I get asked what my favorite white wine is a lot, and though I am crazy for Soave, Albarino, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Verdelho, the always popular Chardonnay varietal is the white wine I enjoy the most at home and while dining out. I wasn’t always a fan, especially during California’s sweet and buttery years, preferring to find the best Chablis or Montrachet I could afford if I had to drink Chardonnay; but recent years have introduced more of a classic style to the Chardonnay from Napa, and other regions, like Willamette Valley, Mendoza, California’s Central Coast, Colchagua and Casablanca Valley are bringing their expressive Chardonnay to the forefront and showing how delicate, layered and refined this beautiful white grape can be. As I have grown older, I have also grown to appreciate some of those over the top buttery, oaky, creamy Chardonnays understanding that every wine can be enjoyed at a specific place and time. Here are a few of my favorites to consider that include a little bit of every style. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
Miner Wild Yeast Chardonnay is always a favorite with a creamy texture from the full malolactic wild yeast fermentation using natural yeasts which occur in the winery around the vineyard, but maintains bright acidity with ripe melon, pear and citrus notes. I enjoyed a bottle of the 2006 just last week, which has a little age on it, a quality I like in some Chardonnay, bringing out some of the more subtle dried fruit notes in the wine. The 2008 vintage is the current release.
Lapostolle 2009 Cuvee Alexander Chardonnay from Casablanca Valley in Chile combines both barrel and stainless steel fermentation, using partially new oak barrels for the 68% fermented this way, with only 20% of the grapes going through malolactic feremtation. The resulting wine is an incredibly balanced, layered white with crisp tropical fruit notes married with hints of orange blossom and touches of spice. A lush wine with texture and a long finish.
Mer Soleil 2010 Silver Unoaked Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands of California. A very young, fresh wine which celebrates the beauty of the Chardonnay grape by fermenting and aging the wine in small, French cement wine tanks, helping bring out some of the clean, mineral rich notes in the wine, very similar to a Chablis. Initial aromas of the wine remind you wet stones surrounding a garden path in bloom after a light rain, really expressing the mineral and floral notes in the wine, followed by crisp green apple and lemon zest.
Recently the Wagner family wine (who also makes Caymus and Belle Glos) has updated their packaging to a grey creamic bottle to further highlight their process of using cement fermentation instead of oak or stainless steel.
One of my favorite people in the world is Argentine winemaker Walter Bressia, both for his genuine, charming and gracious nature and his incredible wine making skills, he is one of the very best in Argentina. His Bressia Lagrima Canela blends 70% Chardonnay with 30% Semillion to create a wine with a well rounded mouthfeel, medium body and incredible character. The “white wine for red wine drinkers” as Walter likes to say. Tropical fruit notes of banana and mango mix with kiwi, ripe melon and pear in harmony with a lovely, lingering finish.
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, the wine that some would say put Napa Valley on the wine map winning the best white wine and the infamous 1976 Paris Tasting continues to be one of the best from the valley. Thankfully, Chateau Montelena didn’t fall prey to the sweet trend in Napa in the 1980’s or ever go overly oaky, instead the 40 year old winery has always stayed true to their goals of creating classic, varietally correct wine that expresses the terroir of their Calistoga land. The wine opens with aromas of wild flower and honeysuckle, followed by ripe pear, lychee fruit and just a touch of toasted nuts on the finish. I enjoyed a bottle of this just the other night while watching the Oscars, appropriate as this legendary wine deserved to be enjoyed with what is an honored event in my house.
Over dinner the other night at The Grape I enjoyed another all time favorite, Domaine Serene Etoile Chardonnay. This Willamette Valley Chardonnay really highlights how a hands off approach with quality fruit from great land can create a beautiful wine. Aged 14 months in neutral barrels sur lees (or on the yeasts) gives this wine depth and texture without making it overly creamy or buttery. Ripe pear, peach and mineral notes fill this wine with just a touch of sweet baking spice and Oregon hazelnuts on the finish.
Chardonnay is one of the signature wines from Chalk Hill, capturing the beauty, expression and elegance of their Sonoma estate in the bottle. White peach and orange blossom aromas lift from a just poured glass followed by layers of mango, Asian pear, whipped cream and just a hint of minerality.
Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Chardonnay is another Argentine wine that expresses the flavors of the land. I often think white wine from Argentina has an inherent floral note to it, no matter if it is Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Viognier. This one balances floral aromas with honeydew melon, ripe white peaches and banana with just a hint of lemon and orange peel. Aged 8 months in 100% new French oak barrels there is a slight creamy, toasty note to the wine which also helps balance out the floral characteristics.