Recent Chardonnays to Recommend
Good California Chardonnay is ubiquitous, and great California Chardonnay is out there if you know where to
look for it. Chardonnay is California’s most widely planted grape (90,000 acres) and is the most popular wine
varietal among American consumers. Chardonnay thrives in eight California appellations known for Pinot Noir
(Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains, Carneros, Russian River
Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Anderson Valley), with stunning examples showing up from lesser-known regions
as well such as the Mendocino Ridge AVA. My personal taste veers toward barrel-fermented Chardonnay, but
with appropriate foods, I can easily be satisfied with a stainless steel-fermented style.
Chardonnays from cooler regions of California tend to have more restraint and mineral-infused acidity. Those
from warmer regions such as the Russian River Valley veer toward richer, more tropical-fruited offerings.
The following wines have all been sampled within the last two months.
2007 Alysian Cresta Ridge Vineyard Taurin Block Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.1% alc.,pH 3.47,
378 cases, $38. 100% barrel fermented, 50% MLF. Aged 10 months in 40% new and 60% one and two-yearold
French oak barrels.
Aromas of grilled pineapple, baked pear, lime, sawdust and hay bale. The flavors
echo the nose with added notes of baked apples and lemon zest with a faint woody note. Nice harmony and
well-crafted, but the aromatic profile is strange. Not nearly as good as a bottle I had last year that I rated
2008 Aubert Larry Hyde & Sons Carneros Chardonnay
15.8% alc., $80.
Golden yellow with a slight green caste and very slight haze in the glass.
Prominent aromas of baked apples and pears and buttery oak. A feast of baked
pears, apple pie, roasted nuts and butter brickle, richly presented with an
impressive fruit intensity on the big finish. Better the next day from a previously
opened and re-corked bottle. Alcohol peaks out on the finish as the wine warms
in the glass. This is a hedonistic style of Chardonnay best enjoyed by itself.
Regrettably, although the higher alcohol adds body and texture, it limits the
amount you can drink. Best to sip. Very good.
2008 Benovia Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.2% alc., $32.
Light straw color
in the glass. Bright aromas of baked apples, butterscotch and banana peel.
Moderately light in style with mildly creamy flavors of green apples, white
peaches, vanilla, caramel and brioche. Clean, sharp, focused. Good.
2009 Fat Cat California Chardonnay
12.5% alc., pH 3.34, TA 0.62, Glucose/
Fructose 8.47 g/L, $10.
Very shy nose with faint aromas of green apples, pears,
and oak vanillin. An easy drinker with pleasant and confected flavors of pears,
toffee, green apple candy, and spice. A respectable “chick” quaff, especially
when chilled, that has low alcohol and will please the crowd of wine drinkers
who like residual sugar in their Chardonnay. Not for connoisseurs. Decent.
2009 Fogdog Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
13.5% alc., $35. 42%
Pastorale Vineyard and 58% independent growers. Aged 12-14 months
in 35% new and 65% 2 to 3-year-old French oak barrels.
color and clear in the glass. Classic Chardonnay aromas of pears,
lemon curd, guava and buttered brioche. Tasty and moderately rich
core of pear, citrus, green apple, caramel and butter flavors with a
refreshing lift of acidity on the bright finish. A thoroughly pleasing drink that
sings with quality. Very good.
2009 Hahn Estate SLH Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
14.5% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.59, $25. Aged
in 42% new French oak barrels.
Light straw color and clear in the glass. Fragrant with aromas of golden
apples, apple crisp, pears and butter with a heavy nod to oak over time in the glass. Tasty array of
flavors including baked apples, pastry cream, toffee and vanilla. A solid drinker. Good.
2009 Hirsch Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.0% alc., $44.
Fermented and aged in glass, stainless steel and oak. All estate fruit.
fragrant with scents of apple pie, brioche, yeast and wet rocks. Crisp and juicy
with flavors of white peaches, apples and yeast with apple hi-notes persisting on
the acid-driven and minerally finish. Very good.
2009 LIOCO Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
12.6% alc., pH
3.46, TA 0.66, $35. A mountain top vineyard at 1600 feet elevation. Wente clone
on original rootstock planted in 1982. 40 degree diurnal temperature swings,
late harvest dates, low yields. Whole cluster pressed and cold fermented in
stainless steel only. Wild yeast fermentation and natural MLF. Aged 6 months
with fine lees contact. Unfined and unfiltered.
Faint straw color in the glass.
Aromas of canned peaches, green apple and hay bale. Crisp and minerally
flavors of green apples, lime and lemon, and pear, with a nutty note in the
background. Bright acidity, slightly tart, with an hi-strung finish. Would have
liked some oak on this fruit. Good (+). Note: I really like the back labels of
LIOCO wines which provide all the information you want with no fluff.
2008 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
14.1% alc., $35. From three small blocks at Pisoni
Vineyards. Few connoisseurs are aware of the tiny parcels of Chardonnay on the property. Originally
planted in 19082, these old Chardonnay vines prosper in the cool climate.
Medium straw color in the
glass. Aromas of ripe pears, pineapple and honeyed biscuit. Delicious baked pear, apple pie and
toasted brioche flavors with a citrus high note in the background. Smooth and silky with some
persistence on the finish. A warmer climate style not particularly high in acid or minerality but thoroughly
2009 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay
14.1% alc., 435
cases, $40. Produced from three small blacks at Pisoni Vineyard planted in 1982 using a prestigious Montrachet selection from a famous producer in Burgundy. Unfiltered.
Light golden straw color and clear in the glass. Nicely
perfumed with aromas of pears, papaya, banana and brioche. Delicious
flavors of pears, creme brulee, white peaches and light caramels. Soft
and slight creamy with no hard edges and commendable balance. Fruit
is emphasized over acidity. Will have many fans. Very good.
2007 Mount Eden Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
13.8% alc., 1,375 cases, $42.
Moderate straw color in the glass. Aromas
of fresh-picked apples and toasty oak. Flavorful, mildly creamy and
smooth with impeccable balance and breeding. Delicious flavors of
baked apples, pears, citrus, honey and vanilla caramel. Restrained and
nuanced, becoming more layered and interesting with time in the glass.
A California classic that will age for years.
Mount Eden Vineyards
2009 Presqu’ile Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay
14.3% alc.,TA 0.725, $35. 60% Solomon Hills Vineyard
and 40% Bien Nacido Vineyard. Clones 4, 96 and 95. Aged 14 months in 8% new French oak barrels.
straw color and clear in the glass. Aromas of tropical fruits and banana. Restrained, but pleasing flavors of
apples, ripe pears, and jackfruit. Balanced and easy to drink. A mainstream Chardonnay that works as a daily
drinker and will compliment many foods because of its vibrant acidity. Decent (+).
2009 Rivers-Marie B. Thieriot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
alc., 116 cases. Aged in 60% new French oak barrels. 100% MLF.
(second to some botrytis) and clear in the glass. Faint aromas of apple crisp
and toasty oak. Delicious and complex with vivid flavors of baked pears, baked
apples, honey, yeast, creme soda, toasted coconut and some citrus peel
bringing up the finish. Many of the flavors upon opening are oak-driven but
tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, there
was more aromatic interest and less oak influence. Nicely balanced and very
smooth on the palate with a good grip of acidity. A unique Chardonnay that will
please the adventurous. Cellar or decant if you drink now. Very good.
2007 Rhys Vineyards Alpine Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $59. Clones are Hyde, Wente, 76 and 96 planted at
1380 feet elevation. Soils are 24” top soil over soft shale. Yield 1.28
tons per acre.
Light straw color in the glass. Crisp aromas of crushed
rocks, metal shavings, flint, Asian pear and green apple. A restrained,
classic style with flavors of green apple, lemon, and flint, enlivened by a
good grip of acidity, finishing bone dry. A sophisticated and terroir-driven
Chardonnay distinct from the commonplace California fruit and oak-driven style.
Tasted two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine
was fresh, crisp and taut. Burgundy nuts will go ga-ga over this wine.
2007 Suacci-Carciere Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
14.1% alc., pH 3.60, TA 0.70, 200 cases, $35. The winemaker is Ryan
Zepaltas (Zepaltas Wines). Owners Andy Carciere and John D. Suacci.
50% fermented in stainless steel and 50% fermented in French oak.
100% MLF with aggressive lees stirring. Aged 11 months in barrel.
Light straw color and clear in the glass. Appealing scents and flavors of
tropical fruits including pineapple and an array of lemons. Slightly rich
and creamy, with just the right dose of oak to add a subtle brioche, vanilla and
butter undertone to the sprightly and minerally citrus notes. Heintz Vineyard,
regardless of who is making the wine, consistently produces some of California’s
greatest Chardonnays. The name of this vineyard on a bottle is a badge of quality.
2008 Wind Gap “Yuen” James Berry & Brosseau Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay
12.9% alc., pH
3.36, 525 cases, $35. Released April 2011. A new venture from Pam and Pax Mahle. Wente clone (33+ years
at Brosseau Vineyard and 45+ years at James Berry Vineyard). 60% fermented with natural yeasts in concrete
egg-shaped tanks with remaining 40% whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel. MLF in multiple
use French oak barrels.
Very light straw color in the glass. A delicate, lean wine offering scents and flavors of
citrus fruits, pear and papaya. A Rhone-style white wine with bright acidity and no oak influence that is simple.
Will work as an aperitif. Decent.