The Alma Rosa 2006 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is the entry level Chardonnay of Richard Sanford's new venture following the breakdown of his partnership in his namesake Sanford Winery. I picked this out for my parents since they were visiting and I wanted to share a nice, but not overly expensive example of what California Chardonnay can be in the hands of a producer who is sensitive to his terroir and the expression of his fruit. Basically, this is Chardonnay for the Chard Oh No! crowd. Incidentally, this also turned out to be Wine Enthusiast's #4 wine of 2008, garnering a stratospheric rating of 94 points.
As much as I love Alma Rosa, I didn't enjoy this wine enough to agree with Wine Spectator's appraisal. That said, this was an excellent Chardonnay produced in a style nearly opposite that of the ultra-creamy, buttery, smoke and vanilla style. It's a very rich, round fruit forward style, but not an overdone wine that bears little resemblance to the fruit from which it was born. The ABV is a moderate (for California) 14.1% and doesn't show through at all. The bouquet had just a hint of smoke and vanilla in the background behind layers of tropical fruit. Think pineapple with a little mandarin orange. The acidity (which was preserved by foregoing malolactic fermentation) was nonetheless firm and served as a nice counterbalance to the opulence of the fruit. The only quality keeping me from adoring this wine was a little awkward bitter tang on the finish.
The bottle actually lasted to a second day. Sadly, the wonderfully hedonistic attack had mellowed significantly to a more mineral quality and the bitterness on the finish was more pronounced. However, the bouquet had evolved to reveal an intense honeysuckle aroma almost reminiscent of a Viognier. I preferred the day one profile, but there was enough stuffing there to allow some interesting evolution once open. All said, I think I prefer the 2007 vintage, which I tasted recently at the winery. The '07 has a pH of 3.12, significantly lower than the 3.44 pH the '06 vintage sports, and I think I liked the more muscular mineral quality of the current vintage. Regardless of vintage, this is definitely one I'd recommend, especially since it'll set you back less than an Andrew Jackson.
Note: Yes, the bottle has a screw cap, or more correctly, a Stelvin closure. Screw caps have a bad reputation, but don't taint wine with TCA like cork, are better for the environment, and seal more effectively than other synthetic closures. So get over it; you'll be seeing a lot more premium wine with a screw cap in the near future.
Price: $17.50 from Vinhus in Solvang