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Chardonnay grape imageChardonnay is the most popular white wine in America.  But the world of Chardonnay is changing.  I personally didn’t think a change was needed, but like most success stories, the general philosophy appears to be a change or die message.  What is the change taking place in the Chardonnay world?  The change is in style.  The traditional California oaked and malolactic fermentation Chardonnay style is being challenged by a new unoaked and fruit-forward movement.  We found this to be especially true at the lower price points.  We have seen this stylistic change take place in the many Chardonnays that we have tried over the last 2 years.  I still think that Pinot Noir has the greatest number of styles for wine lovers to try but  I am now certain that Chardonnay will continue to present many different options in the near term as well.  Below is what we found in our recent Chardonnay tastings.  I will also follow up this post with another summary post of some of my favorite Chard discoveries from my recent trip to California.

Which Chardonnays were our favorites?  We found quite a few gems.  As in the past, we also found that most of the best Chardonnays tended to be premium level wines and they are priced at more than $20.  There are a few exceptions that are priced lower like Kendall Jackson’s Vintners Reserve, Foxglove, Stonehedge, Four Vines, and Columbia Crest’s “Grand Reserve.”  For the most part, like Pinot, you will need to spend a little more to get a top level Chardonnay.

Which Chardonnay won the KWG Tasting Panel’s highest honors?

Benovia 2007 Russian River ChardonnayOur favorite Chard came from a winery that I had never heard of before.  The 2007 Benovia “Russian River Valley” Chardonnay just blew us away. This wine was Excellent and we scored it 94 points.  At $35, this wine is a steal.  The only downside, I could see is there were only 330 cases made of this delicious wine.  This wine will appeal to those readers who like the light oak style we talked about above.  It displays fabulous ripe pear flavors with notes of vanilla, banana, and light oak as well.  It would pair well with lobster or crab cakes with a light cream dipping sauce.  It was just yummy!

La Crema 2007 Los Carneros ChardonnayNext up was the 2007 La Crema Chardonnay from “Los Carneros” for $30.  We have found Carneros to be a great AVA for Chardonnay in 2007.  This Chardonnay was the first foray for La Crema in terms of making a Chardonnay from Carneros.  My hat goes off to winemaker Melissa Stackhouse and her team.  They hit a home run at their first at bat. This option is very nicely balanced, rich, and creamy.  The flavor profile is a delicious light lemon with notes of honeydew melon blended in.  There are 3,000 cases so you can probably find some.  We scored it 93 points.

Chehalem 2006 Ians Reserve ChardonnayAnother winner is our favorite Chardonnay from Oregon.  The 2006 “Ian’s Reserve” Chardonnay from Chehalem seems to be a winner every vintage.  This year it costs $34 and there are only 458 cases produced.  It was very well received by the group who tasted it.  It is full-bodied, very well balanced, and smooth.  The flavor profile is a delicious light honeydew melon, and green apple.  We scored this wine 92 points and you should try to score a bottle of this wine as well.

Kendall Jackson 2007 Grand Reserve ChardonnayNext up was the winner of our big blind tasting and it might surprise you.  It did not surprise us because Kendall Jackson makes many great chardonnay options.  This year their 2007 “Grand Reserve” Chardonnay for $24 beat out several big names in the Chard world.  It is medium-bodied, well balanced, and shows good acidity.  The flavor profile is an elegant green apple and light lemon.  We scored it Very Good+ and awarded it 92 points.  Given the price point, this Chard is one of the best deals in the marketplace.  The panel found this wine to be very food-friendly they would pair it with halibut or lobster.

Fritz 2007 Reserve ChardonnayFritz is no stranger to our podium.  This year it was their 2007 “Reserve” Chard from the Russian River Valley that caught our attention.  We scored this wine 92 points.  It is full-bodied, very smooth, and creamy.  Its flavor profile is a delicious toasty oak with ripe pear-like flavors and a hint of cantaloupe.  It is a terrific food wine and pairs perfectly with Legal Sea Food’s halibut with imperial crab meat. 

Chappellet 2007 ChardonnayNext up is another prominent name in Chardonnay.  The 2007 Chappellett Chardonnay from Napa Valley, CA for $32 is pretty impressive.  It certainly caught the attention of the tasting panel.  It finished in second place in the big blind tasting and we scored it 91 points.  The best part is there are 8,000 cases available so you can definitely find some.  Its flavor profile is a toasty baked green apple with hints of honey and subtle oak.  The panel would pair it with lobster or au gratin potatoes made with cheddar cheese.

Truchard 2007 ChardonnayThe next wine brings us back to Carneros.  The Truchard 2007 Chardonnay for $30 also scored 91 points.  It seems like every Chard we try from their vineyard is truly enjoyable.  This new release continues that tradition.  It is full-bodied, nicely balanced, and very smooth with lemon and guava flavors.  It is very easy to drink and food-friendly.  It will pair well with many foods.  We would pair it with one of our favorites, Chicken St. Timothy. 

90 Points Chardonnays worth hunting down:

The first Chard on our 90 point list is the 2007 La Crema  “Russian River Valley” Chardonnay for $30.  It is a traditionally-styled, rich California Chardonnay.  It is full bodied, thick, and viscous.  It does a very nice job integrating together its moderate acidity and bright lemony flavors.  Pair this gem with Coquille St. Jacques.

EOS 2007 Cupa Grandis ChardonnayNext up from our big blind tasting is the EOS 2007 “Cupa Grandis” Chard for $45.  This tasting gem from Paso Robles, CA is very unique.  It is very nicely balanced and smooth.  The flavor profile is a very tasty light green apple with very distinctive notes of spearmint throughout.  The spearmint flavor was there last year too so it must be terroir driven.  The panel felt this tasty wine would pair well with roasted garlic chicken or a rack of lamb. 

Jordan 2007 ChardonnayNext up is a wine that many of you know, but this year’s version really stood out.  The 2007 Jordan Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley is very impressive.  It might be the best Jordan Chard that I have tried over the last few years.  It is full-bodied, balanced, slightly viscous, and blends its acidity in quite well.  The flavor profile is a crispy pear and green apple blend.  This Very Good Chard for $29 would pair perfectly with a chicken piccata.

MacRostie 2006 Wildcat ChardonnayMacRostie has been making great Chard for quite a while.  This year the 2006 Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay for $40 really caught our attention.  The flavor profile is a mineral infused blend of apricot and light lemon with hints of caramel.  The finish was dry and refreshing.  The panel felt this wine would pair very well with chicken cordon bleu.

Benovia returns to the podium with its 2007 “La Pommeraie” Chardonnay for $48. This option opens a toasty honeydew melon-like bouquet.  On the palate, this wine is full-bodied, shows excellent balance, and is smooth.  The flavor profile is a delicious light apricot and mango with hints of butterscotch and cashews.  The panel felt this Chard would be quite delightful on its own or with an appetizer like prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe.

Thelema 2007 Sutherland ChardonnayThe 2007 Thelema “Sutherland” Chard was our highest scoring Chard from South Africa.  At $20 this wine is a also a good value.  We also scored this wine 90 points.  The downside is that only 500 cases have been imported.  This option is a full-bodied wine, pleasantly viscous and creamy.  The flavor profile is a very tasty crème brulee and mild apple with a hint of caramel and minerality.  We felt this Chard would also pair perfectly with Legal Sea Food’s Halibut stuffed with Imperial crabmeat.

Foxglove 2007 ChardonnayOur top value Chard so far is the 2007 Foxglove Chardonnay.  This wine is a steal for $16.  It hails from San Luis Obispo County in CA.  We scored this wine Very Good+ and gave it 90 points.  We have purchased this wine and the Kendall Jackson “Vintner’s Reserve” below as two of our everyday Chards.  This impressive offering is light-bodied, balanced, and shows gentle acidity.  There are light melon flavors with hints of minerality.  We really enjoy it and find it very food-friendly.

The top value wine at the 89 point level is the 2007 Kendall Jackson “Vintners Reserve”.  For $12 this wine is also a steal.  It is clearly the best and most consistent Chardonnay on the market priced below $15.  There is a ton of it available and it seems to get better every year.  It is medium-bodied, balanced, slightly acidic, with light lemon flavors.  We also found a hint of honeydew melon as well.  It is one of the most popular Chardonnays for a reason.

Landmark 2007 Overlook ChardonnayNext up is the always very consistent 2007 Landmark “Overlook” Chardonnay for $29.  There are 18,000 cases of this wine so it is widely available.  We seem to recommend it every year.  It is medium-bodied, well balanced, and elegant. It displays a classic California Chardonnay style with light pineapple with hints of lemon and touch of oak and butter.

Another consistent performer is the 2007 MacRostie Chardonnay for $23.  It is medium-bodied, smooth, and very nicely balanced.  The flavor profile is lemon custard with some honeydew melon and a hint of cashews.  It is nicely refreshing and it would pair well with baked scrod.

Freestone 2006 ChardonnayIf you are looking for a crisp styled Chard, give the 2006 Freestone Chardonnay a try.  This wine is medium-bodied, clean, and refreshing with citrusy flavors that show a touch of minerality and caramel.  Our panel found this wine to be very food-friendly and would pair nicely with chicken cordon bleu or a slow roasted pork tenderloin with apple compote.

Dutton Goldfield 2007 ChardonnayAnother Chard that the panel recommended was the 2007 Dutton Goldfield “Russian River Valley” for $35.  We found this wine to be full-bodied, quite smooth, satiny, and very well balanced.  It is tasty with light apple flavors and a touch of toasty light oak.  Like the Freestone it is very food friendly and would pair well with trout or sole.

Our final highlighted wine is the 2007 EOS “Estate Private Reserve” Chardonnay from Paso Robles, CA.  Priced at $20 it is another nice value.  It is a lighter styled Chard that is balanced, soft, and creamy.  However, the flavor profile is a buttery popcorn with notes of light oak.  Its rich flavors and light weight are a nice contrast.  Give it a try and enjoy the experience.

Other impressive Very Good Chardonnays worthy of your consideration:

20. Chateau St. Michelle 2007 Chard “Canoe Ridge Estate” (Horse Heaven Hills, WA) $22 (89)
21. Clos Pegase 2007 Chard “Mitsuko’s Vineyard”(Carneros) $24 (89)
22. Dutton Estate 2007 Chard “Kyndalls Reserve” (Russian River Valley) $36 (89)
23. Napa Cellars 2007 Chardonnay “Mt. Veeder” $35 (89)
24. Patz & Hall 2006 Chard “Alder Springs” (Mendocino) $60 (88)
25. Charles Creek 2007 Chard “Las Patolitas”(Sonoma County) $25 (88)
26. Stonehedge 2007 Chard (California) $12 (88)
27. Dutton Estate 2007 Chard “Dutton Palms Vineyard” (RRV) $42 (88)
28. Merryvale 2007 Chard “Starmont”(Napa) $20 (88)
29. Mulderbosch 2006 Chard(Stellenbosch, SA) $21 (88)
30. Trefethen 2007 Chardonnay “Napa Valley” $30 (88)
31. Solaire 2007 Chard (Santa Lucia Highlands) $15 (88)
32. Joseph Phelps 2006 Chard “Ovation” (Sonoma Coast) $60 (87.5)
33. Murphy Goode 2006 Chard “Sonoma County” $17 (87)
34. Joseph Carr 2007 Chardonnay “Carneros” $17 (87)
35. Four Vines 2008 Chard “Naked” (Santa Barbara County) $14 (87)
36. Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Chard “Ethos” (Columbia Valley, WA) $32 (87)
37. Neil Ellis 2008 Chard(Stellenbosch, SA) $20 (87)
38. Columbia Crest 2007 Chard “Grand Estates” (Columbia Valley) $11 (87)
39. Columbia Crest 2006 Chard “Two Vines” (WA) $8 (86)

As you can see we are recommending several Chardonays and we have more top quality Chards to follow in our next blog post.  There are several different styles and price points represented in the above list.  Try some and enjoy.! Cheers – Ken


One Response to The World of Chardonnay is Changing

  1. Don A. Nichols says:

    Benovia makes a “not too shaby” pinot as well.

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