When it comes to his white wines, Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael, typically eschews oak to preserve the natural flavors of the grapes. Both his stainless steel chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are perennial favorites and are terrific spring and summer sippers.
But, after a 2006 growing season that was cooler than 2005 and was marked by a lot of overcast days and higher-than-average levels of rain, Rich decided to make his first barrel-fermented chardonnay at Raphael. He didn't make much though, only four new French barrels worth.
All told, the wine spent five months in those barrels. He stirred the lees every week and the wine completed malolactic fermentation in barrel. It was bottled unfiltered and unfined.
This is still an extremely young wine, so it wasn't too surprising that the nose was taut at first, not wanting to give up much. But, as it warmed a bit and I swirled it in the glass, light lemony-citrus aromas mingled with minerally salt air, a faint floral note. The oak is barely perceptible on the nose with only the slightest hints vanilla.
The medium-bodied palate is a bit Chablis-like to me, rather than the richer Burgundian style many local winemakers shoot for. The flavors range from lemon zest to tangerines to green apple with minerals in the background and, again, just the faintest oak character, which comes through as vanilla and toffee. Plenty of acidity provides structure and keeps the wine lively. The finish lingers and is lightly tart. This wine's best days are certainly ahead, but it's drinking well now too.