Chardonnay, A Look Back and Forth

I’m determined to uncork some great California Chardonnay in the coming months, but before I look too far ahead maybe I should revisit some wines that made a good impression in earlier tastings.

While  I have focused on white wines from time to time, most of my interest has been on the red side of the wine spectrum — Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and others.

My goal for 2012 is push deeper into the Chardonnay pool and hopefully hook a few winners.

Three S’s

Summertime, seafood and shellfish all go better with white wines, including Chardonnay, which is the most widely planted grape in California.

In most cases, Chardonnay is not combined with other wine grapes, but there are exceptions.

Sometimes, two or more varietals will be mixed with Chardonnay to create a blended still wine. Sparkling wine -is often made from white-skinned Chardonnay alone but sometimes Pinot Noir is added to the mix.

Good Look Back

Some of the tastiest Chardonnays I’ve sampled in the past year or so were from Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma County.

A visit to the winery for a private tasting was sensational, turning up three recommendations. A return trip is definitely coming in the weeks and months ahead.

I’ve also enjoyed many bottles of Chardonnay from Sonoma Cutrer, a premium producer which draws some of its  fruit from the Russian River AVA (American Viticulture Area).

There are many other interesting names in the Sonoma Chardonnay club, including Flowers, Kistler Vineyards and Walter Hansel Winery  among many others– all of which I have enjoyed.

There is a whole cadre of smaller producers working with fruit from the Sonoma Coast appellation that will also given further scrutiny.

On the Napa side of the world, there are many well-known Chardonnay producers with names like Mondavi, Far Niente, Beringer and Franciscan.

The Chardonnay that put Napa Valley on the fine white wine map was a 1973 vintage from Chateau Montelena, winner of the historic Paris Tasting of 1976.

Further South

Ridge Vineyards is known world-wide for its impressive lineup of red wines, especially the highly respected cabernet sauvignon from the Monte Bello Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

They also grow Chardonnay in that vineyard and the Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay is often a great wine. Click here for my take on the current release.

One of my “go- to” reasonably priced white wines is a Chardonnay from Edna Valley on the Central Coast. The style reflects a core of tropical fruit with sweet oak highlights. It’s been a consistent performer over the past two decades and I can’t wait to try the latest release.

Geographically in between Ridge and Edna Valley sits Chalone Vineyards, a pioneering producer of Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Limestone deposits under the shallow soil of the Chalone AVA in Monterey County are often compared to the chalky soils of Burgundy’s where some of the world’s most expensive Chardonnay is produced.

More Choices

Napa and Sonoma often grab the most consumer attention, but astute wine lovers know that good bargains and great-tasting Chardonnay come from a wider territory.

I’ll also be looking at other viticulture regions — Lodi, Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo and Mendocino County — for more good choices in Chardonnay.


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