How Clos Pegase Changed My Life

(Well, my opinion of California chardonnay at least)

“I love where chardonnays are going today,” Napa Valley (Calif.) winemaker Florencia Palmaz says. The Amalia chard (named for her mother) started as a mere side project at the Palmaz winery; now, you’re lucky if you can wrestle a bottle away from her wine club members. The California chardonnay pendulum is swinging back toward center, she explained to me, returning from the overly rich, über-oaked ‘80s and ‘90s. And the steely, flinty, sternly un-oaked Chablis-style chards I fell for in the early aughts were a rough antithesis. But this emerging middle explains the revelation I’d had the day before I talked with her in Napa. Until recently, when I thought of California Chardonnay my shell-shocked taste buds would conjure up images of oak chips, imitation vanilla extract, and butter and toast. I’d wince and whiz by that aisle in the wine store to get to the citrusy sauvignon blancs. So imagine my surprise when, on that recent trip, I found myself enjoying—nay, utterly delighting—in a bright and lively California chardonnay. Cultivated in cool little patch of Carneros that mirrors Burgundian chard country, Clos Pegase Winery’s Mitsuko Vineyard consists of 365 acres, one for every day of the year owner Jan Shrem loved his wife, the late Mitsuko Shrem. The 2008 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay offers peach, pear, nectarine and other stone fruits on the nose and a hint of lemon zest and smoky oak. It is oaked (eight months in 31 percent new French oak) only so as to complement the estate fruit, Clos Pegase winemaker Richard Sowalsky says. Mitsuko’s Vineyard also puts forth great pinot noir, too, but this drinkable gem is really the bread and butter.