According to the Web site, the 2006 harvest was allowed to linger on the vine until fully ripe, then the pressed juice was placed in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The stainless steel tanks were cool-fermented, with the goal of protecting the "fruitiness" of the wine, while the rest of the wine was placed in oak barrels (half French, and half American) on the lees, and stirred frequently during the winter. The site then notes "Those lots with higher acidity levels underwent malolactic fermentation," and then the wine from both barrels and tanks were blended before bottling.
The wine is acidic, the much vaunted "green apple taste" is more sharply tannin, with very little fruity quality. The wine is slightly softer than California Chardonnay, but otherwise, I'd have thought this was from California. The Quail line is the lowest tier of Covey Run's , and very much meant as a budget table wine. I suspect that the dual tanks, and the subsequent blending (which honestly reminds me a lot of homogenizing milk), is why this Chardonnay seems to be caught between what I'm beginning to think of a California Chardonnay traditions, and Washington Chardonnay; it's designed to result in a pleasant, almost featureless wine, with very little character of its own but fairly easy to drink. This is very much a Washington equivalent of a budget California Chardonnay.
Horse Heaven Hills is one of the oldest, and best known, Washington appellations.They're east of the Cascade Mountains, which means that they're sheltered from Pacific-driven rain. The vineyards are on southern slopes. The juice from the pressed grapes was reserved in a stainless steel tank at 50 degrees for two days, before 40% was barrel fermented in new American and French oak, and 30% in older oak barrels. 30% of the juice was fermented in stainless steel, with the goal of retaining the mineral quality associated with Horse Heaven Hills. The wines were also subjected to malolactic fermentation, all the barrels were hand-stirred weekly for six to nine months, and then blended before bottling. This process is very similar to the process Columbia Crest used for the lower tier Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay. In terms of Columbia Crest's tiers, H3 is the next the the "highest"; we've found it locally for around $10.00, though the list is $15.00
The H3 Chardonnay was recognizably a relative of the Grand Estates Chardonnay, but it was also more complex. It was vastly changed when accompanied by food; the wine opened up. The "official" description of the wine from Columbia Crest describes the H3 Chardonnay as "Aromatics of slight mineral, apple, pear and caramelized sugar open this elegant, medium-bodied Chardonnay. The balanced palate of pineapple and coconut leads to a seductive, creamy vanilla finish." We did notice the mineral quality, as well as pear and citrus notes, with a very mellow, buttery finish, and we will absolutely be serving Columbia Crest's H3 Chardonnay again with food.
Just for fun, we also tried Columbia Winery's 2006 Chardonnay. It too is a blend of Chardonnay that's been barrel fermented, much of which has had a secondary malolactic fermentation—at this point I'm beginning to wonder if the sharper, more "green apple"quality I associate with California Chardonnay is because California wineries don't generally seem to use malolactic fermentation, while Washington wineries do. This particular Chardonnay is generally tamer, and more quaffable than the others we've tried. It's a good summer sipping wine for a lazy afternoon. It was more reminiscent of pineapple than pear, and very drinkable. It was rather swamped by the food though; though something less dominant than crab and bearnaise sauce might have been fairer to the wine.