There’s a lot to digest here. First of all, it would have been easy for us to dismiss this as another ‘somm label’. You know, famous sommelier decides he can do it better and goes off to create some undernourished wine that ‘pairs well with food’. Only in this case the sommelier in question is one of some repute, Larry Stone, and he partnered with a ‘hall-of-fame’ Burgundy producer, Dominique Lafon. They then hired Thomas Savre, an accomplished young winemaker from Evening Land’s Seven Springs Vineyard and put him to work on the project.
Perhaps even a bigger challenge here is that we are going to talk about an Oregon Chardonnay that sells for around $50. But the performance here was so remarkable that we are thinking about it not as an Oregon Chardonnay, but as a white Burgundy look-alike that, given the cost of ‘real’ white Burgundy these days, actually looks reasonably priced. We know a lot of you are still like we used to be, thinking of Oregon Chardonnay a sea of lean, mediocre juice grown in the wrong location, planted to the wrong clone. There is still a lot of that. But the upswing in quality from those who have reoriented their Chardonnay programs and corrected some of the old mistakes is astounding.
Lingua Franca Chardonnay Bunker Hill 2016 is exclusively from Salem’s Bunker Hill in Eola-Amity, with 20-year-old CH76 vines on pure Nekia soils at an altitude of around 800 feet. It is a west-facing vineyard that is exposed directly to the cooling ocean winds of the Van Duzer corridor (yeah pretty geeky stuff). The name of the winery, Lingua Franca, which is defined as “a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different”, seems an appropriate tongue-in-cheek reference to this ‘Franco-American’ endeavor.
All we can figure is that these guys, who have tasted some of the world’s greatest wines, have figured out a way to make something in the image of a great white Burgundy. No easy task but knowledge is power. The wine has both substance and lift. The aroma is complex with layers of mineral, smoke, herbs, caramel apples, and a faint hint of that hazelnut character we associate with Meursault (or is that power of suggestion?). The wine is intense, long, racy and complex on the palate with a lasting finish of citrus, herbs, and white flowers. There are flinty, mouth-watering mineral notes as well, which we don’t typically associate with Oregon Chardonnay.
All in all this is an impressive glassful and indicates this project is going to turn some heads (the inaugural 2015s got some nice ink from Vinous), and that Oregon is capable of bringing Chardonnay drama when the juice is in the right hands. A good run of vintages probably hasn’t hurt the early success here but, clearly, there is some vision here as well. Talking about $50 domestic Chardonnay typically isn’t our ‘jam’, but exceptions do come along. We highly recommend this one as a breakout kind of effort as well as a darned tasty bottle of serious Chardonnay that deserves attention. Also there’s that whole thing about ‘preconceived notions’…