The White Queen by Wonderland Project, Chardonnay Sonoma County, California 2014

There are still plenty of California Chardonnay drinkers out there who want “big and buttery,” and they don’t care who knows it. That’s cool with me, I’m not judging—I just don’t want that personally. I prefer more brightness and freshness. Obviously, it’s wrong to typecast California Chardonnay these days, as it is actually a quite diverse and exciting category, but at the lower end of the price spectrum, I encounter more sweetness/butter than the opposite. Enter Matt Ahern, a seasoned sommelier and wine sales pro whose mission in starting his Wonderland Project was to create affordable California Chardonnay that he, himself “wanted to drink.” In the case of today’s 2014 “White Queen,” it means lively, mineral, minimally oaked Chardonnay with no shortage of depth—but no excess of extract or sweetness. This is Chardonnay I want to drink, too, and if your tastes run to the cleaner, crisper end of the Chardonnay spectrum (Puligny, Chablis, etc.), I’d highly recommend picking some up. At this price-point, there is nothing like it on the market.

Matt had restaurant by-the-glass programs at top restaurants in mind when conceiving The White Queen. So many people order “a glass of Chardonnay” without giving it any thought, and how often, if ever, is it something memorable? Not very often. The White Queen is meant to change that, with an emphasis on balance, energy, and, interestingly enough, moderation. There are a lot of “show” wines out there that are just too plodding, too ponderous—you’re done after one glass. Matt’s wine is about refreshment, varietal purity, and the enlivening, not deadening, of the palate.

Named for a character in the Alice in Wonderland sequel Through the Looking-Glass, The White Queen carries a Sonoma County appellation but is sourced almost entirely from organic vines in cool Carneros. It was fermented using only native yeasts in stainless steel, then aged 7 months in mostly stainless steel; a bit of neutral French oak; but no new French oak whatsoever. The alcohol is a modest 13.2%, the oak expressed as sweet cream (not buttered toast), and the acidity is bright and snappy with zesty lemon notes. I even get a little mineral grip here, an unusual bonus given the loamy soils of Carneros.

There’s a Chablis-meets-Sonoma-Coast vibe going on here: In the glass it’s a vibrant yellow-gold, and the nose is all about fresh, fruity scents of lemon zest, peach pit, bosc pear, and green apple. On the palate there’s creamy texture and good weight but a barely perceptible wood influence. There’s a tension to the wine that keeps you engaged over the course of a few glasses, which is the point. It’s a perfect not-too-light white for apéritifs or to have in quantity for a way-above-average pour at a larger party. As I write this, it’s Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area, so here’s a preparation this wine would really sing with (from O.G. Master Sommelier Larry Stone no less!). Enjoy!

“At this price-point, there is nothing like it on the market.”

SommSelect: The White Queen by Wonderland Project, Chardonnay Sonoma County, California 2014 - SommSelect

Country United States
Region California
Sub-Region Sonoma County
Varietal Chardonnay
Production 800 cases
Alcohol 13.5%
Oak Neutral French Oak and Stainless Steel
Soil Black Wright Loam
Farming Organic