Chardonnay. Misunderstood. Underrated. Wrongfully maligned. Unfashionable. Or so they say. If that’s the case then I’m hopeless. And statistically, so is almost every other wine drinker in the world. Chardonnay is still one of the most popular varietal wines, and for good reason: it’s versatile, it’s got a bit of a split personality, and it’s often easy to find one that is both enjoyable and affordable. Unless of course you’re into Grand Cru Burgundy, but that puts you into a higher tax bracket that many of us only aspire to.
For the rest of the world, there are plenty of chards to go around. Since chardonnay is my go-to for so many occasions, I’ve made a list of the ones that I’m liking best right now, all the better for you to discover something new, or maybe revisit something you haven’t tried in a while.
Here is the Top 10 Chardonnay’s, in no particular order:
Neyers 2014 ‘El Novillero’ Carneros District: Damn fine juice. Tightly knit but generous in the mouth, perfectly balanced with creamy butterscotch flavors from about 30% new French oak, I suspect about 18 months of barrel age after barrel fermentation in mostly 2-3 year old barrels. Hedonistic, yet perfectly drinkable for every day if you’ve got little else to do than sit a while and ponder how great life is. About $42 retail.
Josef Chromy 2015 ‘Pepik’ Tasmania: stainless steel fermentation and bottle ageing gives this wine its structure. The wine is unoaked, and only partially malolactic, allowing the freshness of the melon fruit flavors to come to the fore. For those who are not fans of oak, this one may be just the ticket. Tropical fruit flavors of mango, white peach and banana belie the hot vintage, while the mouthfeel and finish is fresh but still pretty sexy overall. $25 but you’ll have to really search for it. Tasmanian wines are a joy you must discover.
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve: this is just a great go-to chardonnay for every day. no matter the vintage, no matter the occasion, you’ll always do well by this wine. Value priced and well made, it delivers a balanced mouthful of fruit that features sweet American oak and a hint of buttered toast and brown sugar. The Speculator only gave it an 87, but I give it a solid 89, and would throw in a straw for easy access. $17 everywhere.
Thomas George Russian River Valley: It’s true, I am partial to the RRV for chardonnay and pinot noir. The elegance, the acidity and the telltale lemon curd notes virtually spring from the glass, and this one is no exception. They make a range of vineyard-designate chardonnays, each one a powerhouse unto itself, so you really can’t go wrong. $38 – $45 on average, but small production so you might have to order direct from the winery. Check out their Live Web Cams.
Hartford Court Stone Cote Vineyard 2012 Sonoma Coast: I can’t help myself. If it was socially acceptable to drink this wine every day, I would. And it doesn’t hurt to know that Don Hartford is a really great guy, too. Sure, the brand is owned by Jackson Family Wines, but that hasn’t compromised the integrity of the wines one single bit, it’s still very much a family-owned and operated winery who are completely focused on quality.
This wine consistently rates in the high 90’s from the Dictator and Parker, and I concur. The combo of white peaches, spiced poached pears and hazelnuts is just out of this world, all balanced with a nice structure that is perfectly balanced from start to finish. $60 and worth every shekel.
Lighthall Vineyards 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario Canada: of course, I live in Prince Edward County, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is THE chardonnay you WISH you were drinking right now! The newly released 2014 chard is as delightful as always, with honeydew melon, spiced pear and vanilla notes over a rich and creamy texture. $25 at the winery. If you’re in Ontario, it’s well worth the visit. I guess I’m just lucky that way.
La Chablisienne, Chablis France: this is a cooperative-made wine, but one of the better ones in my estimation. They have a range of offerings that cost anywhere from $13 to $25, but great value all around, and always a crowd-pleaser. 100% stainless steel fermented and 100% malo give it a one-two punch of creamy, steely goodness that is as great with food as without. An awesome aperitif wine, and widely available.
Kim Crawford East Coast Unoaked, New Zealand: If you’ve never had a chardonnay from New Zealand, this one is a great place to start. The pronounced florals are a hallmark of the country, which produces its best chardonnays from the Marlborough or Martinborough appellations. This one is made in a Chablis style, with 100% malolactic treatment giving it a creamy texture that is silky and oh so lovely with a bit of sheep’s milk brie. Widely available for under $20.
Bachelder Bourgogne/Niagara/Oregon: Thomas Bachelder is the passionate genius behind the world-renowned Clos Jordan in the Niagara Peninsula, but he has since moved on to produce his own wines in France, Ontario and Oregon. Doesn’t even matter which one you try, if you can get your hands on it, get as much as you can. All his chardonnays are handmade, elegant and densely textured, each representing a very distinct terroir in three of the world’s most interesting, not to mention challenging regions. In the $30 range.
13th Street 2013 June’s Reserve, Niagara Peninsula: If you were ever a Domaine LaRoche fan (and who isn’t) then you’ve likely heard of the remarkable Jean-Pierre Colas. If you ever wondered where he landed after leaving the famous Chablis domaine, look no further than Saint Catherines in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Though he isn’t completely focused on chardonnay at 13th Street, the exotic yet interminably subtle touch he is so famous for makes its way back into the lists of the truly great chardonnays of our time. Boosted by an underpinning of minerality and savory notes, this chard is at once complex and austere, weaving a spell that promises more magic to come. $22 in Canada, and a good enough reason to come here.
So there you have it – my top ten chardonnay picks for drinking right now. These opinions are my own and I am completely sober at time of writing, though I could be coerced into greater expoundment if properly lubricated. Feel free to comment with your own personal picks, and I promise to try them all. Cheers for now, and don’t let the ABC’ers (‘anything but chardonnay’) get you down!