At the last moment, I decided to split this post up into at least three shorter posts (it was really long), with Part 1 published last week and Part 3 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 today with Kerry talking about what it takes to be a successful team with your spouse:
Next. I present James with a theory: that most winemakers who make great Pinot Noir also make great Chardonnay. But. Many of those producers see Chardonnay as a blond-headed stepchild to a certain extent (I wanted to use “red-headed stepchild” but opted for “blond” for hopefully obvious reasons. Yeas I know this weakens the comment, but let’s move on):
That quickly evolved into a discussion about James’ feeling the Chardonnay is (or at least should) be considered as an equally serious wine as Pinot Noir (or any other variety, for that matter):
Then we moved on to the Bacigalupi Vineyard, which has to be considered one of this country’s top sites for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. James and Kerry have been getting fruit from the vineyard since the 2015 vintage and I feel like the Tongue Dancer wines have certainly evolved, even over such a short period.
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….)
2016 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. (Tasted 11/9/2019) James MacPhail is a study in contrast. Shy, quiet, and seemingly avoiding attention, his wines are big, boisterous, and in your face. This Chardonnay certainly fits with that description as it is rich, fleshy, and explosive. While there is oak, it is held in check, or perhaps more accurately, the oak is overwhelmed by the fruit. Golden in the glass with intense lemon curd oozing over the rim. That fruit is the story past the lips, but there is also ample acidity and depth. Whoa. While this wine could not be much further from James’ rather demure demeanor, it does more closely match his wife Kerry’s personality—bold but never brash, fun and fresh, but never flippant. Hmmm. Am I on to something here? Outstanding. 93 Points.
2017 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. (Tasted 6/27/2020 [corked] and 6/3/2021) B.A.B. Well, I first tasted this wine in November and it was, well, corked. The fine rock star at Tongue Dancer, Kerry MacPhail, sent me another bottle. On so many levels I am glad she did. First of all, this wine is fantastic, second, it reaffirms my love for the brand, and third, I realize that corked wines are still very much an issue, one that needs to be constantly addressed until solved. This wine? Whoa. A slight golden hue to the otherwise straw-colored wine that exudes lemon curd, vanilla, oak. The palate is incredibly balanced with that citrus goodness, intense tartness, a pesky minerality, and subtle & integrated oak. This is more of a “traditional California Chard” than it is a “modern” one, but it is also reminiscent of a 1er Cru Meursault: rich, intense, but far from over-the-top. Whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $50. B.A.B. I would imagine that there are a handful of moments in one’s life where one can truly make a mark and by far, most of those moments are squandered. One such instance was tonight. I was on a Zoom call with James and Kerry MacPhail, makers of this 2018 Bacigalupi Chardonnay and I punted. Whiffed. Gutter-balled. Here I was with one of Sonoma County’s premier Chardonnay (yes, Chardonnay) producers (he would claim “premier Pinot producer” but whatever) and I failed to say: “Um, holy cow, whoa. W.T.F.?” Yeah. That was horrible. Perhaps it was better that I remain silent in the presence of (near) perfection. Golden in the glass, unctuous on the nose (lemon curd, vanilla, slight hints of oak, full-blown Whoa), and a “more-gasm” (Google it) on the palate. There are few wines on the market that hit the trifecta: true to the variety, exceed expectations, and blow away the competition, but here we are. While I stated in our chat that this is an homage to Meursault, it is really at the apex of Chardonnay. This is a “holy-mother-of-god” kinda wine. Extraordinary. 97 Points.
The following wine we did not talk about during our Zoom, but why should we? There were only 25 cases, a mere 300 bottles made. But we should have talked about it since, well, holy crap. The best Chardonnay I have tasted this year (and probably longer, but if I took the time to look, I would not publish this article until likely next year). If you needed yet another reason to join the TDC wine list, it is to gain access to wines like this.
2018 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Ultra, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $95. One barrel. 25 cases. That’s it. 50% Quail Hill Vineyard (Rued clone), 50% Bacigalupi Vineyard (Old Wente clone). A Really Big. Ass. Bottle. (A.R.B.A.B.) Whoa. I have been sitting on this wine since I received it back in November, not sure when to open it. Yes, it is a sample, but it is an ultra-exclusive wine (see what I did there?) from one of Sonoma’s Ultra-exclusive (I did it again) wineries (Kerry and James MacPhail would take exception to that characterization, but this is my blog and they do not get a vote). Tonight was the night–swordfish sous-vide with a lemon caper basil butter sauce seemed about right. It was, but it didn’t matter as this wine stole the evening. The nose is a bit shy initially, but there are eventually hints of citrus, ripe Bosc pear, subtle vanilla bean, and a touch of white pepper. Whoa. On the palate, quite frankly, I expected more. James MacPhail is not one to shy away from a big, full-throttle (albeit while incredibly balanced) Chardonnay or Pinot, but this is not that. No, this is delicate, introspective, dare I say “reserved”? Yes, while James’ other Chards seem to have gone the hedonistic, rich, Meursault-like route, this is far more subtle, demonstrating his deft hand that is often hidden behind all that muscle. It would be too simple to state this was more Chablisien in nature, and while that certainly is true, there is also a richness, a weight, that often is difficult to find in the northernmost region of Burgundy. Instead, as with most of James’ wines, I find it a combination: the subtleness of Chablis, the richness of Montrachet, and the sunshine that is Sonoma. I say this so often, that I risk cliché, but Bravo James, Bravo. Extraordinary. 98 Points.