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 Filed as : Featured WinemakersPeopleWinemakers

Jess Jackson, Remembered

May 6, 2011
Jess Jackson, Remembered
He defined the lasting style of California Chardonnay--and much more.

jess_jacksonTwo weeks ago the wine world lost Jess Jackson, 81. In his three decades in the wine business Jackson owned 30 brands in different regions around the world. But he's probably best known for Kendall-Jackson and its Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, which has remained immensely popular since its first release in 1982.

Affordable, oaky, buttery and with a touch of sweetness, this wine came to define the Chardonnay style that so many associate with California today. But just as Jackson himself was no one-trick pony (he was a lawyer, racehorse owner and philanthropist), not all his wines conformed to the Vintner's Reserve style. In part because of Jackson, California as a whole offers Chardonnays to suit every palate.

If you like racy, crisp, bright wines, look for unoaked Chardonnays such as Alpha Omega ($30) or St. Supery Oak-Free Chardonnay ($20), both from Napa. We're also particularly fond of Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay ($10) (which was our Wine of the Week on April 15), as well as another iconic brand, Robert Mondavi. All these wines offer the pure flavors of the Chardonnay grape.

Jackson also helped pave the way for the prestige Chardonnays of California--wines that can hold their own against the best from Burgundy due to their fruit weight, acidity and integrated, smoky, toasty oak flavors. Peter Michael, Kistler and Kongsgaard are often heralded as kings of California Chardonnay (and are priced accordingly), but several others cost far less and often taste just as good.

Check out Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' "Karia" 2008 ($30), which has beautiful freshness and smokiness with a long, pure, fruit-driven finish. We also rarely turn down a sip of Gary Farrell ($30) from Sonoma's Russian River Valley, much less Du Mol ($70), also from Sonoma. Year after year, all of these wines strike the perfect balance between bright fruit and toasty oak.

Jess Jackson's work led to the creation of the wide range of wines we all enjoy today. Raise a glass of any California Chardonnay this weekend while you watch the Kentucky Derby (Jackson was a regular fixture, as were his horses), and salute a legend of the wine world.

What's your favorite California Chardonnay? Tell us below.

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Rioja Rules
Challenge Yourself

May 6, 2011
I do love the Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve. The price is good for the quality, so it is usually a mainstay in my wine fridge. One of my favorite Chardonnays was from Calcaire Vinyard, which was bottled and sold by Clos Du Bois. I haven't seen it in years now, so I'm not sure what happened, but it was really good. These days, I mostly buy Bonterra from Medocino county. It is a great value, and organic. I also had a case of Bocage from San Saba vinyards once. It was quite good, but unfortunately, they never renewed their license to ship to my state, so haven't had it in a while. I like my Chadonnays oaked and creamy - goes great with lobster, and being fron New England... What about other? Any other great suggestions?

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