Today marks one of the best reasons to celebrate – World Chardonnay Day….an entire day devoted to the luscious Burgundian grape that has transformed the way people drink wine throughout the world, as Chardonnay is the most popular white in the US and one of the most planted throughout the globe. Over 800 different types of California Chardonnay alone is available to the wine loving consumer. Though many vintners grow the gorgeous grape, as its popularity often leads to profit, not every winemaker knows how to finesse the variety (or not) to have it reach taste perfection. Here are a some that do. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
There are few things as great as a good glass of Chablis. Steely, stone and mineral filled with hints of wild flowers, citrus and stone fruit. Domaine Gerard Tremblay adds layers of quince and lemon to this flavor profile with balance, acidity and a bone dry profile. I love this style, though it is not the typical Chardonnay, especially one from California, but that is what makes Burgundian Chardonnay so special as you can really taste the terroir in many French selections.
Another great Chablis comes from Joseph Drouhin with the Vaudon Chablis. A balanced, fresh and intriguing wine filled with green herbs, mineral notes and citrus leading to juicy apple and pear with a touch of salinity. Domaine Drouhin, in Willamette Valley, OR, created their Arthur Chardonnay to mimic the great whites of Burgundy, mainly those from Chablis and Meursault., filled with layers of mineral, white flowers and fresh lemon.
Ed Sbragia knows a lot about making Chardonnay, embracing what was the traditional, often heavily oaked California Chardonnays that put California on the map when he was head winemaker for Beringer. Now, however, with his own label bearing his name, Sbragia along with his son Adam, lean more towards using oak conservatively enhancing the natural flavors within the wine. His Home Ranch Chardonnay from his estate vineyards in Dry Creek is filled with layers of tropical fruit like mango and guava with a touch of peach and apricot stone fruit with a bright finish of acidity marrying with toasted cream.
Russian River is a special place for Chardonnay. The variety thrives in fog filled mornings giving way to hot afternoons, with the sun setting into cool nights. A few have recently blown me out of the water, including Rochioli Russian River Chardonnay made from a variety of Chardonnay clones, grasping the terroir driven, French inspired focus. The wine utilizes fruit from vines grown in both the Russian River bed and in the middle of the valley, highlighting the natural characteristics and uniqueness of the AVA. Filled with green apple, citrus and dried apricot with a touch of spice and balanced acidity on the finish.
Another Russian River that was a surprise recently came from MacMurray Ranch. I have liked MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir for quite some time, but just recently had a chance to try their Chardonnay. Again, the expressive and unique Russian River characteristics shine in the wine filled with green apple, tropical pineapple and banana, with richness, length and texture from both the malolactic fermentation and sur lie aging.
Landmark Vineyards, also in Sonoma County, brings their reserve-style Overlook Chardonnay to the approachable, every night of the week price point, around $25 a bottle. And their 2011 vintage makes the presentation that much more special with a hand-calligraphy label to enhance this artisan style wine, which undergoes native yeast fermentation before being aged 10 months in French oak.
Often when we think white wine from New Zealand our mind immediately goes to the gooseberry and citrus filled Sauvignon Blanc that has defined the country for wine for years. However, Riesling and Chardonnay also thrive in the lush landscape creating dry wines filled with tropical fruit, citrus and tart green apple. Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay is one of my favorites as it incorporates these citrus and apple flavors with layers of toasted almond, lemon curd and sweet cream with bright acidity and freshness.
For many, often me included, Napa Chardonnay is something special. From legendary 1976 Paris tasting award winner, Chateau Montelena….which I will joyfully enjoy any night I possibly can, to classic brands like Grgich Hills, Cakebread, and the much loved Far Niente, to wild yeast fermented Newton Unfiltered, sustainably farmed at their Carneros vineyards and a consistent favorite, the Wild Yeast Chardonnay from Miner Family Vineyards, Napa knows how to make great Chardonnay. The nice shift we have seen throughout California in recent years are wines that are truly made in the vineyard instead of the winery, reflecting the flavors of the earth in a very Burgundian often Old World style, yet still reflecting the lush, juicy, citrus and tropical New World fruit.
Sequoia Grove embraces this idea in their Carneros fruit Chardonnay with a focus on maintaining freshness, acidity and the true flavors of the fruit by not permitting the fruit to go through malolactic fermentation, though freshly fermented fruit does age on the lees bringing roundness and texture to the wine. Many Napa Chardonnay are all about the fruit, this one brings in nice earthy and mineral elements with crisp, bright fruit notes.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars defines the AVA with their robust, distinct Cabernet Sauvignon but they also make stellar Chardonnay from fruit sourced from cool-climate vineyards in and around southern Oak Knoll, Coombsville and Carneros districts. Karia, meaning graceful in Greek, aptly describes their ripe pear, apple and citrus filled Chardonnay with touches of vanilla and spice from sur lei aging in partially new French oak.
Flora Springs elevates the traditional style of malolactic Napa Chardonnay with their Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, first produced 30 years ago and still made in a very California style from sustainably farmed Carneros fruit. Aged 9 months in 50% new French oak the wine is rich with flavors of white peach, ripe pear and apricot, with toasted marshmallow and spice. Rich and complex, tasty with hearty roast chickens or creamy cheese on balmy summer days or sipping on chilly spring or fall nights.