Oaked, unoaked, sparkling or still, well-aged, or just bottled, I love a good Chardonnay. I am not alone in my adoration, it continues to be the favorite white wine of the majority of Americans with sales for Chardonnay wines sitting just behind the top-selling red, Cabernet Sauvignon, sales in the country according to the Beverage Trade Network in 2019, with net sales with sales worth $2,549 million. But, not every Chardonnay is the same, and when you have one that is really good, you know it. Here are a few that fit that bill, some expensive, some affordable, all delicious.
The heart and home of Chardonnay, Burgundy, delivers a little bit of everything within the relatively small region. From stunning Champagne to steely Chablis to rich, nicely rounded Montrachet, Burgundy delivers.
I adore Chablis and Petit Chablis for the crisp, racy, freshness of the wine, leading with crushed stone notes and mineral intensity, interspersed with lush fruit. A 180-million-year-old geologic formation of decomposed clay and limestone fills the soils of Chablis, Burgundy, France. This soil type produces ethereal wines full of structure and finesse, slightly austere, with minerality and briny salinity.
The historic Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th Century windmill nestled next to the Serein River near Grand Cru Chablis lies the headquarters of Joseph Drouhin’s Domaine Drouhin within the region. Their Chablis wines celebrate this history, including the name on the label. Drouhin Vaudon Chablis ($26) melds classic wet stone, chalky minerality with juicy lemon-lime, tarragon and coriander, and ripe green apple.
Founded in 1959, Domaine William Fèvre is the very heart of Chablis, maintaining the goal to finely express the greatest Chablis crus, gracefully expressing the terroir through the use of organic and biodynamic viticulture and meticulous care in the vineyards. William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux ($30 ) is racy, zesty, and is impressively precise, revealing citrus fruits, white flowers, crisp green apple, and flinty flavors of wet stone in the mid-palate with a beautifully clean finish. Fresh, supple, it is marked by mineral notes, typical of the appellation.
Started by eight Utah-based friends with a passion and love of wine, and skiing, Parallell Wines was created in Napa in the late 1990s, bringing Napa Valley rock-star winemaker, Philippe Melka, as head winemaker. In hearing Melka describe what influences he uses to produce the wines for Parallel, he simply says this is a wine to be sipped, savored, and full-enjoyed with friends, as that is what Parallel is. The name refers to the initial tracks skis make after the first run in fresh powder snow, tieing in the couple’s love of the slopes. Tiny production, and best known for their powerful Cabernet Sauvignon, but giving in to the requests of the ladies in particular of Parallel, the winery began producing Chardonnay in the late 2000s, with 2008 being the first vintage.
And, lucky for us! The wine is beautiful. Celebrating the 20th vintage, the current 2018 Parallel Napa Valley Chardonnay (currently only available in magnum/$250, signed) highlights distinct similarities to some of my favorite Burgundian whites, layering crushed oyster shell, lemon balm, orchard fruit, and soft herb, with a touch of cream and toasted spice on the finish.
The Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley has been the home of Trefethen’s prized Chardonnay vineyards for over forty years. Thanks to the cool climate of the southern Napa Valley region, Trefethen is able to craft fresh, bright, and balanced Chardonnay ($38), with a nicely rounded palate that showcases apple blossom, melon notes of honeydew and cantaloupe, and juicy citrus flavors.
From the heart of the Russian River Valley, Benovia Martella Vineyard Chardonnay ($55) is a blend of four distinct Chardonnay heritage clones, all grown within the winery’s signature estate vineyard, allowing the ultimate expression of the variety to shine with intensity, precision, and character. With a long, cool, growing season, filled with foggy evenings through mid-morning, opening up to sun-shine filled afternoons and soft breezes rising off the river, the wine is packed with freshness and vibrant acidity, harmoniously melding into notes of orange blossom, Meyer lemon, honeydew, and blanched almond.
Though you may just think of bubbles when considering the wines of J Winery and Vineyard, but to stop there means you are missing out, as their still wines are equally as delicious as their sparkling. J Winery and Vineyards Russian River Chardonnay ($30) is rich and luscious, with texture, nice structure and balance, showcasing notes of apple blossom, spicy ginger, creamy custard, and baked apple pie. Nicely rounded, with notes of sweet clove and nutmeg on the finish, making it a great pairing for roast chicken, creamy cheese, or shellfish.
Sitting at 2200 feet above sea level, where cool Pacific breezes blow through the Monterey Bay, to the Gavilan Mountain range and the limestone-filled Mt. Harlan Vineyards of Calera WInery. Like some of the greatest Burgundy vineyards, Calera celebrates the limestone soils that lend earthy, crushed stone minerality to their distinct wines from low-yielding, highly concentrated Chardonnay fruit. The elevation and overall microclimate give this place one of the longest growing seasons in California, ensuring that when harvest rolls around, the wines are ripe and well as lean, racy as well as juicy, fresh and well as rich. Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay ($55) showcases a lean, crisp profile, revealing lemon blossom, honeysuckle, and peach blossom on the nose, followed by stone fruit, soft herb, and lemonade-lemon, with a bit of toasted brioche and creamy vanilla thanks to the malolactic fermentation of the wine, and partially new French oak aging. A pretty wine for wintertime.
Family-owned Cambria Estate showcases cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produced with passion, approachability, and character. Sustainably-farmed, ensuring the true character of the fruit shines through, Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($22) is fresh, and floral, showing notes of lemon blossom, honeysuckle, and lime leaf, melding with tangerine and Asian pear.
With a long growing season thanks to the influence of the Pacific Ocean on the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Chardonnay fruit can often be harvested weeks after red wines of the region are picked. Fruit ripens slowly, giving a subtle, delicate undertone to concentrated, textured fruit. Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($35) shines with lemon-lime citrus and lychee notes, melding with soft herbs, blanched almond, and a touch of crushed stone minerality giving the wine an earthy finish with ethereal elegance. An incredible wine for the price.
From Sonoma Mountain and Russian River Valley fruit, and crafted by celebrated winemaker Aaron Pott with Kyle Mizuno, Blackbird AERENA Chardonnay ($25) showcases luscious, lively Chardonnay fruit with character. Sonoma Mountain gives crushed stone minerality to the wine and a bright layer of freshness, melding with the fullness of Russian River fruit, revealing stone and orchard fruit notes to the luscious, yet easy-drinking wine.