Chardonnay is America’s favorite white wine and one that Gary and I find ourselves sipping often. There are many faces of Chardonnay though, from steely, fresh, and mineral-driven, to rich, round, and luscious. As warm summer days continue, the former fresh, racy style continues to top our list, like some of the tasty options noted below. #Cheers!
The most classic steely Chardonnay is Chablis, with the finest being Chablis Grand Cru showcasing fossil-filled limestone and marl vineyards of the French, northern Bourgogne region, creating wines with grace, character, and balance. Mineral-driven, while also delivering notes of blanched almond, wild mushroom, white flowers, and lemon & lime leaf, full-bodied Chablis Grand Cru selections are the premier wines of the region. The wines have richness without having weight, the wines have complexity while maintaining vibrancy and lightness, the wines have structure while maintaining an almost ethereal whimsy. I am a huge fan. Look for selections like William Fevre Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru, Patrick Piuze Chablis Valmur Grand Cru, and Billaud-Simon Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru.
The term “Inox” refers to stainless, as in stainless steel fermentation, as revealed with Willamette Valley’s Chehalem Vineyards & Winery Inox Chardonnay. Allowing the earthy, volcanic soils of their Willamette Valley vineyards to shine through the wine, with wet stone and slate notes melding with lemon blossom, green apple, and ripe pear.
The D.O.P. Cariñena region of Spain along the Ebro River in Aragon’s Ebro Valley, halfway between the Basque Country and Catalonia, is perhaps best known for their Garnacha-based wines, but they are also producing lively, approachable white wines from varieties that include Chardonnay. El Circo Zancudo Chardonnay highlights tropical pineapple and banana, thanks to sunshine-filled Spanish days, with a creaminess without any oak aging. Bodegas Andas Care Chardonnay shines with a fruit-forward, juicy orchard and tropical fruit palate while maintaining a clean, acid-driven freshness ideal for pairing with briny seafood and shellfish. From hilly, schist and chalk filled vineyards near the Iberian Mountains, Fabula de Paniza Chardonnay opens casually, with soft floral and citrus notes, melding into a stone fruit and honey filled palate.
When I can find a delicious wine that also has a good story of giving back, I am immediately hooked. Who doesn’t love a good wine that can also help someone. Relief Wines is doing just that. In the wake of devastating wildfires that have destroyed so much of the wine community in California the past few years Napa Valley vintners and winemakers Ryan and Crystal Waugh created the 501c3 not for profit, Relief Wines, donating 100% of the profits made on their product to help those effected by the fires, specifically working with Habitat for Humanity in Sonoma County. Their 2018 Firestorm Chardonnay, a bargain at $20 a bottle, reveals delicate notes of white peach, nectarine, and blanched almond with a medium-bodied palate, ideal for pairing or enjoying on its own.
In the heart of California’s Central Coast, Edna Valley delivers some of California’s finest Chardonnay wines with energy, vitality, and crisp texture. Forty-plus years ago Chamisal Vineyards dedicated themselves to producing wines that would highlight their terroir and close proximity to the Pacific Ocean while being respectful stewards of the land. Capturing the flavor profile of the variety, Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay reveals the essence of the grape with citrus, crushed stone, green apple, and fig.
Blending fruit from Monterey County, Santa Barbara County, and Mendocino County, telling the story of Chardonnay in California in it’s purest form, Kendall-Jackson Avant Unoaked Chardonnay layers cool climate grown fruit with warmer climate, riper fruit, delivering a balance of citrus and floral notes, with orchard and stone fruit, and a touch of tropical lychee and pineapple. Not the norm from the winery that is known for their well-rounded, oak-aged Vintner’s Reserve that highlights spiced apple, lemon curd, and toasted hazelnut.
Using 100% neutral French oak for both fermentation and aging, Stony Hill Chardonnay, grown high atop Napa’s Spring Mountain, keeps strong citrus and green apple notes at the front of the palate, enhanced by an underlying note of wet stone minerality thanks to deep roots grown in the cool mountain climate and 25+-year-old vines. This is a well-structured, textured, beautiful wine.
Using a touch of French oak, while maintaining brightness, Imagery Chardonnay, a part of the Benziger Family with a second-generation Californian winemaker, Jamie Benziger at the lead, reveals the desired balance that makes Chardonnay truly shine. With 10% Chenin Blanc added to the Sonoma County grown fruit, delivers golden apple, Asian pear, lemon peel, and floral essence of orange and lemon blossom. Benziger Reserve Los Carneros Chardonnay, from the organically farmed Sangiacomo Vineyard, shines with layers of golden apple, ripe melon, and lemon peel.