This month we’re exploring the Golden State’s most widely planted variety, chardonnay. These beautiful wines come from up and down the state, across several different appellations. There is incredible diversity of style with expressions of each vineyard’s specific terroir and the winemaker’s individual style.
California chardonnay falls into two major styles depending on the fermentation vessel. You’ll find mineral-driven and precise examples with tart acidity, and lemon-apple-pear aromas from wines fermented in stainless steel tanks. Barrel fermented wines exude oaky, buttery, vanilla, and toast aromas, with rich flavors of ripe tropical fruits.
Chardonnay also has the remarkable ability to take on the character of the place where it’s grown and take on influence from winemaking choices like Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). White wines that have undergone MLF have a creamy, viscous texture because MLF turns sharp malic acid into luscious lactic acid, like the acid found in milk.
Cooler climate sites are the ideal home for chardonnay. These appellations are influenced by the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean and consistent fog in the mornings. The lingering summer fog leads to slower ripening and a long growing season, which sometimes stretches into November. This combined with plenty of sunny days means that grapes fully ripen and develop stunning purity of fruit. Many of these wines have great aging potential and will develop with effortless grace.
The list includes some bargains for summer picnics and lazy July lunches with friends. Many of the wines listed are under $30 so there’s something for every budget and occasion.
- 2017 Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Salinas Valley $14.99
Grapes are sourced from the Arroyo Seco AVA of Salinas Valley. This is the perfect wine to pair with Connecticut-style lobster rolls with butter all summer long. It offers toasty and buttery notes with richness, full-body, and a long finish.
- 2017 Golden Chardonnay, Monterey $16.99
Classic California finesse and a creamy succulent texture, this little beauty is sure to satisfy your cravings and add some elegance to any home-cooked meal. Pair with pan seared scallops in butter topped with crumbled bacon.
- 2015 Farm Chardonnay, Napa Valley $24.99
Peach and fresh apple aromas with a hint of spice. Meyer lemon and lychee are followed by honey and toast on the palate. The long finish is balanced by vibrant acidity.
- 2017 Barrique Cellars Chardonnay, Anderson Valley $29.99
A classic Anderson Valley chardonnay expression with aromas of wet river stones, minerals, and crushed rocks. Juicy, ripe Fuji apple and pear flavors, full-bodied, elegant creamy texture and a deliciously long, crisp finish.
- 2014 Calstar Cellars Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast $29.99
Influenced by the coastal Sonoma Coast vineyard, this wine is all about salinity with hints of sea spray giving off balanced minerality to the toasty brioche character and ripe apple pie notes. A kiss of spice on the long finish.
- 2016 Oceano Chardonnay, San Luis Obispo $39.99
Oceano chardonnay grapes are grown in Spanish Springs. The sustainable vineyard is the closest to the Pacific Ocean on the southern edge of the Edna Valley. The sea influence leads to vibrant fruit and racy acidity with tart lemon and savory pear aromas and flavors. Precise and feminine.
- 2015 Scribe Winery Estate Chardonnay, Carneros $44.99
Bright citrus, fresh herbs, and an elegant texture. Refined, refreshing, and sophisticated with piercing acidity. Also influenced by the maritime breezes and fog from its southern border with the San Pablo Bay, the cool climate of Carneros produces the some of California’s finest Chardonnay. This vineyard is located at the nexus of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
- 2017 Macauley Bacigalupi Chardonnay, Russian River Valley $49.99
Bright golden in color. Complex aromas of apple butter, lemon, pear and a mineral backbone of flint. Round, crisp, with hints of tropical pineapple, full-body, and a touch of buttered popcorn and apricot. A light, elegant, and toasty finish.
- 2015 DuMOL Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast $59.99
While this wine is a bit of a splurge, its rich and opulent aromas of lemongrass, buttercream, juicy poached pear, and baked apples make it all worthwhile. Fully mature and drinking beautifully now, the backbone of acidity balances out the creamy and oily texture.
Visit Elyse Genderson at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill to discover wines you love.