I don’t find such superlative chardonnay as Hansel’s intense and complex Cuvee Alyce at my price on either side of the pond. You know that Burgundy sets my standards high, and Hansel has met them repeatedly. There is lemon and smoke, pear and crushed rocks that the French would admire, plus a buttery opulence and juicy acidity from the Golden State. The elegant single-block chardonnay is the accomplishment of Steven Hansel and his family’s dedication to terroir. They respect the precise attributes of each vineyard in their corner of Russian River Valley. Hansel hand-picks, sorts and crushes by whole cluster to get the full natural character in each cuvee. His Cuvee Alyce is a particular favorite of mine, the most structured and restrained in his portfolio. It could last 10 years. I wish more California chards were in the same vein. More remarkable is Hansel’s modesty; he doesn’t brag big or demand cult prices. Doesn’t need to. The ’09 Cuvee Alyce speaks for itself.
Strong is the the definitely word for a guy like the late Rodney Strong. Don’t know many who could go from dancing for George Balanchine and Martha Graham in New York to pioneering Sonoma‘s most famous vineyards. That was in 1959: 50 years before the 2009 vintage and these ripe reds, sleek and silky pinot, complex cabernet (with merlot and cab franc), and a rich mouthful of merlot. Strong’s successors, Tom Klein and Rick Sayre, still believe in those appellations and insist on regional character in each wine, from the most affordable to the priciest single-vineyard bottles. Pinot noir comes from the cool of the Russian River while the cab and merlot are from Sonoma County and show that lush palate feel. Rodney Strong wasn’t the first bonded winery in Sonoma, but he was the 13th! Can you imagine? Only 13 wineries in Sonoma! Glad this one stayed.