Chamisal Vineyards Sta Rita Hills Chardonnay 2018
This Chardonnay is all about texture, with creamy, buttery aromas previewing the experience that awaits in glass. Each soft and velvety sip arrives with mild acidity, amplifying subtle mineral notes that reign in its weighty viscosity. Enjoy with a rich risotto or classic roast chicken dinner. Average price: $38. Rating 89.
A Brief History Of The Chardonnay Grape
Chardonnay is the most planted white wine grapes in the world. The reason why is that its easy to grow in a wide variety of climates and soils. It’s also an easy wine for the winemakers to work with after it’s harvested. Last but not least, they can add their unique touches and create a wine that is quite a bit different from other Chardonnays.
You will find they range from light and fruity to full bodied and buttery. They have hints of fruit flavors such as apple, lemon, and pineapple. In the oaked versions, you will also taste hints of vanilla, butter, and coconut.
In addition to Napa Valley Chardonnay, you will also find it grown in top regions around the world. It’s the white you will see in France’s Chablis region, the main grape in White Burgundy, and in Champagne. You will also find it in several regions around the world in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Canada, and other regions in the US.
Two Types Of Napa Valley Chardonnay
You will find a large variance of Napa Valley Chardonnay wines. This white is versatile and changes depending on where it’s grown, how long it stays on the vine, and decisions made by the winemaker during the aging process.
However, I wanted to give you a quick overview of the two main types of Chardonnay, so you know what to look for to find what you want.
Oaked & Buttery: These wines are medium to full bodied wines. Those “aged in oak” go through a natural process called Malolactic Fermentation . This gives the wines a buttery or creamy taste. You will also taste hints of baked apples, vanilla, and coconut. You can drink them right away or allow them to age for a few years, which will add to their complexity.
Unoaked & Citrusy: These wines are light to medium bodied. They age in stainless steel tanks or neutral oak barrels, so offer a fresh, crisp taste with hints of citrus flavors. You’ll want to look for words that refer to the stainless steel tanks, a small percentage of new oak or neutral barrels, or no ML fermentation. This process also keeps the acidity in the wine so it is more fruit forward.
However, knowing these two basic Napa Valley Chardonnay wine flavor profiles will give you a good foundation to find what you like to drink more easily.
In addition to the two above, Napa Valley Chardonnay there is also a third type of wine made by this grape, sparkling wine. You will also find these all around the region. .
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Focused On Freshness And Texture
Napa Valleys Far Niente has made Chardonnay without malolactic fermentation since 1979, opting instead to preserve as much natural acidity, texture and potential to age as possible from its grapes.
Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that happens either during or after the wines primary fermentation, when the sugar in the grapes is being turned into alcohol. During malolactic fermentation, naturally occurring malic acid is transformed into lactic acid.
Because Napa can be so warm, acids can drop out really quickly, says Nicole Marchesi, winemaker at Far Niente. We do no in order to retain freshness and acidity and so that the wine will age and pair well. For our sites, its really important to maintain good freshness.
The majority of Far Nientes grapes are grown in Coombsville, a relatively cool region in the southern part of the valley with well-drained gravelly loam and volcanic ash soils. The vines are planted to the Charlemagne clone of Chardonnay, propagated by cuttings brought from Burgundy decades ago.
Because Napa can be so warm, acids can drop out really quickly. We do no in order to retain freshness and acidity and so that the wine will age and pair well. Nicole Marchesi, winemaker at Far Niente
In 2021, Far Niente bought a property in Carneros that previously belonged to Clos du Val, with 60 acres of Chardonnay and Merlot and 133 additional acres of plantable vineyard land. Far Niente plans to plant 73 acres more, mostly to Chardonnay.
Shannon Ridge High Elevation Chardonnay 2020
From Lake County, Calif., this is an austere, fruity Chardonnay. Pear springs out on the nose, followed by muted mineral notes. The palate is soft and dry, and once again gives center stage to orchard fruit. Stick this refreshing wine in the cooler for your next picnic. Average price: $23. Rating: 88.
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Best New Zealand: 2017 Dog Point Chardonnay
Courtesy of Wine.com
Dog Point is known not just for employing organic growing practices, but also for being one of New Zealands most lionized winemakers. New Zealand as a whole gets oceanic climates with plenty of cool fog and marine layer, but the Marlborough region at the northern tip of the South Island is one of the nations rare dry and warm spots, making it a popular place for winemaking. Its just one of the factors that make Dog Point a top-dog chardonnay.
The faint oakiness in this wine makes room for other notes to shine, like vanilla, lemon, grapefruit, apple and peach. Minerals abound, painted with a nutty cashew brush. This is bold and dry with a citrus burst on the finish.
Best With Unlimited Budget
The fragrant and pleasing nose has warm notes of citrus, spices, and garden herbs. The mouth is salty with pronounced tastes of ripe fruit, dried herbs, and lots of minerals. Highly expressive. This vintage shows warm scents of grapefruits, Meyer lemons, and cinnamon spice. Notes of garden herbs, such as parsley and coriander, can be discerned too.
The palate has the interesting flavors of sea salt, ginger, white pepper, and guavas. Flavors of lime cordial and flint blend together to add to the remarkable mouthfeel. Exceedingly long and spicy finish. An impressive choice.
Some of the Worlds Best Chardonnays
Aubert has been known for producing world-class Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from vineyards on Sonoma Coast. The winery was founded in 1999 by Mark Aubert, a seasoned winemaker, and his wife Teresa to express Sonomas singular terroirs with undeniable grace.
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A Champion Of Site Expression
Three Sticks was founded in 2002 by Bill Price, a few years after he purchased the famous Durell Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Price also owns the Gaps Crown, Walala, Alana, One Sky and William James Vineyards in Sonoma, all important components of the Three Sticks lineup of Chardonnays.
Winemaker Ryan Prichard was brought on to the Three Sticks team by local legend and Director of Winemaking Bob Cabral the two had previously worked together at Williams Selyem. Prichard grew up in Northern California and fell in love with wine while at Cornell University, furthering his winemaking studies at the University of California, Davis. He is drawn to the tension and verve of Chardonnay.
The acidity is so important and sometimes overlooked, he says. California has such nice sunshine and the ability to get things ripe, but its about finding that balance between texture and the energy provided by the acidity.
The Chardonnay grapes Prichard gets from across Sonoma County allow him to make very different expressions.
People talk about it being a winemakers wine and thats true, but to make truly great Chardonnay, you cant build itit comes from the vineyard, says Prichard.
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Gaps Crown Chardonnay is a completely different take again. The site, so well known for Pinot Noir, is an overlooked gem for Chardonnay.
Massican 2021 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay
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Perfumed in grapefruit skin, green apple and apple blossom, this is a perennially fresh, complex and light expression of the variety from the esteemed site. Textured and well structured, it is a fantastic wine from a small vintage. Virginie Boone
All tastings reported in the Buying Guide are performed blind. Typically, products are tasted in peer-group flights of from 5-8 samples. Reviewers may know general information about a flight to provide contextvintage, variety or appellationbut never the producer or retail price of any given selection. When possible, products considered flawed or uncustomary are retasted.
Ratings reflect what our editors felt about a particular product. Beyond the rating, we encourage you to read the accompanying tasting note to learn about a products special characteristics.
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Wine & Vintage Details
An elegant expression of Chardonnay with power and grace, and all the things you love in Chardonnay. Aromas and flavors led by a bright citrus character with classic Chardonnay tones of toasted brioche, ripe apple, pineapple, pear and caramel flan. In the mouth, creamy and filling, with notable acidity and minerality alongside oak spice, subtle caramel and vanilla bean with impressive length and a lingering, memorable finish. An elite Napa Chardonnay, rich and compelling.
Early season rains brought yields back to normal levels this year, mitigating the extended drought that afflicted most of California. A cool spring resulted in normal timing for bud break, in late March. Temperatures remained fairly cool in May and June, but high temperatures in July triggered an early start to harvest. Quality was solid for the vintage overall. The cool season and fairly normal hang time helped balance acids and allowed layers of flavors to emerge, with select vineyard blocks revealing themselves to be of reserve level.
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With apologies to the late Rusty Staub, le grand orange indeed!
Curiously, however, none of the above concoctions contains any pumpkin. Theres a good reason for this. When a pumpkin is cut open and you begin the thankless and shambolic task of removing the meat of this ill-shaped gourd, all but the anosmic will notice how disgusting the aroma really is.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan calls Halloween peak American weirdness and says the pumpkins innards smell like wet cardboard. He calls removing the pumpkin guts traumatic. Pumpkins, he says, are related to squash, which he says are zombie vegetables that have no taste like a paper towel.
It is for reasons such as these that all the pumpkin-scented items were asked to purchase during a six-week period have been improved with the use of herbs and seasonings. In some cases, real spices are used including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
Alternatively, pumpkin spice flavors are created by chemists in laboratories. One of the worlds largest such companies, International Flavors and Fragrances , boasts on its website that it employs hundreds of flavorists and scent design managers. I have no precise definition for either term, even though decades ago I had a great uncle who was an IFF chemist.
People get pleasure from this?! Apparently. Many Americans adore such stuff and pay ludicrously for some of them.
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Embracing The Estate Ethos
Though Donum Estate was established in Carneros in 2001, it didnt have its own estate winery until 2019, a game-changing event that contributed to the increasing quality of its wines.
For a long time, the winerys lead protagonist has been Pinot Noir. That is about to change with the exceptional Chardonnays being produced from its Carneros estates, vineyards in the Russian River Valley and soon, the hills above the coastal town of Bodega, planted in 2020 and 2021.
Im approaching Chardonnay with the same philosophy as Pinot Noir, says Dan Fishman, vice president of winegrowing and winemaker at Donum Estate. Were only doing a new bottling if its warranted. Chardonnay is an interesting challenge it can sometimes be a little more challenging in terms of farming.
Were looking for a leaner style and higher acid, and focus on what we can do to maximize flavor . You cant add that in the winemaking. Dan Fishman, vice president of winegrowing and winemaker at Donum Estate
Fishman and his team are only now getting into some of the new blocks and clones of Chardonnay on their properties. They try to be as hands-off as possible in the vineyard, opting for organic and biodynamic farming practices, and in the cellar.
Were looking for a leaner style and higher acid, and focus on what we can do to maximize flavor , he says. You cant add that in the winemaking.
The Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown
After creating the winning wine at the Judgement of Paris, Grgich moved on and opened his own winery. His winemaking skills received another award just a few years later.
In 1980, a wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Craig Goldwyn, held an event in Chicago called The Great Chardonnay Showdown. He invited 200 wineries from around the world to participate. A large portion of the entries were from France and California.
It was another blind tasting, so the judges did not know the wines origins or background.
In the end, Grgich’s 1977 vintage won the competition. This second win showed the world that Napa Valley Chardonnay wines were worth a taste.
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Best Napa Valley Chardonnay Wineries
Here are 10 places that I enjoy visiting for Napa Valley Chardonnay.
1. Chateau Montelena : This famous winery helped put Napa Valley Chardonnay wines on the map with their win at the 1976 Judgement of Paris. They age in oak for around 10 months and they skip the malolactic fermentation, so they are more fruit forward. They often have hints of lemon curd, green apple, orange zest, white pepper, and toast. They are about $60 a bottle.
2. Beringer : This is another great place to stop. Their 1994 vintage won Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 1996. You will find four to five Napa Valley Chardonnay wines on their list that range from around $24 to $50 a bottle. All of them go through some version of malolactic fermentation, which means they will have somewhat of a buttery taste.
3. Miner Family Winery : This winery offers four to five different Chardonnays from vineyards all around the Napa Valley, which means each one has a slightly different taste profile. All of them age for a while in oak barrels, which adds that smooth buttery taste. They are a popular pick as the White House served their 2004 Wild Yeast Chardonnay at a dinner party. They are $35 to $60 a bottle.
9. Far Niente : This winery has been producing Napa Valley Chardonnay wines since 1979. Their wines do not go through malolactic fermentation, so they will be crisp and fruit forward. You will often taste hints of tropical flavors, lemon, and honeydew. They go for around $70 to $80 a bottle.
Well Make The Wine You Make The Occasion
Its our namesake. And for good reason. This estate-bottled Napa Valley Chardonnay is rooted in four decades worth of perfected traditions across our Coombsville vineyards nestled against the Vaca Mountains east of the city of Napa. The temperate climate and volcanic ash soils create the ideal environment for producing the subtle, tropical flavors and complex aromas that are Far Niente Chardonnay. Made with an absence of malolactic fermentation, which retains the grapes natural acidity, this iconic Napa Valley wine neverfails to captivate with its beautiful structure, well-developed fruit, and potential for aging. The arrival of each new vintage brings stunning new wines.
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Crafting Wines Of Distinction
Stonestreet was founded by Jess Stonestreet Jackson and Barbara Banke in 1995 to focus on high elevation Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the Mayacamas Mountain Range above Alexander Valley.
The Alexander Mountain Estate is indeed extreme. Up to 2,800 feet in elevation and stretched across 5,100 acres, it is now run by Jackson and Bankes son, Christopher, and his wife, Ariel.
Chardonnay has always been my number one love because of how stimulating it is from a winegrowing perspective, says Weerts. There are grapes that talk about themselves and others that talk about soil. Chardonnay talks about soil and that makes it a conduit for understanding terroir.
After working a harvest at Vérité Winery in Sonoma County, cofounded by Jackson with Pierre Seillan, he became the winemaker at Stonestreet in 2004. Weerts also serves as senior vice president of vineyard operations for Jackson Family Wines.
There are grapes that talk about themselves and others that talk about soil. Chardonnay talks about soil and that makes it a conduit for understanding terroir. Graham Weerts, Stonestreet Estate Vineyards and Winery
The wines seamlessly combine power and elegance, with balanced acidity and weight, and structure that suggests plenty of time for aging.
Napa Valley Chardonnay Is The Winner
In the 1960s and 1970s, more and more wineries were planting Napa Valley Chardonnay. But it wasn’t until 1976 that the worldwide wine industry started to take note.
This was the year of a small, little reported wine tasting in Paris. It included just a handful of wines from California and France. It’s goal was to select the best red and best white in the world.
It was a blind tasting, so the judges didn’t know the origins of each wine they were tasting. They sampled each one, gave it a rating, and moved onto the next one.
Since French wines were the best wines in the world at this time, only one single journalist arrived to cover the story. No one thought it was going to be a newsworthy event.
Four white Burgundies and six California Chardonnays competed for the best white wine.
In the end, the judges selected Chateau Montelena 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay as the best white wine. With Napa’s Stag’s Leap Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon bringing home the prize for the best red wine.
The results shocked the judges as well as the wine tasting world. It is now known as the 1976 Judgement of Paris .
Chateau Montelena winemaker at the time was Croatian born Mike Grgich.
This event showed the rest of the world that the region was a definite player in the wine industry and people started to take their wines more seriously.
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