business alive.
A winemaking facility and tasting room were added later, although the family still sells most of its grapes to other wineries. The winery and tasting room are in a century-old hop barn in the Russian River Valley.
The winery is now in its fourth generation of family ownership, with four of Leno’s grandchildren. The family is involved in all areas of the winery, from planting and growing grapes to winemaking, bottling and marketing.
The Martinellis are serious about sustainable farming because of their rich heritage.
“If you’ve been farming the same vineyard for over 100 years, it has to be sustainable,” said Lee Martinelli Jr.
Taking care of the land and producing great wine is labor intensive. They thin the grapes so the vines produce fewer grapes with more intense flavors. The family estimates that every vine is touched a minimum of 20 to 25 times during the growing season.
Helen Turlely got involved with the Martinellis in 1991 when she began planting a vineyard next to the Martinelli’s Charles Ranch property. That vineyard would become the basis for her Marcassin brand, which is one of the most sought-after wines in the world.
Lee Martinelli Sr. had wanted to bring up the quality of his family’s farming and winemaking. After chatting with Turley over the vineyard fence, he brought her on as winemaker and she implemented a number of quality-raising measures.
GOES WITH: It really is too hot to be cooking, inside or out, but I can’t resist, especially when I have a great wine like the Martinelli chardonnay. This is a rich, full-bodied wine, so it needs something robust, but not overpowering.
I took a couple of chicken breasts, sprinkled them with spices and grilled them outside. At least cooking outside doesn’t heat up the house. I sprinkled the chicken with Hawaiian spices and Morton’s Natures Seasons before grilling about 10 minutes on each side. I start the chicken over direct heat to sear the outside then move it to indirect heat to let it cook slower.
When I get the chicken on my plate I add Mumbo sauce, which has a sweet flavor with just a little heat. I paired that with potato wedges that start out as baked potatoes and then get pan fried. Teri and I also had canned peas and fresh tomato slices.
The wine was outstanding, with enough weight and texture to stand up to the spices without overpowering the chicken flavors.
This would pair well with all kinds of chicken dishes, including dishes with cream sauce, heartier fish like tuna and swordfish, chicken soup and hard cheeses.