The “Chardonnnay Hater Club” is fast becoming extinct as more and more are going back to this once disdained varietal. Yes, there are the faithful who have stuck to their guns refusing to believe that just because you drink chardonnay you are not a true connoisseur. Good for them! Chardonnay is a very versatile white and is especially food friendly. And I’m sure I do not have to remind you that their are some chardonnay from Burgundy that are the most highly sought after wines in the world.
Why is it that chardonnay landed on the blacklist of wines to avoid? I’ve pondered this question from many angles. For one thing, many wineries in the eighties and early nineties were dousing their chards with so much oak you almost had to chew it rather then drink it. Yes, it was all the rage at the time but it eventually got to the consumer. Like eating boxes and boxes of Sees candy until you could no longer bring yourself to even look at another piece without getting sick to your stomach. Enough is enough already. Unless you purchased a chardonnay from Chablis or Burgundy, all you got was oak, oAK, OAK!
Responding to the decline in interest of chardonnay by the consumer, wineries started to approach the varietal from different angles. Less oak, no oak, neutral oak with some new, zero malolactic fermentation, no oak with a large dose of malolactic fermentation and so on. All of a sudden the consumer had a plethora of different styles of chardonnay to choose from. There is one thing I have learned over the years as a wine steward. If the consumer is unsure of what they are getting, they more likely then not will go to something else that they know. “Play It Safe” is the motto of the average wine customer. So what did they start drinking if it wasn’t chardonnay?
Pinot grigio became the “GoTo” white the first decade of the new millennium. Pinot grigio carries with it no surprises. It’s white, it’s wet, and it has alcohol. When you purchase it, you know you are getting no oak, it is easy to find, and there is very little variation in flavor profile from brand to brand. You could walk right into any wine department with confidence and grab any old bottle of pinot grigio and purchase it knowing it would probably be close to the one you had last night. There is no sarcasm intended in this. It is simply what I have observed over the last ten years. The average consumer does not like surprises and pinot grigio fits the bill for white wine drinkers. It became too risky to walk into the chardonnay section. The chardonnay category still experienced healthy sales thanks to the faithful, but certainly not like it’s heyday in the eighties and nineties.
So here we are in 2011. The consumer is taking more time to educate themselves about certain wines. Bloggers, magazines such as the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, and wine columnists are writing articles about and promoting white wines that many have never heard of such as gruner veltliner, verdejo, albarino, torrontes, vinho verde, verdicchio, viognier, roussanne, marsannne and many more. The consumer has become more adventurous with their purchases, willing to take a risk knowing that more likely then not they are going to find a new favorite. Chardonnay has reaped the benefits of this new spirit in wine buying as more are coming back to it, less afraid of what they might get. What they get, is a host of well made chardonnay that run the gamut of styles.
From our own country there is a chardonnay for just about any occasion or meal. Are you having oysters or clams? You can find a chardonnay from Washington or California that would be a perfect match. The same is true for white fish or salmon, for fowl or pasta with a white cream sauce. Having a salad? No problem. Want a chard for that warm summer night on the deck? No problem. Domestic chardonnay is as diversified as it has ever been and this is a good thing. That being the case, I felt it a must to review as many chardonnay as possible, not only for my own education but to help you, the consumer to understand what you are buying.
For the months of June and July I will attempt to taste 61 different chardonnay and review each one, good or bad. A Chardonnay a day. Here is to the new breed of adventurous wine buyers…Cheers!
2009 Beringer Chardonnay Napa Valley, California … 13.99
A delicate bouquet of apple and pear. Very elegant on the palate with notes of red delicious apple, pear and just a kiss of oak. Seamless across the palate with some slight butterscotch and caramel notes that were not over-bearing but rather complimentary to the fruit. Good, clean finish which had nice length. To me, this is the perfect chardonnay for that warm summer night on the deck. Not heavy, not too fruity. Just light and delicious. Would also be nice with a chicken salad.
2008 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley, California … 13.99
The nose on this little chard immediately told me I was in for an oak experience with notes of spice, toast,and caramelized apples. The oak is very pronounced on the front of the palate with notes of apple and lemon coming through. This chard is wood at it’s best which some may find quite appealing. A throw-back to days gone by. Good weight on the palate but certainly not heavy in style. There is enough fruit on this chard to stand up to the oak giving it some nice butterscotch notes on the back end. I would pair this with roasted fowl or some crab with a load of butter. Something with a little fat or grease. Not my personal favorite, but I will recommend it to those searching out something with a little wood on it. 87 points
2009 Roth Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, California …
Aromas of apples dipped in smuckers butterscotch sauce that is somewhat watered down. On the palate there are waxy apple and butterscotch notes with hints of caramel flavored lipstick. I hate to say it, but this is the chardonnay that I fear the most. Fake flavors dosed with a heavy hit of oak. I am going to have to pass on this one. 79 points
2009 Joel Gott Unoaked Chardonnay Monterey California … 16.99
Very restrained on the nose with subtle notes of tropical fruits and apple coming through. On the palate there is an interesting minerality on the front with notes of apple and grilled pineapple coming through on the mid-palate. The minerality continues into the finish and it almost comes across as frizz ante. The finish is clean and medium in length. At first I wasn’t sure about this chard, but it grew on me and I felt it would be nice to pair it with halibut or a tossed salad. It is light enough to go solo, but the minerality lends it well to food. 88 points
2009 Mount Eden Vinyards Chardonnay Edna Valley, California (Wolff Vineyards) … 21.99
A little tight on the nose with aromas of granny smith apple and Asian pear. Very muscular on the palate and wound up like a clock. This baby needs some time to evolve and that is what I like about Mount Eden Vineyards. This is one of a few domestic wineries that I feel confident in laying down their chardonnay. Excellent balance of fruit and acid with tight notes of pear and apple coming through with a nice dry finish that has good length. This wine will only get better over the next two to five years. If you have patience you are in for a real treat. 91 points
2009 Chateau St Jean Chardonnay Sonoma County, California… 12.99
A nose of tropical fruits, pear, butterscotch and oak. I would not call this an oak bomb, but it comes very close. I can see why it is one of the more popular chards out there. Bridging the gap between oak and elegance this chard is full on the palate with notes of tropical fruits, with some delicious Bartlett pear notes coming through on the mid-palate. The oak and toast gets a little strong on the back of the mid-palate but then mellows out on a creamy deliciously long finish. This is a food chardonnay but I can see it being drunk solo since it never goes over-the-top with oak or acidity. For the unoaked fan you will probably want to stay away from this, but for most I believe it will be quite enjoyable. 88 points
2008 Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Valley Rhinefarm Vineyard, California… 24.99
This winery is not bashful with their chardonnay. Bold notes of apples dipped in butterscotch, toast and pear notes. Generous on the palate with notes of butterscotch, caramel, pear and apple. There is a lot of oak on this baby but it is integrated nicely with the fruit. The mid-palate is smooth and bold leading into a long finish. You never get the feeling you are chewing on oak, which is nice. This style is suited to food and would match up nicely with roasted or BBQ chicken. If you are looking for a meal in the bottle, this would be the one, and it is delicious enough that I would enjoy it solo. 91 points
2009 Corvidae Wine Company Mirth Chardonnay Columbia Valley, Washington … $9.99
From wine maker David O’Reilly of Owen Roe fame, and one of my favorite wine makers comes this nice little chardonnay with a simple but effective label. There is no oak on this wine. Creamy on the palate with notes of peaches, red delicious apples and cream. In fact it tastes like someone through peaches, cream and apples in a blender and whipped up a pleasing beverage. This chard has fruit of course but is balanced and has a nice finish that is not sweet but certainly the flavors linger. I would be careful with this one if I were you because it goes down very easily. 89 points (There is a great price being offered on this wine right now so search it out, it is one of the best deals I’ve seen going so far!)
2009 Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley, California … 19.99
This is a classic California chardonnay with out going over-board. A pleasing nose of pineapple, pear and apples with hints of butterscotch. Nice intense yet balanced flavors of pear and pineapple with hits of butterscotch and caramel. Nice acid that balances the fruit flavors giving you a feeling like the wine might go over-the-top yet it never does. Like driving a Ferrari you never shift past second gear. Well built with a nice flow across the palate leading into a long pleasing finish. Subtle enough to drink solo and intense enough to match up nicely with fish, fowl or a bowl of popcorn with Gorgonzola cheese on it. 92 points
2008 Flowers Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, California) … 42.99
Yes, this one is a little pricey but I think when you put your lips to it, you will be tempted to make this one your go-to chardonnay. I say this for those who like white Burgundies because this baby rivals a number that I have tasted with a heftier price tag. On those nose you are immediately hit with minerality, Asian pear, dusty apples and white flowers. Elegance, elegance, elegance. The wine hits your palate like it came straight out of Burgundy. Crushed rock, Asian pears, some lime components with hints of lemon and apple. If there is some California sunshine on this wine, it is hard to detect. Nice flow across the palate, seamless. The finish is persistent. Stand this up to an eighty to one hundred dollar white Burgundy and I think you would be hard-pressed to justify spending the extra fifty bucks. 95 points
Ten down and fifty-one to go. Make sure you stay tuned for the next ten chardonnay reviews. It is a difficult job, but someone has to do it. Cheers! Stan The Wine Man