ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. You may have heard it from a few wine drinkers along the road. Fed up with the over-oaked, big butter, creamed-corn style Chardonnays that were coming out of California about 10 years ago, many wine lovers swore off the grape, particularly California style. I still talk to people who tell me they just don’t like Chardonnay (which is when I have them taste Chablis). While I did not have an adamant hatred of the grape, I certainly would choose a slew of other wines before ordering or drinking a California Chardonnay. But recently, this changed.It all started when I was categorizing some wines into our “style of wine” categories on Wine.com. A few wines I had not yet tried, and so instead of throwing all California Chardonnay into “rich and creamy,” I carefully read through the tasting notes offered by the winemaker and even ordered a few of which I was unsure. As I read note after note, even those that were rich and creamy, with notes of butterscotch, fig and crème brulee, I started craving a California Chardonnay. Enough with grassy, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or my go-to Rose for summer. No more cool Torrontes or Gruner Veltliner. Not even my favorite Chablis would do the trick. I wanted Chardonnay. Not the buttery oak bombs of yesteryear, but the delicious fruit & oak balance with a creamy finish that these wine notes promised. I was salivating. I ordered a few Chardonnays to taste and also had the pleasure of tasting a few at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. I am officially a Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay girl. Sip after sip, I re-introduced my palate to California Chardonnay and am happy to say that they will once again have a place in my wine-drinking repertoire. Here are the wines I found to quench my California Chardonnay thirst: Davis Bynum Russian River Chardonnay – I remember stopping by this winery in 2003, before I’d ever heard of them (I was younger then, and living on the east cost). Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir got two thumbs up, and we packed some up in our luggage to bring home. I got to re-taste these delicious wines at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and once again, gave them all two thumbs up. About $24. Anaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – a fairly new winery producing a red and white Rhone blend as well as this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wow. This was an excellent wine and a perfect example of what cool-climate Chardonnay can do. Clean, crisp, with lovely ripe fruit balanced by a creamy texture and subtle vanilla oak flavors. Really lovely. Winemaker, Jennifer Marion, knows her stuff, too. Young and eager, she is doing some great things here… $25. Landmark Overlook Chardonnay – mmmmm… this is one of those full-bodied wines that while rich, have a nice backbone of crisp acid and citrus to back up the tropical fruit & oak. The '2007 vintage is $26 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay – An all time favorite. It’s expensive, but if you have the opportunity to taste it, do so. Apple, toast, spice and a long finish make this a wine to savor. See Newton Vineyard pictured above. The ‘06 vintage is on sale for $53. Au Bon Climat Chardonnay – Jim Clendenen shows us what California Chardonnay should be. From a warmer climate, the ABC combines bright fruit and lush vanilla and oak into a Chardonnay that is definitely California, but the way it should be. This is a Chardonnay I truly enjoy AND it’s at $20. A Donkey and Goat Chardonnay – Small boutique winery in Berkeley, CA, Jared and Tracy Brandt get their Chardonnay fruit from the Chalone appellation, which is a bit warmer, but they do this wine well. Again, the balance is excellent. They actually blend in some of the ver jus to heighten acidity and lower alcohol. The result is fantastic! $40. My favorite non-California Chardonnay picks are these, and they are great, easy-drinking Chardonnays, almost all at $20 or less. Catena Chardonnay – From Argentina. A perfectly balanced Chardonnay. Always a crowd pleaser. $20 Meerlust Chardonnay – Excellent South African Chardonnay – good balance and structure. Also $20 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay – Rich and delectable, this has got layers of complexity, great balance and a wonderfully long finish. Great for the price!!! $18 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay – Always a winner from the left coast of Australia. Classic Chardonnay style. $20 Tell us – what are your favorite Chardonnays?
We brought two bottles of Pinot Noir to a dinner last weekend. One was a high-end Central Coast Pinot coming from Gary’s Vineyard. The other was the Kenwood Russian River Pinot 2006. The former was about $50 while the Kenwood rang in at $20. As we do at most dinner parties, you open the heavy-hitter first, then move on to the back up. Sure, everyone loved the delicious Gary’s Vineyard wine, but there seemed to be more comments on #2, the Kenwood Pinot Noir. I’d already ordered a few cases for the parents’ cellar because they had the same reaction- $20, really? This is good Pinot for $20.This is not the only $20 Pinot Noir out there, but it has seemed to garner more interest than most. I’ll make an attempt to guess why – it’s the perfect blend of rich, ripe fruit, warm spices, alcohol & tannin. The finish is long and it’s full-bodied and smooth. Lots of people love “smooth” wines. It’s not my favorite descriptor, but it does fit some wine, and this is one of those wines. I think it has to do with those ripe fruits and that touch of glycerin the alcohol gives the wine. The resulting texture is “smooth.”You won’t find layers of complexity or the delicate aromas and flavors of some Pinot Noir, but you will find an easy-drinking versatile food wine that will suit many a palate and for $20, that’s not too shabby.