For Me, Sonoma Starts with Tongue Dancer

As I write this post, I am in the process of planning a trip back out to Sonoma at the end of March. Unlike most visitors to the region, I imagine, when I visit a wine region I try my hardest to not cram in as much as I possibly can. I strive to visit one or two wineries a day. That’s it. But I do make those visits “count” as much as I can, looking for stories and connections over tasting another handful of wines.

Again on this trip, I am starting with the “musts” and then fill in a few other stops to round out my schedule. At the top of the “must visit” list is Tongue Dancer Wines in Healdsburg. I have written more about the fantastic team of James and Kerry MacPhail than any other tandem in wine, but there is a reason: they make fantastic wines and are both fantastic people.

My calculus is simple. With limited time and budget, I prefer to spend both with people that make my world a brighter place and the MacPhails certainly fit that bill.

A couple of months ago, they sent me four Chardonnays to review. As I mention in the notes that follow, I consider James one of the top producers of Chardonnay in Sonoma County and the fact that he now makes five just puts me over the moon.

These wines are only available through the winery ( for the most part, and while not inexpensive, certainly represent some of the best value in California Chardonnay today. They are that good.

2020 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $45. Big ass bottle. Under cork. A second bottle of this wine I received from Tongue Dancer. I should have saved this and added it to my cellar, but I wasn’t thinking–my Eagles had just lost a Super Bowl they should have won and I needed consolation. What better consolation than Tongue Dancer? My notes from the first bottle still ring true: At my age, the number of times I actually get “excited” is limited. Even close to non-existent. Been there. Done that. But when the wonderful folks at Tongue Dancer come out with a new wine. And that wine is a Chardonnay? Yeah. Giddy-up. While I am not crazy about the weight of the bottle, the wine? Gangbusters. Lovely lemon curd with a hint of oak on the nose, impeccable balance (great fruit, intense zinginess, just the right amount of oak), and a lengthy finish. Yet another winner from the Tongue Dancer team (and one more chardonnay to buy by the case)! Outstanding. 93 Points.

2020 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $42. Heavy bottle. This is now the second bottle I have tried of this wine and, well, where to start? It is amazing, and my previous notes are precise. It also cements in my mind that Tongue Dancer is making the best Chardonnays in Sonoma and they rate among the best in the state. Also? They are woefully underpriced (Pro tip: buy, buy, buy before they wisen up). My previous notes: It has been several years now that I have sampled Tongue Dancer Wines but it always feels like Christmas morning when I get to pop a cork from what has become perhaps my favorite Sonoma producer. Considerable color in the glass as I would consider it more “yellow” than “straw” with lemon meringue and a touch of vanilla on the nose. The palate is, no surprise, impeccably balanced with a brilliant acidity equalling out the fruit. The oak, while present, is certainly in the background here with only a hint coming through on the finish. Another Outstanding wine from TDW. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2020 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. Under cork. Lighter bottle than in previous vintages #Kudos. This is now the fifth consecutive vintage of this wine I have now tried and each one has impressed. Straw color in the glass with plenty of lemon curd, a touch of oak, vanilla, and hazelnut. The palate is rich, layered, luscious, and balanced. As with all of the wines made by James MacPhail, this wine is just that, wonderfully balanced. Sure, it might seem a bit bigger and richer than previous Chards he has made from the Bacigalupi Vineyard, but make no mistake, this is impeccably balanced and a beautiful wine. Outstanding. 94 Points.

2020 Tongue Dancer Chardonnay Pratt Vine Hill, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. Under cork. I have known James and Kerry MacPhail since the Spring of 2015 (I just checked) and in the subsequent (nearly) eight years, I have tasted several vintages and visited the winery at least a handful of times. At some point, I stated that while James considers himself a Pinot-whisperer (my term, not his), his Chardonnays might actually be better. At the time that I made that assertion (maybe in 2017?), I am pretty sure Tongue Dancer had just two Chardonnays. Both were stellar, mind you, but that was it. Two. Now? By my count (which is suspect since I was only a math minor in college), they now have five and I think I need to start taking credit for that. This Pratt-Vine Hill Road is yet another new wine for the brand and it is simply amazing. 100% of everything (whole cluster press, barrel fermentation, French oak [33% new], malolactic fermentation) and holy mother of Jesus. One of the other “newer” releases is the “Ultra” and I thought that sat at the apex of Sonoma Chardonnay. Well, it might have to move over and share the stage with this Vine Hill Road. Luscious fruit and subtle oak on the nose with vanilla, white acacia flower, and a distinct macadamia nut in the background. Whoa. The palate, as hard as it is to believe, is even better. Rich fruit in an intricate tango (see what I did there?) with tartness, layers of complexity, and an endless finish. I could go on for quite some time. Sensational. I think I need to try this alongside the Ultra with some seafood risotto. Does anyone want to join me? Oh and James? Your Pinots are killer, but your Chards? To die for. Extraordinary. 97 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.
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