The top Chardonnay every year is named after Stephen Hansel’s mother. The 2014 Chardonnay Cuvée Alyce is a field blend of a Hyde and Hudson Old Wente. This vineyard always produces the smallest clusters and tiniest berries and, hence, the richest offering. It’s a stunner in 2014, with a light straw/gold color and terrific notes of pineapple, white peach, honeysuckle and citrus oil. Full-bodied and rich with great acidity, beautiful purity and subtle oak, this is a stunner to drink over the next 7-10 years. (RP) Some of the best values in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir emerge from Stephen Hansel’s winery in the Russian River Valley. He also has the wonderful Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro on Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa. (RP)
The 2014 Chardonnay Cuvée Alyce is the most exuberant of the Hansel Chardonnays. Crème brulee, candied orange peel, apricot jam, spices and butter hit the palate in a deep, exotic wine loaded with personality and class. The Alyce emerges from a parcel planted with Wente and Clone 95 Chardonnay. The new oak here is at the upper end of the range for Hansel. It is so refreshing to taste with proprietor Stephen Hansel. At a time when so many of the world's best wines are increasingly unaffordable for the normal consumer, Hansel has kept his prices decidedly reasonable. As I have written before, Hansel's wines epitomize what the Russian River does so well; namely rich, butter Chardonnays and forward, juicy Pinots. Hansel reports that his vines set a very large crop in 2014, so he reduced yields by 20-30% for Chardonnays and as much as 60% for the Pinots. The results are in the glass, especially in 2014, which is so strong for Pinot. Hansel captured every bit of that magic with a range of striking Pinots that are among the best I have ever tasted here. During my January trip I also enjoyed a delicious meal at the Walter Hansel Wine & Bistro, a California version of a classic French bistro. The food was delicious, but more than the cooking I was struck by an old-fashioned sense of warmth and hospitality that I have not seen in a restaurant in a very long time. Everything about Walter Hansel Winery speaks to class. (AG)
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