1995 Kalin Cuvee CH Sonoma County Chardonnay


“Unbelievable wines from an eccentric genius” is how Robert Parker describes the output of Kalin Cellars. Like many who have tasted these libations, Parker is a confirmed “Kalinite.” Beyond a boutique, Kalin Cellars almost qualifies as cult status. Why, “almost?” Because Kalin Cellars is a cult winery in just about every way but price. For such unique and outstanding wines, they are eminently affordable. Microbiologists by profession and winemakers with passion, Terry and Frances Leighton produce around 7,000 cases annually of highly sought after Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon and others. Since the early 1970s, this husband and wife team have followed their own particular path. But, in an industry so dominated by profit-seeking corporations, their artisanal approach seems way out of place. They make wine in Marin County (near but not in Northern California wine country) from grapes they purchase from old - sometimes ancient - vineyards in long forgotten locations such as Livermore (which once was as famous as the Napa Valley) or a corner of the Alexander Valley where a few old Pinot Noir vines still grow. These vineyards feature well-drained soils and cool microclimates. The Leightons make their wines by hand, and very slowly. The fermentation in small “cuves” may last for months - even up to a year. The wines are aged in small, (usually new) French oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtration. The bottles are not released for sale until they’ve been aged for five, ten or more years. The Leighton’s goal is for their wines to be enjoyed in a state of perfect maturity, which, to them, means having developed the flavor of umami. Also known as the elusive “fifth taste,” umami is that mouthwatering, pleasant savory flavor found in soy sauce, cured meats, mushrooms, cheeses, or even vegetables that are at a peak of perfection. Great wines may develop that elusive flavor of umami, but it requires careful winemaking and deliberate aging. Commercial wines made for early release won’t have it. Tasting a Kalin Cellars wine may not make you a Kalinite, but you should be convinced that California can produce wine with the sophistication, elegance and subtle greatness of a French grand cru.


While not a wine for a barbecue or, arguably, even a dinner party, Kalin’s Chardonnay is a wine to smell, savor, and get lost in like a grand novel; after all, it’s a wine with a story to tell! CH stands for Charles Heintz Vineyard, a family-owned property carved out of redwood-forested hills between Sebastopol and the Pacific Ocean that's been farmed for 100 years. While the family provides fruit to many of Sonoma’s illustrious producers, none of them make Chardonnay the way Kalin’s Terry Leighton does. Firstly, he allowed the juice to ferment slowly over 11 months, and then he aged it almost 20 years before release. Despite the age, the wine is remarkably fresh, exhibiting tension between the echoes of primary tropical and citrus fruit and the tertiary aromas and flavors of spiced apple, preserved lemon, dried fruits, almonds, pine nuts, and, of course, dried mushroom-like umami. If you like wines with a bit of oxidation - like the wines of the Jura or well-aged Rioja Blanco — or if you are curious about a style of Chardonnay no other California producer is willing to make, give this wine a try. 


Hand-picked grapes were fermented over 11 months in (50% new) French barrels. After that, the wine was racked and clarified with bentonite and bottled in August 1996.

Tasting notes

Deep yellow. Aromas are rich with dried tropical fruits, lemon zest, browned butter, cinnamon and floral notes. The palate is silky and brisk, showing notes of dried mango, spiced apple, minerals and sage. On the finish, appele tart gives way to hints of butterscotch and saline minerality.


Sonoma County