Another winning wine from Chateau St Jean

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Extra textured: The Chateau St Jean 2009 Chardonnay is from award-winning winemaker Margo Van Staaveren, whose wines emphasize expressing texture and intensity. | Photo by Mary Compton

Margo Van Staaveren, winemaker from Chateau St Jean Winery in Sonoma Valley, came through Chicago last weekend for the Wine Spectator presentation at Navy Pier. I had an opportunity to strike up a conversation with Margo and share her insights along with a tasting of her recent releases.

Named “Winemaker of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast in 2008, Margo is intelligent and remains humble. She has compiled over three decades of experience at the same winery giving her a competitive advantage and a thorough understanding of the components and personality of each vineyard site. Her emphasis is on expressing texture and intensity in her wines.

Among her new releases is the new 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, which has the ideal balance of buttery and toasty mineral components. Fresh, aromatic and not flabby, but well defined and precise for a Chardonnay. The 2011 Chateau St Jean Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is another recent addition to their portfolio with the fruit coming from the lower edges of Sonoma Coast where it overlaps into the cooler regions of Carneros. The fruit is dark with pretty brown spice notes and incense.

Chateau St Jean has a propriety red blend called Cinq Cepages, referring to the five Bordeaux varietals that compose the wine. The first vintage was introduced in 1990 by Van Staaveren and the 1996 vintage was nominated as Wine Spectators “Wine of the Year.” Since that time there have been many noteworthy releases but none as significant as the recent 2009 Cinq Cepages which may surpass the accolades of the 1996. Purple, vibrant and exotic with silky boysenberry nuisances that caress your palate at every point.

Early on, Chateau St. Jean established its reputation with single vineyard designated Chardonnay, with the Belle Terre and Robert Young Vineyards being among their most prized possessions. The Belle Terre Vineyard Chardonnay is stylistically different from the more masculine expression of the Robert Young. The 2009 Belle Terre Vineyards Chardonnay undergoes 100 percent malolactic fermentation and is aged in small French Oak barrels. This exquisite Chardonnay is intertwined with sweet layers of vanilla, buttery mango fruit and a touch of hazelnut. This wine is reminiscent of vanilla glazed pear strudel, but it still remains long on balance and freshness. It one of those wines where the interest factor is high and it can keep your attention throughout the entire meal.

Suggested Retail: $24.99

W. Peter Hoyne has been a wine journalist for over 20 years, covering stories of national and international significance. While his professional relationships in the wine industry have allowed him to share a unique perspective of wine, he is also intrigued by the culinary aspect and harmony that exist between wine and food. As a wine advocate, he is committed to consumer education and is focused on upcoming trends and American wine-buying habits.