The Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 is sourced from grapes taken from vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA – inside the Monterey AVA, which is in turn inside the Central Coast AVA. Got that? It is located in a valley off of Monterey Bay in a climate dominated by cool Pacific Ocean breezes. One thing that makes the Harken chardonnay stand out is that it is barrel fermented.
Most Chardonnays in this price range ($15 or so) are oak barrel aged not oak barrel fermented. The vast majority are fermented in stainless steel tanks. Stainless steel tanks have been around since the fifties – they are long-lasting, easy to clean and sanitize, and are cost-effective. Oak barrels on the other hand can be expensive – $1,000 a piece and you get a barrel with wood grain and nooks & crannies for bacteria to hide – and if you are using them to impart oak flavoring, they can only be used up to maybe 5 times!
Oak barrel fermenting was how wine was made pre-1950, though they sometimes used cement tanks. Barrel fermenting is a more difficult and involved technique than stainless steel fermenting, but there are advantages. For one: the oak influence seems to be more integrated – more a part of the wine rather than just a flavoring. And 2: barrels allow evaporation which intensifies the flavors. So the Harken Chardonnay is a taste of how chardonnay was made before stainless steel came into wine making.
This Chardonnay also underwent malolactic fermentation which changes the natural acid from tart tasting acid to more rounded tasting acid, the smoother acidity pairs well with the oak influence from barrel fermentation and aging. It was also aged for an additional 7 months in 80% and 20% French barrels. The alcohol content is 13.5%.
The color is a pale yellow with a slight golden tint. The nose is lemon custard, caramel apple, and hints of pear and vanilla. This is a medium-bodied, slightly complicated-tasting chardonnay which is at times both smooth and tart. It tastes of green apple, a mix of lemons and limes, smooth vanilla, beech, and melon. The mid-palate has crème brûlée, a touch of butterscotch hard candy, and a slight salty sensation. The acidity is well-balanced by the body of the wine, and the finish is full and lengthy.
The Harken Chardonnay 2015 has a flavor profile that is different from any other chardonnay that I can remember tasting! It is very delicious and while it will work as a food wine there is enough going on in your glass that you won’t miss the food if you drink it alone. The oak influence is well-integrated and seamlessly incorporated into the flavor profile. If this wine is an example of how wine used to be then old-time chardonnay was really, really good!