Let’s face it, many areas of California are know for their Chardonnay, just like there are areas known for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandels. The Chardonnay’s of California grace many a table in restaurant’s as well as homes, because it’s just the plain fact, they are really good. If you attend a party or grand function, it’s almost a given that Chardonnay is one if not the only choice for a white wine. And I just know I will get slapped for this, but for the women out there, more often than not when asked you will select Chardonnay.
There are mainly six growing regions producing grapes for California Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, Central Coast, Carneros, Napa, Sonoma and lastly Mendocino. Over the past few years there has been a move to sourcing Chardonnay fruit, closer to the cool climate of the coast. Many of the big names have lead the charge to a cooler climate grape, while still producing Chardonnays from inland sources also. Whether you find yourself visiting a winery, or a wine list at your favorite restaurant or wine bar, you can find several choices in Chardonnay from each winery.
Generally what you find in premium California Chardonnay’s is what we all expect, apple, peach, vanilla, and a minerality, which is found in a wine where the Vintner naturally processes its grape without much “dabbling”. The Chardonnay produced from inland warmer conditions will express themselves with heavier tropical fruits, apricot and maybe fig. If these grapes were allowed a second fermentation they will develop an even more robust flavor profile.
Then of course is the distinct difference of the Chardonnay, either aged in Oak or developed in stainless steel tanks. The Chardonnay developed in Stainless, nicknamed “Naked” because of the lack of oak,will be expressed in the true nature of the grape itself, pure flavors, with clarity and crispness. If aged in Oak barrels, then expect more butterscotch, nutmeg and possibly hazelnut overtones. Over the past few years some criticism has surfaced from some producers that supposedly over oaked they’re Chardonnay to cover impurities. That being said, many the “expert” looks for that oak in his or her Chardonnay, and is disappointed without it. That being said, they will also tell you that wine needs to have a sense of “balance”, and dumping oak on Chardonnay will overpower and unbalance the wine. The bottom line is that you new have some choice in what you sip with Chardonnay from California and elsewhere.
Here are a few examples of some California Chardonnay that please judges, “point labelers”, and Sommeliers everywhere.
From the Monterey County and its fine upland terroir, cool climates, comes Sierra Mar Vineyards “Roar” Chardonnay, produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands. It exhibits a mild balance of oak, with vanilla overtones, fruit of mango and pineapple, and will delight your palate with its clean, bright acidity for many years.
From the Central Coast, you should try a bottle or twelve of Chamisal’s “Naked” Stainless Steel Chardonnay, with its brightness, mild acidity, and overtones on the palate of lemon, orange and kiwi. This Chardonnay is just a pleasure to sip, either paired with food, or not.
If you are the Chardonnay “butter flavor” lover, then you must try a bottle of Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard Chardonnay. You will find on your first sniff, swirl and taste, on your nose vanilla, caramel and toast followed on the palate by balanced fruits, pineapple, and a mild oak that complements this tasty Chardonnay.
From the Russian River growing region, the Acero Don Miguel Vineyards produces their Miramar Estate Chardonnay, simply one of the most elegant Chardonnay’s I have sniffed, sipped, and swallowed. The balance of flavors in this Chardonnay, tropical fruits, pear, and the transition to smooth buttery bliss, is the signature of a truly awesome California Chardonnay. Most surprisingly, this Chardonnay has never seen the inside of an oak barrel, but will stand up to some of the “so called” great ones, in my opinion.
Finally let me tell you about La Crema Winery and their Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, one of my palates personal favorites. The vineyards are located on the Mendocino County boarder along the coastal ridges all the way to the Los Carneros Wine Region. This area brings to the vines a very long, cool growing season, similar to that of Burgundy France. What you will find when you gently remove the cork, is a nose full of butterscotch, citrus and toasted oak, followed on the palate by well balance of acidity, orange and apple. This Chardonnay portrays a luscious beauty walking down the runway of a New York Fashion Show, with charm, balance and taste.
With hundreds of vineyards and wineries producing Chardonnays in California, it is quite the challenge to identify even a handful of which are the best. Even though Chardonnay is fairly simple and straightforward to produce, there are year-to-year subtle changes in climate and other anomalies that can and will change what you taste from this years vintage. Therefore, the best thing that you can do, is stick your nose in every glass of California Chardonnay you can, wrap your lips around that glass, and choose to swallow instead of spitting once in a while, till you find your dream Chardonnay.