Giving Some Chardonnay Love

Chardonnay, the grape conjures up many thoughts ideas and opinions. One of the world’s most planted grapes, and planted in more wine regions than any other grape, Chardonnay seemingly has developed a love / hate response. With many people practicing their ABC’s, “Anything But Chardonnay,” many say this regal grape of Burgundy has fallen out of vogue from its prominence in the 80’s and 90’s.

While American, particularly heavily oaked and buttery California Chardonnay, has developed a bad reputation among many, the grape is still a winemaker’s delight as it responds to the subtle nuances of the winemaking process and the surroundings in which it’s grown (terroir). Chardonnay can be crisp and subtle, as in a Chablis, it can be tropical and refreshing, as a un-oaked California Chardonnay, or it can be smooth, round and full bodied apple pie when aged in oak and undergoing secondary malolactic fermentation.

Even though Chardonnay is THE most planted white wine grape in California and Washington, it could be arguably said that the grape is the countries most maligned (although Merlot could compete for that crown too). I recently read an article on Corkd about the results from a survey of 5000 Esquire Magazine readers (male). When asked their beverage of choice (consisting of beer, cocktail, liquor or wine), only 10% chose wine. More interesting was their response to the following question.

“Would you rather order a Chardonnay or get beat up?”

The results, 51% said “Chardonnay, please,” the other 49% took the beating. While the Esquire man may not be keen on Chardonnay, someone must be. Who is drinking Chardonnay? It has to be more than just the desperate housewives of Jersey Shore. With Chardonnay plantings being as they are it certainly isn’t getting poured down the drain. Armed with this information, I decided to review three Chardonnay from three regions of the world. While I didn’t have Chablis to sample from, the wines below are from California, Washington and Chile. What is your favorite Chardonnay? Do you prefer oak or naked (un-oaked)? Sound off in the comments below.

The NectarView

2009 Santa Ema Reserve Chardonnay

  • The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley. 14%ABV, no other information found 
  • The Swirl: Light gold color in the glass with a nice clean presentation.  
  • The Sniff: A moderate aroma of vanilla and pear with some hints of toast that indicate some oaked barrel storage or fermentation.  
  • The Sip: Crisp and clean on the palate with a full mouth-feel but very little fruit on the front or mid-palate. A single note of pear strikes a chord toward the end of the finish with a hint of tart lemon zest at the end.
  • The Score: At $10-$12 the wine is an average offering but provides a decent value. It won’t embarrass you at a party but it won’t leave people talking either. 3/5

2008 Caterina Chardonnay

  • The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from Preston Vineyards. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and stored in 50% oak for 6 months. 13.5%ABV, 500 cases produced
  • The Swirl: Lighter straw color reminiscent of wheat. In the glass the wine gives off a thicker viscosity
  • The Sniff: Subtle nose (as typical of Chardonnay) with hints of toasted almond, honey, and cinnamon.
  • The Sip: Very impressive with thick juicy flavors. A subtle effervescence greats the tip of your tongue and then gives way to an abundance of fruit. Lots of subtle layers in this full bodied white wine with honey, crisp pear, vanilla, and peaches. The finish on the wine has moderate acid and dissipates quickly.
  • The Score: At only $12 this wine outperforms many at twice the price. This is a strong recommend and a definite re-buy for any food appropriate dinner or Chardonnay lover. 4/5

90pts Wine Enthusiast; Paul Gregutt

2008 Signorello Vieilles Vignes “Old Vines” Chardonnay

  • The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from 30 year old vines in Napa, CA. 28% new French oak with 8% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. 14.3%ABV; 640 cases produced
  • The Swirl: In the glass the wine is a beautiful golden honey and coats the glass nicely.
  • The Sniff: Subtle candy aromas with baking spices, vanilla and cedar.
  • The Sip: A great example of how Chardonnay should be made. The fruit comes before the oak but the oak treatment adds a great balance of flavor to the wine. Never-ending flavors of peach, honey, butterscotch, vanilla, pear, and pineapple grace the palate of this wine. A slight lemon zest finishes out the flavor on the back palate. The finish is incredibly long with a wonderfully matched acidity that prepares the palate for the next sip.
  • The Score: At $40 this may be out of reach for the typical consumer. For those looking / needing that perfect Chardonnay to compliment a nice meal or special event or for those with discriminating palates and the wallet to afford it, this is a must try! 4+/5

93pts Wine Enthusiast; Steve Heimoff


Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

9 comments on “Giving Some Chardonnay Love

  1. Clive

    Have had some surprisingly good Chardonnays recently, see, there’s that bias again. Cooper is making some on Red Mtn but rumor is he’ll pull those old vines eventually, as is Forgeron Cellars, Walla Walla. Love the Cote Bonneville Chardonnay but maybe my favorite NW Chardonnay is Anderson Family Vineyards down in Dundee Hills.

    None of the above are butter bombs but rather nuanced, a bit brighter, etc.

  2. ThomsonVnyrds

    We poured two sample Chardonnays from our vineyard this weekend and had incredible response for the wine. Both were harvested Oct. 2009 at 24.5 brix, 3.39 pH, .70g/ml one was fermented in stainless, the other stainless as well but transplanted to a new french oak barrel for the last 3 months before bottling.

    Different palates had different responses, but overall “interesting” was the adjective used to describe the wine. Leading me to believe, people’s palates are enjoying something new and fresh which truly isn’t that new and fresh…it’s just a return to what we once knew before winemakers started going ga-ga for oak, oak, and more oak! Nevertheless people – keep sourcing and drinking interesting California Chardonnay.

    Cheers from Chardonnay Country – Los Carneros.

    1. drinknectar

      Clive – thanks for the recommendations. I’m always looking for other great Chard’s

      Thomson – I tend to agree with you that people’s palates come and go in different phases. Chardonnay is a fun grape that presents all sorts of different results. Would love to sample some from your estate some day.


  3. Pamela @ Enobytes

    I agree! What’s funny is that people can say they’ve fallen out of love with Chardonnay, yet white wine grapes, specifically Chardonnay have lead the way in standing acreage – it remains as the leading white wine grape variety grown in California. I’m wondering if retailers and restaurants are forcing/pouring chardonnay down folks throats? :)

  4. Jon Troutman

    Another beauty, Josh! I’ll take Chardonnay any day of the week over a punch to the nose 😉

    I’ll have to check out the Caterina. Sounds pretty tasty for short money.

    As for my Chardonnay preference… I’m not afraid of the oak, I just want it to be well integrated and balanced. This usually means seasoned oak barrels with grapes from cooler climates.

    1. drinknectar

      Thanks, Jon! I’m with you. There’s a lot of things I’d drink before taking a punch in the nose! I’m not afraid of oak either…like you said, balance is key.

  5. Alan Goldfarb

    I’m a recent defector from the journalism side (I put 20 years in) to the flack end (and you can’t blame me because of the state of the print medium). So, as director of communications for the Tudal Wine Group (Tudal Winery/Cerruti Cellars), I admit that I’ve got a vested interest here.

    But you all have got to try Tudal’s ’09 Chard from the Maldonado Vineyard in little-known and cool-climate Jamieson Canyon of Napa Valley.

    This is our new winemaker Kirk Venge’s first official wine for us and I’m, here to tell it’s a beauty. This is the wine that can bring me back to Chardonnay; and the reason why the Burgundians make Chardonnay.

    But don;t believe me, see for yourself. It’s gorgeous — and balanced. SRP: $45.

  6. Pingback: Nectar Monthly Honors for August | Drink Nectar

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