California Chardonnay
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California Chardonnay

 

The Fifty Best California Chardonnay Tasting of 2019

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 26 recent release California Chardonnay wines with 12 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles and served well chilled. Only ice water and crusty peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. Prices indicated do not include tax.

 



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Shibumi Knoll Chardonnay 2015
Buena Tierra Vineyard

(Russian River Valley)   $90

Following fermentation, this wine(made from Chardonnay grapes grown on vines planted over 50 years ago) was barrel-aged in French oak (40% new, 60% neutral) for 14 months before bottling.

Aroma: Pineapple, gooseberry, cherry skin, vanilla, violets, floral, grass, cedar, oak, burgundian, beautiful.

Palate: Grapefruit, citrus, lemon peel, honey, rich butter, vanilla, grassy, wood, oak, burgundian.

Finish: Gooseberry, lemongrass, creamy, oak, burgundian, enjoyable, beautiful, lovely.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Shibumi Knoll Chardonnay Buena Tierra Vineyard

 



Loring Wine Company
River Quinn 2017 Chardonnay

(Santa Barbara County) $34

This wine was barrel fermented (100%) and aged half in French oak (20% new) and half in American oak (20% new)

Aroma: Lemon, lemon zest, orange peel, Golden Delicious apple, melon, fig, apricot, pineapple, honey, honeysuckle, dill, grassy, hay, coffee, mineral oil, vanilla, cream, wood chips, oak, bright.

Palate: Pineapple, tangerine, lush tropical fruit, lemon, lemon spritz, citrus, tart green apple, apple pulp, white raisin, butter, vanilla, good acid, smooth, balanced.

Finish: Mango, pineapple, citrus, apple juice, floral, buttery, creamy, balanced oak, nice finish.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Loring Wine Company River Quinn Chardonnay



Silverpoint Cellars Chardonnay 2016
(Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County)   $45

This wine was made from grapes that experienced a long, gradual growing season. Following barrel fermentation, the wine was aged on its lees (wasted yeast) in French oak (50% new) for 15 months followed by another 6 months of aging once bottled.

Aroma: Pineapple, peach, tart apple, lemon, lemongrass, vanilla, malolactic, brine, creamy, oak, fresh, lovely.

Palate: Pineapple, unripe mango, orange, apple, lemon zest, soft citrus, honey, vanilla, buttery, oak,, cedar, gentle.

Finish: Papaya, guanabana, lemon, Mediterranean olive mix, brine, creamy, oak, balanced, clean, nice, soft, big, tasty.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Silverpoint Cellars Chardonnay



Lafond Winery Chardonnay 2016
Lafond Vineyard

(Sta. Rita Hills)   $42

This 100% Chardonnay was totally barrel-fermented and aged in a combination of new and neutral French oak barrels.

Aroma: Fresh red apple, pear, lychee, lemon, citrus, pineapple, honeydew melon, banana, tropical fruit, vanilla, hay, oak.

Palate: Lemon, lemon zest, citrus, grapefruit, tart apple, tropical fruit, lightly floral, creamy, buttery, oak, wood, wet stone, great minerality, deliciously tart, crisp, fresh, soft, delicate, beautiful, elegant.

Finish: Butter, oak, well balanced, soft, smooth, delicious.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Lafond Winery Chardonnay Lafond Vineyard



Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay 2017
(Mendocino)   $9

This wine is a blend of Chardonnay (89%) and smaller amounts of Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that were fermented in stainless steel tanks and a mix of French and American oak barrels.

Aroma: Freshly cut apples, pear, Korean white melon, cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, bright citrus, apple blossom, lightly floral, light honey, honeysuckle, almond, pinot grigio, bright.

Palate: MacIntosh apple, white peach, pineapple, melon, acai berry, white grape, lemon peel, citrus, clove, mineral, hint of cedar, refreshing.

Finish: Mandarin, lemon, citrus, sweet apple, wet flint rocks, clean, soft.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Lewis Cellars 2017 Sonoma Chardonnay
(Russian River Valley)   $55

Grapes for this wine were whole-cluster pressed, then fermented in French oak and aged totally in French oak for 11-15 months prior to being bottled, unfined and unfiltered.

Aroma: Pineapple, mango, star fruit, citrus, vanilla, praline, buttered popcorn, fresh cut grass, oak.

Palate: Pineapple, orange rind, lemon peel, honeysuckle, herbaceous, dill, tarragon, straw, vanilla, creamy, buttery, oak.

Finish: Apple, citrus pith, butter cookie, herbs, reserved oak, balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Lewis Cellars Sonoma Chardonnay



Balletto 2016 Chardonnay
Cider Ridge Vineyard

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $39

Grapes for this wine were whole-cluster pressed and barrel fermented using indigenous yeast, after which the wine was totally barrel aged in French oak (33% new) for 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Peeled tangerine, apple, apple juice, banana, coconut, tropical fruit, faint melon, minerals. red slate, wet stone, oak.

Palate: Star fruit, gooseberry, tangerine, lemon, big citrus, apple, apple blossom, lemongrass, minerality, high acid, gentle tartness.

Finish: Star fruit, gooseberry, white peach, pineapple, tropical fruit, butter, hint of oak.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Balletto Chardonnay Cider Ridge Vineyard



Pellet Estate Chardonnay 2015
Sunchase Vineyard

(Sonoma County)   $68

This wine was made from hand-sorted Chardonnay (100%) grapes that were fermented over 36 months in French oak barrels and followed by a secondary “malolactic” fermentation over the next 6 months on its lees (wasted yeast).

Aroma: Lemon peel, fresh citrus, citrus oil, vanilla, caramel, honeycomb, dill, grassy, minerals, oak.

Palate: Pear, apple, navel orange, lemon, lemon peel, spring flowers, floral, vanilla, praline, butter, cedar, oak, balanced, clean, crisp, elegant.

Finish: Pineapple, lemon balm, nice tartness, bright, refreshing, lovely, pleasant finish.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Pellet Estate Chardonnay Sunchase Vineyard



Relay Wines Chardonnay
(Mendocino) 1.5 Liter Box.   $17

This wine was made from sustainably-farmed grapes grown by the Ehrke Family in Sacramento Valley.

Aroma: Granny Smith apple, Honey Crisp apple, crisp apple, gooseberry, white peach, nectarine, fruit cocktail, honey, honeysuckle, apple blossom, white flowers, jasmine, saline.

Palate: Honeycrisp apple, Golden Delicious apple, crisp apple, pineapple, guava, peach, white peach, banana, lemon, lemon zest, orange, honey, jasmine, minerality, smooth, like velvet.

Finish: Honeycrisp apple, Pink Lady apple, apple, balanced citrus, creamy, lovely.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Relay Wines Chardonnay



Bowman Cellars 2017 Chardonnay
(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $32

Made from hand-harvested Chardonnay grapes, this wine was barrel fermented in neutral French and American oak.

Aroma: Pineapple, orange rind, coconut, vanilla, mint, sweet clover, purslane, clove, hay, buttery, oak, cedar, malolactic, burgundian.

Palate: Lemon-lime, orange, citrus, pineapple, peach, gooseberry, herbal, vanilla, butter, creamy, nutty, oak, cedar.

Finish: Honeysuckle, caramelized sugar, vanilla, oak, balanced, rich, classic white burgundy, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Bowman Cellars Chardonnay



ROAR Chardonnay 2017
Rosella's Vineyard

Organic (Santa Lucia Highlands)   $45

Following harvest and fermentation, this wine was aged for 14 months in French oak (38% new) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Meyer lemon zest, kumquat, star fruit, citrus, apple, white Welch’s, honeydew melon, fruit forward, honey, lightly floral, smoky.

Palate: Granny Smith apple, gooseberry, lemon zest, white grapefruit pith, faint citrus, coconut, honey, mineral, oak, butter, creamy, rich.

Finish: Red apple, pineapple. lemon, oak.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



ROAR Chardonnay Rosella's Vineyard



Loring Wine Company 2017 Chardonnay
Kessler-Haak Vineyard

(Sta. Rita Hills)   $46

This wine was 100% barrel fermented then aged for 10 months in 50% French oak (20% new) or 50% American oak (20% new). Only 100 cases were produced.

Aroma: Pineapple, gooseberry, lemon, Kalamata olives, buttery popcorn, malolactic, funky, barn, earthy, oak, very pleasant.

Palate: Gooseberry, orange peel, citrus, vanilla, saline, malolactic, funky, touch of oak, tannic, chewy, velvety smooth.

Finish: Lemon squeeze, great grass, creamy, soft, balanced, good with food, lovely.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Loring Wine Company Chardonnay Kessler-Haak Vineyard



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Smith-Madrone 2016 Chardonnay
Estate Grown

(Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley)   $40

This 100% Chardonnay wine was made from grapes grown in loamy, volcanic-based soil that was dry-farmed. Following barrel fermentation, the wine was aged for 9 months in French oak (80% new) before bottling.

Aroma: Pineapple, tropical fruit, bosc pear, honeysuckle, vanilla, butter, chalky, hay, barnyard, wood, oak.

Palate: Lemon-lime, lemon, pineapple, nectarine, coconut, lemon balm, praline, vanilla, herbal, grassy, dill, wood sorrel, cedar, nice oak, super oak, creamy, smooth.

Finish: Peach, papaya, apple, citrus, lemon balm, purslane.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Smith-Madrone Chardonnay Estate Grown



Red Car Chardonnay 2015
Ritchie Vineyard

(Sonoma Coast)   $58

This wine was fashioned from grapes grown in a vineyard located only 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, thereby providing cooling fog to enhance growing conditions. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak (15% new, 85% neutral) for 16 months before bottling.

Aroma: White peach, pear, lemon, white flowers, perfume, black jelly beans, Angostura bitters, dusty, minerality, earthy, butter, oak.

Palate: Lemon, lemon zest, pink grapefruit, grapefruit bitters, banana, Juicy Fruit gum, cinnamon, vanilla, buttery, oak.

Finish: Lemon, cider, anisette, nutmeg, minerals, buttery, creamy.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Red Car Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard



Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Chardonnay
Estate Grown

(Napa Valley)   $43

This wine was made from certified organic grapes grown in vineyards at the southern tip of Napa Valley (that experience a long growing season because of the cooling morning fog over the vineyards from San Francisco Bay). Following fermentation, the wine was aged in French oak for 10 months before bottling.

Aroma: Lychee, strawberry, pineapple, citrus, apple cider, floral, honey, vanilla, creamy, mineral, wet rocks, burgundian.

Palate: White peach, pineapple, gooseberry, white grapefruit, grapefruit pith, light citrus, lemon peel, lemon zest, bubblegum, mineral, oak, clean, fresh.

Finish: Gooseberry, lemon, bright citrus, buttery, chalky, wet stones, oak, elegant acidity, soft, summertime, nice finish.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay



Pellet Estate Un-Oaked Chardonnay 2016
Sunchase Vineyard

(Sonoma County)   $42

Following hand-sorting of the grapes (100% Chardonnay), they were whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then aged on its lees (wasted yeast) and lightly filtered before bottling.

Aroma: Pink grapefruit, lemonade, lemon soda, apple juice, caramel apple, green apple skin, vanilla bean, wheat, oats.

Palate: Apple, apple juice, apple cider, kiwi, mango, unripe banana, squeeze of lemon, lime, almond, earthy, mineral.

Finish: Lemon, citrus, white grape, banana, herbal, hint of flora, earth, flint, balanced oak, pleasant acidity, crisp.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Pellet Estate Un-Oaked Chardonnay



Lafond Winery Chardonnay 2017 SRH
(Sta. Rita Hills)   $25

This wine was made from Chardonnay grapes from Hilltop Ranch Vineyard (52%) and Lafond Vineyards (48%) that were totally barrel-fermented and aged on its lees (wasted yeast) in oak barrels (16% new) before bottling.

Aroma: Lemon, charred Meyer lemon, grape juice, tropical fruit, buttery.

Palate: Lemon, gooseberry, apple, coconut, fruit pie, white flower, lemongrass, mineral, wet stones, hint of tobacco, buttery, creamy, oak, balanced.

Finish: Lemon, grassy, beeswax, clean, balanced acidity, really nice finish.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Lafond Winery Chardonnay SRH



Joseph Cellars 2016 Chardonnay
(Napa Valley)   $40

This wine made from 100% Napa Valley Chardonnay grapes (from Saint Helena vineyards), and following fermentation, was aged for 10 months in neutral French oak prior to bottling.

Aroma: Peach, papaya, citrus, stewed apples, honey, lemon cookie, pastry, pie crust, toasted oats, orange blossom, gardenia, floral, elegant.

Palate: White peach, pear, tangerine, hint of raspberry, vanilla, caramelized sugar, crème brûlée, custard, saline, mineral, clove, wood barrel, oak, rich.

Finish: Bosc pear, lemon balm, citrus, crème brûlée, saline, subtle oak, nice oak, nice acidity, bright, balanced, tasty.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Joseph Cellars Chardonnay



Line 39 Chardonnay 2017
(Parlier, California)   $10


Aroma: Cut MacIntosh apple, apple, pear, Asian pear, pineapple, grilled pineapple, lychee, lemon, lemon tea, oak.

Palate: Crisp red apple, Asian pear, fruit forward, honeycomb, hibiscus, burgundy style, nice acid, mellow, fresh, summertime./i>

Finish: Apple, citrus rind, honeycomb, creamy, oak, tart, crisp, bright.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Line 39 Chardonnay



BRONZE MEDAL WINNERS

Frey Chardonnay 2017 Organic
(Mendocino)   $12

This wine was fermented in stainless steel and was in contact with minimal oak during the aging process. The wine contains 0 ppm of sulfite and was produced in accordance with all US organic regulations.

Aroma: Crisp fresh apple, green apple. white peach, white grape, papaya, tropical fruit, honeysuckle, minerals, buttery, oak.

Palate: Apricot, unripe peach, kiwi, green apple, lemon peel, white grape juice, rosewater, beeswax, mineral, wet stone, bright.

Finish: Red pear, dried apricot, honeysuckle, subtle almond, earth, crisp, interesting.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Frey Chardonnay Organic



J. Wilkes Chardonnay 2017
(Santa Maria Valley)   $24

This wine was made from a blend of Chardonnay (96%) and a small amount of Pinot Blanc (4%) grapes that were harvested at night and fermented totally in stainless steel, followed by 8-10 months aging in 20% new French oak.

Aroma: Lemon, pear, faint apple, gentle apple, dried stone fruit, light vanilla, orange blossom, jasmine, pie crust, chalk, must.

Palate: White grapefruit, bergamot, lemon, lemon peel, apple, pineapple, semi-sweet grape, hard fruit candy, pastry, pie crust, oak.

Finish: White grapefruit, lime peel, faint apple, gardenia.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



J. Wilkes Chardonnay



Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017
(Parlier, California)   $14

Grapes for this wine hailed from the Arroyo Seco area of Salinas Valley and were 100% barrel fermented, then aged for 7 months in American oak (80%) or French oak (20%) before bottling.

Aroma: Apple, plum, vanilla, beeswax, mint, eucalyptus, tarragon, light hay, oak.

Palate: Jackfruit, plum, green apple. lemon, candied lemon peel, tropical, praline, vanilla, butter, malolactic, ash, oak.

Finish: Pomelo, apple, citrus peel, vanilla, creamy, chalky, oak, bright fruit, great tartness, delicious.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay



Cakebread Cellars 2017 Chardonnay
(Napa Valley)   $39

Grapes for this 100% Chardonnay were harvested at night, followed by whole-cluster pressing and fermentation in French oak barrels, after which the wine was aged on its lees (wasted yeast) for 8 months before bottling.

Aroma: Lemon-lime, lemon ice, white peach, white nectarine, mango, tropical fruit, floral, grassy, oak.

Palate: Lemon verbena, lemon, green apple, citrus pith, honeycomb, saline, mineral, creamy, oak, smooth.

Finish: Lemon-lime, lemon, lemonade, citrus, green apple, unripe peach, breadcrust, mineral, creamy, easy to drink.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay



Sean Minor 2017 Chardonnay
(Sonoma Coast)   $18

This 100% Chardonnay wine was made from grapes that were 100% whole-cluster pressed, then fermented in French oak barrels (20% new), and aged in French oak barrels for 10 months before bottling.

Aroma: Lemon, cut apple, green apple, white peach, plums, olives, brine, clean, fresh.

Palate: Apple, pear, lemon, lemon cookie, citrus, bright citrus peel, herbal, floral, honeysuckle, light oak.

Finish: Green apple skin, olives, tropical, herbal.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Sean Minor Chardonnay



Frey Chardonnay 2017 Biodynamic
(Mendocino)   $15

This wine was fermented in stainless steel and was in contact with minimal oak during the aging process. The wine contains 0 ppm of sulfite and was produced in accord with all biodynamic regulations.

Aroma: Pear, Asian pear, red apple, freshly cut tropical fruit, honey, vanilla pudding, crème brûlée, buttered popcorn,.beeswax, light honeysuckle, straw, hay.

Palate: Lemon, apple, tropical hard candy, celery leaf, straw, hay, briny, saline, minerality, flinty, wet stone.

Finish: Anjou pear, lemon, praline, buttery, grassy, wet stone, clean.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Frey Chardonnay Biodynamic

 

 


 

California Chardonnay – To oak or not to oak?

Chardonnays are not nearly what they once were. And this is a good thing.

Chardonnay is the top-selling wine in the U.S., and the 5th most widely planted grape variety in the world. But back in the early 1950s, James Zellerbach, a paper magnate and American ambassador to Italy, produced a Chardonnay at his Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley that had been aged in small French oak barrels. Connoisseurs understood the importance of a wine that was made in the traditional Burgundian method, but Hanzell’s Chardonnay was appreciated by only a select few. Chardonnay plantings in California grew throughout the 1960s, with 18 times more acreage in 1972 than in 1959. However, most wine drinkers still preferred their misleadingly labeled “Chablis” and “Sauternes.”

All that changed after the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay took First Place in a blind tasting that included both American and French wines, and was widely hailed in the media. Chardonnay became a superstar. Virtually every winemaker in California wanted to make one. So in went Chardonnay vines, often replacing less the popular varieties. French oak barrels arrived into American ports by the boatload, ordered by winemakers who felt that if new French oak was good enough for white Burgundy, it was good enough for them. And that's when the trouble started.

In wine, balance is everything, and eventually a style for chardonnay evolved that seems natural and unforced. Today, unoaked California Chardonnay is more than a trend, it’s a movement. But in the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Consumers decide for themselves which style of Chardonnay they like: unoaked, heavily oaked or something in between. And that’s the beauty of California: no rules, few regulations, a wide range of terroirs and vintners willing to explore the possibilities while keeping a close eye on the market.

What to look for in California Chardonnays? Richness, depth and a refreshing sense of acidity. An emphasis on orchard and tropical fruits, with tart citrus, creamy and mineral flavors. Chardonnay is an easy wine for food pairings because of its wide variety of styles, textures, levels of sweetness and natural acidity. All types of seafood, chicken, veal, pork are good pairings with Chardonnay. It's also perfect with a wide variety of hard, soft and creamy cheeses.

 

 

 

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