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It's Time to Stop Turning Up Our Noses to Chardonnay

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Studies show that women drink more wine than men, and, generally, it’s white wine they drink the most. Anecdotally, we find men rarely ask for chardonnay, and that always struck as odd. Is chardonnay associated with quiche? Real men don’t drink chardonnay?

It doesn’t help that “feminine” is often a descriptor used for some chardonnays while “masculine” or “brawny” is commonly used to describe zinfandel, barolo or cabernet sauvignon.

Whatever the reason, it’s time for all of us to get over our prejudices of the most widely planted grape variety in the world. Despite what we claim, chardonnay is the most sold white wine in the United States for good reasons: it’s delicious and goes well with seafood and poultry.

There is even more to like in today’s chardonnay. Producers are abandoning the oaky, buttery style that swept through the industry many years ago. Today’s chardonnay, in the best of hands, is returning to a Burgundian style: light oak and balanced acidity. Many producers are even making unoaked chardonnays that perform remarkably better alongside food.

While many top producers in California have put price tags of $50 and more on their premium chardonnays, it isn’t hard to find burgundy for less. Macon-Village, for instance, sells for under $25. Chardonnays from satellite regions of Burgundy can be had for under $50 and are incredibly delicious.

Although they are more expensive, we enjoy the chardonnays from Ramey. Made in a burgundian style, they are rich and luxurious with the natural acidity tamed by malolactic fermentation. For the best values look for Chateau Ste Michelle, Kendall-Jackson, J. Lohr and La Crema.

Here are a few we recently enjoyed:

  • Domaine Gilles Bouton Saint Aubin 1er Crus “Champlots” 2018 ($56). This premier cru reminds us of a good meursault with nutty, rich lychee nut flavors and a luxurious texture. Rich, round and well-balanced, it is a beautiful wine for the price.

  • Louis Latour Chameroy Macon-Villages 2019 ($20). Latour produces a Macon-Villages for $15, but we enjoyed the additional concentration of the Chameroy. White fruit and citrus notes.

  • Balletto Vineyards Teresa’s Russian River Valley Unoaked Chardonnay 2020 ($20). One of the best values in chardonnay, this unoaked version is stripped of the oaky, buttery notes common to extracted chardonnay. It’s a much better match to food. Citrus and melon notes with crisp acidity.

  • Kendall-Jackson Avant Unoaked Chardonnay 2019 ($17). Crisp and lively acidity with tropical fruit and apple flavors with a dash of citrus.

  • La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2019 ($22). Pear and apple notes with s smooth texture and a touch of sweetness.

  • J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay 2019 ($25). Using grapes from a cool climate in Monterey, this wine offers generous aromas with apple, pear and lemon dominating the flavor profile. Soft mouthfeel and a sweet oak finish. J. Lohr also produces an October Night chardonnay ($25) that uses a different clone and is equally delicious.

  • Kosta Browne One-Sixteen Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019 ($85). At this price we’re getting into premier cru territory. But the concentration, complexity and focus are undeniable in this wine. Known more for its pinot noir, Kosta Browne has been focused on creating a chardonnay with equal stature. Winemaker Julien Howsepian has structured this chardonnay with balanced acidity and plenty of pear, apple and spice notes.

  • Lucia Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2019 ($65). Wow, what a mouthful of beautiful chardonnay. From grapes grown in a single vineyard of Santa Lucia Highlands, this wine from Jeff Pisoni has layered fruit flavors of apple and pear with a light touch of oak notes and a citrus nose. The nutrient-poor soil here forces the vines to struggle and that creates more intense fruit.

  • Hahn SLH Chardonnay 2018 ($25). From the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey, this rich and buttery chardonnay exudes luxury. Apple and mango notes dominate the palate.

  • Veramonte Chardonnay 2019 ($12). From Chile and made with organic grapes, this simple chardonnay has pear notes and a kiss of oak. It’s hard to beat for the price.

  • Smith-Madrone Estate-Bottled Chardonnay 2017 ($40). Co-owner Stu Smith led a volunteer team to spare his property from the devastating 2020 Glass Fire that destroyed much of Spring Mountain. He has much to be thankful for, including this distinctive chardonnay made in better times. Tropical and stone fruit character with a heavy dose of oak.

Wine picks

  • Bodegas Volver Single-Vineyard Tempranillo 2018 ($18). We were astounded by this rich and full-bodied tempranillo from La Mancha. Deep color, generous licorice and tobacco aromas with mature plum and cherry fruit flavors followed by soft tannins. You could pair this with grilled beef or just enjoy it on its own.

  • Unshackled Rosé 2019 ($21). Drawing grapes from the Central and North Coasts, this juicy rosé comes from a blend of pinot noir, syrah, grenache and mourvedre. Citrus and melon aromas with grapefruit and strawberry flavors.

  • J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah 2019 ($15). A great value, this luscious syrah, blended with a bit of viognier, grenache noir and mourvedre, is pure pleasure. Floral aromas with rich red berry flavors and a bit of spice.

  • Pio Cesare Barbera D’Alba 2018 ($33). There is an ocean of inexpensive to moderately priced barbera d’alba on the market today. Most is passable, although some of the bargain selections taste like generic red wine. Offering proof that you get what you pay for, we highly recommend this Pio Cesare selection. Big and bold, almost barolo-like, this barbera d’alba offers a complex mélange of deep dark cherries, berry notes, and a trace of tar. An outstanding selection that will match the boldest cuisine.

  • Veramonte Organic Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley 2018 ($12). This beauty from Chile is an outstanding value. Made entirely from cabernet sauvignon, it has plum and black cherry notes and is aged in old, neutral barrels to create a fresh-fruited wine for immediate consumption.

  • Ryder Estate Pinot Noir Rosé Central Coast 2020 ($15). This quaffable rosé is affordable and refreshing. Fresh berries dominate with a light but appropriate acidity and weight in the mouth. Perfect for summer.

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