Though many white wines try to take the top spot as favorite each year in Texas, we still love our Chardonnay. Crisp, fresh, tart and intensely mineral or rich, creamy, toasty and nutty, Chardonnay spans enough styles from Old World to New that one is sure to fit any palate. The richer, creamier styles are particularly good white wines to enjoy when the weather turns a bit cooler and menus feature whole roasted chickens, Nantucket bay scallops and roasted winter squash. Here are a few to consider whether you prefer to enjoy an unoaked or very malolactic Chardonnay. Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.
The other evening I finally made my way down to Boulevardier to enjoy a delicious dinner with dozens of other happy eaters, including some of the most impressive restaurateurs and chefs in town. Over Bay of Fundy Gravlox with celery root remoulade and Lemley tomatoes with Burrata I enjoyed a mineral rich Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils Chablis. I love a Chablis. I find the Chardonnay grape maintains a clean, steely and elegant style when made into wine in Chablis, with this one made from completely hand harvested grapes which are then gently pressed, fermented and aged on the lees for 10 months in stainless steel tanks. Light, luscious and lively, filled with mineral notes with stone fruit and spice, a delicious wine with food or on its own.
The Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma is known for proucing incredible Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from wineres like Ancien, Saintsbury, Schug and Truchard, but one of the best and always consistent comes from Etude who made a name for themselves under Tom Soter for celebrating heirloom varietal wine and embracing the philosophy that good wine-making happens with a hands off approach, letting the vineyards do the work. Their Carneros Estate Chardonnay delivers on all you could hope for from the cool, maritime climate, with golden apple, ripe melon and pear, and a touch of spice. Fresh and fruit forward, the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation, keeping it light, lively and very approachable.
Frank Family Chardonnay, also from vineyards in Napa’s Carneros region, is a go to anytime of year, especially when the temperatures dip a bit and warm winter soups are on the menu. Filled with dried apricot, ripe peach and pear and touches of tropical fruit and sweet baking spice like clove and nutmeg, Frank Family blends balanced fruit flavors with good acidity and proper use of oak to create a consistently delicious wine.
Washington State is fast becoming best known for their delicious Merlot, hearty Cab and spicy Syrah, but some wineries are blowing it out of the water with their Chardonnay. One favorite comes from Abeja located on a 100+ year old farm just outside Walla Walla, with their Chardonnay grapes coming from vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley. Started by former Portland, Oregon natives, Ken and Ginger Harrison, who had a love for Cabernet and knew it couldn’t be made well in Oregon, so they moved North to one of the best areas in the country for great Cab, as well as classic Chardonnay, and started Abeja, adding partners John Abbott (formerly of Pine Ridge and Acacia in Napa) and Molly Galt into the mix in 2002. Their Chardonnay undergoes 100% barrel fermentation and aged for 7 months in barrel, and undergoes full malolactic fermentation. A big, yet elegant wine that is ideal for cooler temperatures, pairing nicely with warm winter soups, roasted chicken and baked brie.
On a recent trip to Oregon I visited Domaine Drouhin, the sister winery to Burgundy’s Joseph Drouhin, one of the most well known wineries within Burgundy. We had a chance to do a few side by side tastings of both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Oregon and France, and it is astounding how similar the flavor profiles of both of these wines are. Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay consistently delivers on the true Burgundian style, filled with lemon and lime zest, wet stone and mineral characteristics and spring flower and honey notes with just a touch of yeast and spice notes. For the wines of Joseph Drouhin, I have always been a fan of the Rully Blanc and the Saint Veran. The Rully, located in the southern part of the Côte d’Or (of the Golden Mile) is filled with white flowers, stone fruit and toast. Similarly, the Saint Veran is very inexpensive for quality white Burgundy, yet this one is quite similar in style and flavor to that of a Pouilly-Fuissé with balanced floral and mineral notes intertwined with ripe pear, apple and citrus.
Chateau Montelena has become better known for its Cabernet than Chardonnay, however with each vintage lives up to its Judgement of Paris pedigree and award winning title for the pale golden wine is always filled with balanced flavors, and a crisp and elegant profile. Opening with aromas of lemon balm and lime zest with honeysuckle and green apple, followed by layers of ripe stone fruit, citrus, apple with a slightly creamy finish.
Cakebread Cellars, celebrating 40 years in the Napa Valley next year, similarly is as winery that is as well known for their Cabernet as Chardonnay. Classic, refined and completely representative of the valley, Cakebread Chardonnay is filled with ripe pear, golden apple and citrus aromas intertwined with toasted brioche and a touch of fresh, creamy butter, followed by apple and citrus flavors with bright acidity keeping the wine lively and balanced.
LangeTwins Chardonnay, sustainably made with the goal of taking care of the land while creating delicious and delicate wine from California’s Central Coast. Sustainability is quite the trend, with more and more winemakers focusing on their footprint on the earth, and how to ensure their efforts preserve the environment. It is a double bonus when the wine made is delicious and affordable. Retailing for around $15 a bottle, this certified gree wine is filled iwth bright tropical fruit, like pineapple and mango, with green apple, fresh pear with hints of vanilla cream on the finish.
Another winery producing quality Chardonnay for about the same price is Echelon. Napa Valley made from vineyards just outside of Yountville, Echelon is making an approachable, food friendly white filled with well rounded flavors of white peach, apricot and ripe green pear with touches of honey and spice.