I taste through a lot of California Chardonnays , but I never tire of tasting them. The diversity of regional nuances and winemaking styles is striking and exciting, no matter how many interpretations have crossed my palate.
If you’re one of the ABC crowd (Anything But Chardonnay!), perhaps exploring a few of these might change your mind. I’m convinced there really is a Cali Chard out there for any and every palate.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.
2013 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch - California, Central Coast, Arroyo SecoSRP: $22
Light golden color. Classic aromas of yellow pears and apples, some honey and nougat, a yellow floral element. Quite creamy on the palate, a rich wine with some moderate acid. Yellow apple, baked pear and apple sauce notes mix with a generous dose of cinnamon, nougat and honeycomb. Straightforward, not the deepest Chardonnay, but clearly well-made and surely a crowd-pleaser. Aged 8 months on the lees in oak, this includes 3% Gewurztraminer. (87 points)
2012 Force of Nature Chardonnay Murmur Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara CountySRP: $23
Light gold color. Smells like a tropical medley, creamy but bright, drizzled with lime, honey and melted butter. Full-bodied on the palate with a waxy-honeyed presence, a little acid to clean it up. The fruit flavors lean heavily in the tropical direction (pineapple, papaya, guava), but they’re backed up by a lot of complex white flower, honeyed tea and almond notes. Almost chewy on the finish, with peanut shells and honeycomb. Aged 10 months in 20% new French oak and some stainless steel. (87 points)
2013 Middleton Family Chardonnay “Inconceivable” - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria ValleySRP: $25
Light gold color. Nose of white peach, yellow apple, some melon, underlying notes of honeysuckle and salty air. Medium+ bodied on the palate, a juicy and creamy mouthfeel, but the clean acid keeps it focused. Flavors of yellow apple and baked pear play well off the spiced white tea, nougat and honeycomb flavors. Cool and crisp yet full of flavor, the oak is woven in well. From Middleton Family Wines, this is a relatively larger-production Chardonnay (912 cases) that shows a lot of depth and complexity. Fermented in French oak barrels (30% new). (89 points)
2012 Cockerell Family Wine Estates Chardonnay “Terroir Coquerel” - California, Napa Valley, CalistogaSRP: $32
Light yellow-straw color. Bright nose of white peach, papaya, lemon, some honey and white flowers. Clean and crisp on the palate with white peach, yellow apples and lemon-lime. Very tangy and bright with some honeyed tea and minerals. Food-friendly, but creamy and mouthfilling at the same time. Precise, clean, thought-provoking a great blend of styles, all-around rocking. Fermented in a combination of stainless steel and some oak (10% new). (91 points)
2012 Smith Madrone Chardonnay - California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain DistrictSRP: $32
Light gold color. Such liveliness on the nose: chalk and crusty sea salt, bright limes, orange zest, lychee, lots of flowers, lumber yard shavings and even some white pepper. Fleshy but clean, with moderate acid, the white peach and lychee fruit mixes with all sorts of pears. Honeybutter and nougat show themselves prominently, but lots of sea salt and chalk notes come out as well. I couldn’t figure out this spice element so I poured the wine for a friend who called it minty. Whatever you call the spice note, it’s a really unique and tasty little signature. Despite the 100% new French oak, this is a clean and bright wine with lots going for it. A joy to drink. (92 points)
2013 William Hill Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley - California, Napa ValleySRP: $27
Light gold color. Bold and big on the nose, with bruised apples, apricots, pineapple, covered in honey butter and crushed nuts. Creamy and rich on the palate, with moderate acid to help balance it out. The fruit tends toward the rich and tropical, more yellow apple, guava and mango. Notes of crushed nutshells and nougat mix in some white and mint tea, a hint of herbal spice on the finish. Rich and full but the finish shows some elegance and freshness. (88 points)
|A perennial favorite of mine, Grgich Hills|
nailed it with this 2012 Napa Chardonnay.
Medium gold color. Bold nose with yellow apples and apricots, some honeyed notes but also showing bright, floral and oceanic elegance. Clean acid supports the pear, sliced green and yellow apples, add in some tart limes and honeysuckle. Bright minerality and oceanic elements makes it mouthwatering, while the oak-influenced notes are woven in with care. Long finish, clean and salty yet rich, this is a beautiful Chardonnay that would work with a diverse array of foods. 10 months in 40% new French oak, no maloactic fermentation. (91 points)
2013 Arrowood Chardonnay - California, Sonoma CountySRP: $25
Light gold color. Bold aromatic display, lots of green melon, apricot, lime and bruised yellow apple, but also a nice mix of chalk and honeycomb. Medium bodied, creamy texture is balanced by moderate acid. A nutty approach, like crushed nuts and honey crumbled on top of bruised apples, apricot and honeydew melon, some custard and nougat elements as well. Yet it maintains freshness and finishes clean and bright, with apple blossom and honeysuckle notes. Bold but elegant, interesting and tasty stuff. 10 months in 80% French oak, 17% new. (88 points)
2013 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate - California, Sonoma County, Russian River ValleySRP: $28
Nose shows bright green apples, white flowers, peaches, mix in some honey butter and saline. On the palate, this is crisp and clean Chard with green apples and melons, white peach, along with floral notes. Nougat, whipped honey and almond flavors add richer elements, but it’s still a brisk and bright wine. Finishes with notes of orange rind and oyster shell. Pure Russian River goodness with an elegant twist. Aged nine months in 22% new French oak. (89 points)
2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley$20
Medium yellow color. Nose shows yellow apples and pears, some richer notes of guava and honey. Medium bodied, tangy acid, this wine is full of guava, pineapple on top of lime and green apples. Plenty of oak-influenced notes of nougat and honey, but overall it's a bright yet full wine. Not the most complex Chard, but works very well. (86 points)
2011 Hatton Daniels Chardonnay Fichtenberg Vineyards - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma CoastSRP: $40
Medium gold. Bold aromatic display of tropical and citrus fruits, blended in with creamy, buttery elements and an abundance of sea breeze and seashell notes, crushed chalk. Brisk approach on the palate with plenty of acid to balance out the creamy aspects. Lots of lime and green apple, but some richer elements of papaya and honey add complexity. Good amount of chalk and sea salt, almost briny, and I love it. Long finish, crisp and bright. At bit leaner than the 2012 (only 12.7% alcohol), but great depth and so much freshness. A pairing of this with Sonoma Coast shellfish is definitely in order. Fichtenburg Vineyard fermented in all old oak. (91 points)
2012 Hatton Daniels Chardonnay Fichtenberg Vineyards - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma CoastSRP: $40
Medium gold color. Bright and clean on the nose, like honeycomb and clover on top of all kinds of citrus fruits, some richer underlying elements of papaya and honey, also seashell, limestone, chalk. Wow, so very complex on the nose. Refreshing acid on the palate, the lime and green apple notes balanced by honey and papaya, some white tea and baking spice elements. Some river rock notes mix with richer elements of hazelnut and tapioca on the finish. Bold, complex yet live wire and showing lots of depth. Gorgeous stuff. (92 points)
|Sojourn and Smith-Madrone both released gorgeous Chardonnays in 2012.|
Light gold color. Bright and bursting with aromas: ripe yellow apples and banana peel, plenty of creamy, honeyed, white tea notes, macadamia nuts. The aromas are rich and bounce around, showing depth and nuance as the wine opens up. Juicy and waxy on the palate but balanced with bright acid. The yellow apple and golden pear fruit is rich and creamy, accented by notes of white tea, honeycomb, hazelnut and peanut shells. An underlying sense of rocks and chalk, while the 40% new French oak is integrated well. Finish is long and rich. A bold style but full of complexity and flavors to unpack. (91 points)
2013 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma CoastSRP: $27
Light gold color. Fresh and vibrant aromas, like green apples, limes and apricots, but also creamy, floral accents and hints of sea salt and shells. Plump fruit (yellow apples, apricots, drizzled with lime) on a creamy body with moderate acid. Nougat, honey and wildflowers mix well with elements of salted margarita and crushed sea shells. Long finish, vacillating between rich and bright elements. Very pretty stuff. Aged ten months in 20% new French oak. (90 points)
2013 La Merika Chardonnay - California, Central CoastPale straw color. Smells like lime drizzled on papaya, topped with honey and toasted nuts.
Clean and bright on the palate, sharp notes of green apple peel and green melon rind, backed up by creamy honey and apple butter. A bit simple, and some bitterness on the finish, but decent. (83 points)