Critical Acclaim

THE WINE ADVOCATE, Lisa Perrotti-Brown

November 2019

“There is a trade-off,” Alex Kongsgaard told me when I asked he and his father, John, about the benefits of their extended barrel age regime for the Chardonnays. “With more time in barrel, the wine gains more complexity. But if you go too far, then you overwhelm the terroir. The place becomes less transparent. For us, there’s a sweet spot. We like to have the fruit at the background. Our wine has enough inherent structure that it thrives on that. The terroir gives it the structure so that it can take more and more in terms of natural fermentation, long elevage, etc.” Robert Parker once called Kongsgaard’s technique “The Death & The Resurrection.” Clearly, it works—these classically forged Chardonnays are consistently jaw-droppingly incredible. The 2017s and 2018s couldn’t get more different in terms of styles, but The Judge vineyard’s signature clearly, impactfully, beautifully shines through. I can’t recommend these wines highly enough.

Wines tasted from barrel are scored in parenthesis:

2018 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2018 Chardonnay The Judge (a barrel sample) leaps from the glass with vivacious notes of mandarin peel, lemongrass and lime leaves with a core of fresh pink grapefruit, green guava and apple blossom plus wafts of shaved almonds and wet pebbles. Full-bodied, the palate delivers a powerful core of tropical fruit and savory layers with a lively line of freshness and a pleasantly oily texture, finishing long and zesty. Very pure, very delineated and wonderfully chalky at the very end. (97-99+) points

2018 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
A barrel sample, the 2018 Chardonnay bursts from the glass with bold notes of warm peaches, spiced pears and applesauce with hints of candied ginger, honeycomb and lime cordial. Medium to full-bodied, the palate has electric intensity, with a refreshing line of racy acid cutting through the tightly wound stone fruit and spicy layers, finishing long and honey laced. (93-95) points

2018 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
A barrel sample, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon features a deep garnet-purple, singing on the nose of freshly crushed black cherries, black berry pie and warm plums over a core of cassis and pencil lead plus nuances of violets, cinnamon stick and underbrush. Medium to full-bodied, the palate delivers mouth-coating, crunchy black fruit with a firm backbone of ripe, grainy tannins and just enough freshness, finishing long and spicy. (93-95) points

2018 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
Deep garnet-purple colored, the 2018 Syrah Hudson Vineyard barrel sample explodes form the glass with an incredible array of classic Syrah notes: black cherries, black plums, blackberries and licorice with hints of garrigue, tar, bouquet garni and bacon fat. Full-bodied, the palate is equally atomic, with bags of expressive black fruits and meaty/peppery hints framed by ripe, rounded tannins, finishing long, refreshing and oh-so-spicy. (97-99+) points

The following wines were tasted from bottle:

2017 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge Napa Valley
The 2017 Chardonnay The Judge prances out of the glass with flamboyant notes of baked pineapple, green mango, apricot preserves and nutmeg with underlying nuances of sea spray, lime blossoms, yuzu, almond croissant and crushed rocks plus a waft of beeswax. Full-bodied, the palate is charged with amazing energy, featuring loads of tightly knit layers and a scintillating backbone of freshness, finishing with decadent creaminess and with that lingering “The Judge” mineral signature coming through at the very tail end. 100 points

2017 Kongsgaard Chardonnay Napa Valley
Bottled in June 2018, the 2016 Chardonnay opens with decadent nectarine, spiced pears and apple pie scents with hints of lemon tart, orange blossoms and candied ginger plus a waft of marzipan. Full-bodied and rich, with a lovely satiny texture, it has a seamless line of freshness and tons of citrus and stone layers on the finish. 97 points

2017 Kongsgaard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2017 Chardonnay slips sensuously out of the glass with beguiling notions of crème brulee, orange blossoms and lemon curd over a core of apricot tart and pineapple upside down cake plus a waft of marzipan. The full-bodied palate is stacked with exotic fruit and citrus layers, structured by a satiny texture and bold freshness, finishing very, very long. Wow! 96+ points

2017 Kongsgaard Syrah Napa Valley
Deep garnet-purple in color, the 2017 Syrah Hudson Vineyard slides seductively out of the glass with a beautiful perfume of wilted roses, violets and underbrush over a core of Black Forest cake, blueberry pie and plum preserves with hints of chocolate box and star anise. Full-bodied, rich and jam packed with freshness, the palate has a firm line of ripe, plush tannins and bold freshness, finishing very long and fragrant. 97 points

2018 Kongsgaard Viognier Napa Valley
While the Chardonnays go through two years in barrel, the Viognier is bottled after one year to preserve all that wonderful perfume and vibrancy it possesses. Some sad news about Kongsgaard’s Viognier vineyard: After many years of collecting Viognier clones and establishing this vineyard, the 2017 fires swept through here, destroying most of the vines. The vineyard has since been replanted using the surviving clonal material, but this 2018 wine was made just from the surviving vines. Therefore, there is only one barrel of Viognier this year, as opposed to the four barrels that they normally produce. Also worth noting is that from the 2017 vintage, this wine no longer contains any Roussanne and will not do so going forward.
A little closed to begin, the 2018 Viognier soon opens out to fragrant notes of ripe Bosc pears, white peaches and Golden delicious apples with hints of baker’s yeast, dill seed, wet pebbles and lemon drops. Medium to full-bodied, the palate is wonderfully elegant, with a delicately chiseled character and a refreshing line, offering soft-spoken layers of stone fruit and minerals, finishing long and fragrant. You can never really tell with Viognier how it will age, but given this wine’s structure and savory/mineral character, I wouldn’t be surprised if it offers something even more rewarding in 3 to 4+ years. 94 points

2018 Kongsgaard Albariño Napa Valley
As with Kongsgaard’s Viognier, the Albariño is bottled after one year in barrel. This 2018 Albariño comes bounding out of the glass with rambunctious notes of pear tart, lemon meringue pie and apple crumble plus hints of preserved ginger, aniseed, baking bread and acacia honey with a waft of orange peel. The medium-bodied palate has, as usual, fantastic freshness, lifting layer upon layer of citrus and stone-inspired nuances to a very long finish. This is delicious now, but I wouldn’t say there is any rush to drink it. 94 points