2009 Cakebread Chardonnay – Modernizing a classic $34.95
February 2, 2011 High End Values
Cakebread is probably the most famous name in domestic Chardonnay. It’s the wine business people drop $100+ on at restaurants when they are trying to impress clients and the wine I buy to celebrate my wife’s birthday. The Cakebread name is synonymous with luxury and quality. When you order Cakebread, you know you are going to get a great Chardonnay with remarkable consistency from vintage to vintage.
So when I opened a bottle of Cakebread’s 2009 Chardonnay to celebrate a friend’s engagement, I was a little surprised at what I tasted. Not because the quality was anything different- the wine was fantastic. I was surprised because what I tasted was a departure, although not a dramatic one, from the rich, oaky style Cakebread is known (and sometimes criticized) for. As one who enjoys both citrus focused stainless steel Chardonnay and the buttery, oak and honey focused barrel aged version, I won’t get into the debate about which style is better. Wondering if my taster was off, I emailed Dennis Cakebread, who has been nice enough to contribute his thoughts in the past, to see if he could offer any insight.
He confirmed my observations that the ’09 had less oak, saying “We did back off on the amount of new oak used as we noticed the ’08 was more oak focused than we prefer”. But what I perceived as less malolactic fermentation (turning crisp citric acid to buttery lactic acid), was more a function of a culmination of factors than a change in winemaking style.
Cakebread (the man not the wine) said “The 2009 has about 7% malo while the 2008 actually had no malo. A lot has to do with the growing season and how the acids and pH’s come together”. He goes on to cite variations in “growing season, crop size, berry size, cluster weights, weather just before harvest, how even was the set, how was the spring, was the winter wet, when in the growing season did we get heat spikes” as factors contributing to the overall style. Make no mistake about it, Cakebread is still making rich, complex Chardonnay that many consider to the the benchmark of the varietal in the U.S. Consider the 2009 vintage a small step toward satisfying emerging trends while still sticking to their overall winemaking ideals. This vintage is absolutely another in a long line of Cakebread fantastic Chardonnay. If you haven’t tried Cakebread in a while, maybe it’s time to give it another shot. If you have always enjoyed the wine, as I have, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the updated style.
Special thanks to Dennis Cakebread for his commentary for our readers.