Wednesday Winery Spotlight: Tongue Dancer Wines

At the last moment, I decided to split this post up into at least three shorter posts (it was really long), with Part 2 planned for next week.

Today, I finally delve into the conversation I had with James and Kerry (aka “the Rockstar”) MacPhail way back at the end of May. I only met them a few years ago, but they have become (I think) friends (I was going to say “good friends” but that might be a bit presumptuous) and some of the select few that I want to visit anytime I am in Sonoma County (there is a big difference between “want” and “need”).

I won’t say too much more since I feel the tasting notes and videos are pretty spot on (and the videos have moments of hilarity, vulgarity, and, well, stupidity–on my part) other than this, and pay close attention:

If you like, even a little bit, either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, and need to be on Tongue Dancer’s mailing list (they do not have a “club” so there is not a commitment). Believe me. I am on it and I have not been on a club list in well over a decade and a half.

They’re that good.

Let’s start with an introduction:

Next. I ask James and Kerry about their relationship with their previous brand (where James certainly made his name as a winemaker), MacPhail Family Wines (I am not sure, but an animal might be killing another during this clip):

Moving on, I ask them about the name. “Tongue Dancer” since I get more than my fair share of questions about the name of this blog (again, more animal sounds to spice the conversation):

2008 was a pivotal year for a ton of folks, not the least of which James, who met Kerry. And she is one of my favorite humans (nice work James, way to “marry up” and join the group–I am a founding member):

After some more (mostly) witty banter, we delve into the Pratt Chardonnay, which has been a part of the Tongue Dancer portfolio since 2017. James starts by stating he isn’t trying to make a Chablis:

In this segment (which is a little longer), James geeks out a bit about how the Pratt Vineyard and the process he uses to make this incredible wine:

I have tasted each of the iterations of the Tongue Dancer Chardonnay thus far (I think the 2020 is set to be released soon?) and here are the notes on each. (By the way, I have one more bottle of the 2017 and three of the 2018 if anyone wants to come over….)


2017 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. (Tasted 10/20/2019–our anniversary) OK. Full disclosure. I consider James and Kerry Forbes MacPhail friends. We have been known to email, instant message, text. I would like to think that despite our “relationship” I remain fairly objective. Having said that, this is good. Very Good. Excellent. Outstanding. Maybe more. Pale straw in the glass with lemon, a bit of vanilla, and ripe green apple. The palate? Whoa. I spent a bit of time trying to determine if this is more Chassagne or Puligny (or maybe Corton Grand Cru?). Regardless, this is baller, gangster, and/or killer depending on your generational bent. Simply? Whoa. And that is an objective assertion (I’m pretty sure). Outstanding. 94 Points.

2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. (Tasted 7/26/2020 and 3/21/2021) I have never asked him (but I guess I should), but I think James MacPhail likely considers Pinot Noir to be his “wheelhouse.” And for good reason: his red wines are succulent and rich but also nuanced and balanced. But. I think his Chardonnays are even better. It took me a while to be introduced to James and Kerry MacPhail (which is odd given my affinity for Pinot), but since that first tasting a few years ago, I have become an unabashed fan. Sure, they are witty, engaging, passionate, and fun people to be around, but the wines, oh the wines. This Pratt Vineyard wine I would place right up there with the top Chardonnays not just in California, but Oregon, even France (yeah, I went there). Light in color, but rich in aromas of lemon curd, Bosc pear, and vanilla, on the palate this wine is reminiscent of a Grand or Premier Cru Chablis or even Montrachet. This is a study in tension. Sure, it is rich, luscious, and decadent, but it is also subtle, nuanced, and balanced. While this wine is certainly gorgeous now, I feel that I opened it far too soon and it could easily go another 5-8 years, no problem. As white Burgundy prices continue to climb up into the rafters and through the roof, this wine, at just north of $40 is not only a more economical decision, it is likely a better wine. Whoa. Outstanding. 95-96 Points. (I have tasted this wine twice now.)

2019 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. B.A.B. OK, all cards on the table, I consider the MacPhails friends. But I also know that they would only want me to “keep it real” when assessing the wines. Whoa. This is real. As in the best Tongue Dancer Pratt Chard (Ok, it’s the third such wine, but still). Fairly light in the glass, this wine has a rather masterful touch: it is expressive both of the nose and the palate with luscious fruit, balancing acidity, and, well, tons of verve. Yeah, I am friends with the winemaking team, but this is balls-to-the-walls kind of stuff. But it is also reserved. And balanced. This is the brilliance of James MacPhail, he coaxes out optimum fruit. Full stop. But. There is so much more to James’ wines. Yes, it is easy to be lost in the fruit, but the acidity, the balance, the finesse. Yes, this is reminiscent of a Chablis, but it it also true to its Russian River Valley roots: celebrate the fruit while recognizing the homage to Burgundy. Whoa (again). Outstanding. 95 Points.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Wine, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

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