1995 Kalin Cuvee D 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.


Most of us would only open a 20-year old California Chardonnay with trepidation, but the 1995 is the current release of Kalin’s Cuvée D. Unlike almost all California winemakers, Terry Leighton prefers to hold his wines back until they show the nuances of aroma and flavor that develop over time. “D” refers to Dutton Ranch, one of the earliest vineyards planted on the Sonoma Coast. The cool and foggy coastal climate, combined with limestone and shale sub-soil, results in low yields of exceptional fruit. Despite 23 years of bottle age, the nose is intense, with notes of apple tart, butterscotch, ground cinnamon, and roasted almonds. On the palate, it feels fresh and energetic, full with crisp acidity that carries the flavors long into the finish. Pair this wine with savory dishes, such as grilled or seared shellfish, roast chicken or dishes that include wild mushrooms. 


Fermented in 50% new French oak for 11 months; bottled without filtration.

Tasting notes

Deep golden color; aromas of butterscotch, baked apple, dried fruits, spices and nuts swirl from the glass. A sip expands into layers of flavor – candied fruit, citrus, butter, cinammon, toasted almonds. The mature flavors are balanced by zesty acidity that keeps the wine lively and energetic. 


Sonoma County