River Road Family Vineyards is a collection of uncomplicated California-appellated wines from Sonoma County winemaker Ron Rubin. Designed with affordability in mind, the wines span the range of California’s wine styles. Today we look exclusively at a trio of chardonnays, made in three different styles, and all well under $20.
2020 River Road Un-Oaked Chardonnay California – Brightly fruity, almost sweet at times, with unusual tropical notes that run to guava and papaya, layered atop a baked apple core. Altogether it’s a bit doughy with some pastry cream elements lingering on the finish, though here a citrusy sweetness and a sharper gooseberry note both also linger. B / $15
2020 River Road Un-Oaked Chardonnay Reserve Sur Lie Aged California – Aged on the lees, this is quite a more powerful expression of chardonnay, plump with notes of vanilla and brighter, but still baked, apple fruit. It still has the same tart stone fruit, hints of tropical fruit, and a coconut-like gooseberry note on the back end, but the body is considerably fuller and creamier, with a lengthy, fruit-forward finish. B+ / $17
2019 River Road Double Oaked Chardonnay – The name refers not to twice the time in oak but rather the use of two types of oak barrels — a combination of French and American oak (which really isn’t that unusual). That said, while this may not be “double oaked,” it’s certainly well oaked no matter how you slice it. Aggressive notes of vanilla, candied peaches, and lemon-infused pancake syrup are all effusive on the palate. Notes of pineapple and lychee come into focus as the sweet, wood-heavy wine’s finish emerges, but none of this ever finds much of a sense of balance, ending up with a thud as a strange mushroom note comes into focus. So, so weird. C- / $17