I recently conducted the great “Killer California Chardonnay” test by tasting, sampling and drinking – over 120 wines in a short period of time. That meant Chardonnay for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. These Chardonnays came in all shapes and sizes, from different regions throughout California, from large companies, family wineries and micro producers and in varying price points. What I learned was that – not surprisingly – there are many fine, well crafted, high quality Chardonnays being produced in California today. Stylistically things have changed; most California Chardonnays are no longer the oaky butter bombs of the past. I still enjoy the occasional buttered popcorn and oak, fortunately these flavors are usually complementing rather than overpowering the fruit. When picking my “best of,” I selected wines that had exemplary aroma, fruit, acidity, mouthfeel, depth, craftsmanship, and finish. Ultimately in wine, like in life, it’s all about balance.
Below – in alphabetical order – is my new list of true “Killer” California Chardonnays. These are all outstanding, wonderful wines. I follow this list with some truly honorable mentions that deserve consideration. Remember, don’t serve these amazing wines too cold and do give them a little time to fully open before enjoying.
“Bob Ecker’s Killer California Chardonnays”
ARTESA 2008 Estate Reserve, Carneros:
What a delicious wine. Well known for producing fine Pinot, Artesa’s Estate Chardonnay displays flowery notes, fine acidity, is knowledgeably balanced while offering slight oak, velvet butter characteristics. Mmmmm, so good.
CUVAISON 2008 S Block Carneros:
A lush butterscotch Chardonnay with a well rounded mouthfeel, this wine provides ample acidity and hints of stone fruits. This fine Cuvaison wine, like all their products is delightfully balanced and finely crafted.
FANTESCA 2008 Russian River Valley:
A Heidi Barrett produced Chardonnay, (her only one to date) this wine is offered in typical Fantesca Harlequin etched glass bottle. Truly a floral, eminently balanced, custard and creamy Chardonnay, long on the finish – this wine rocks – and is fun to drink!
FONTENELLA 2008 Napa Valley:
Excellent color, balanced and refined – this Chardonnay is on the crisper side but still packed with succulent fruit flavors. Let it open and you’ll enjoy a stunning wine from an up-and-coming Napa winery you’ll soon be hearing plenty about. Yummy.
FRANCISCAN 2007 Cuvee Sauvage Carneros:
Such delicate lemony flavors, this Chard produced with wild yeasts is crisp and lilting on your palate. Slight honey and minerality, this is a beautiful wine. Sample this wine with your closest Chardonnay loving friends.
FRANK FAMILY 2008 Napa Valley:
Here’s an “old fashioned” (of sorts) Napa Chardonnay that delivers on it credentials. Like a warm blanket of luxuriant flavor, this Frank Family gem is a big bold Napa wine, the antithesis of boring. It’s a real bounty of fruit, oak and simply a Killer Chard.
GROTH 2008 Napa Valley:
A creamy, vanilla orange, grown up dreamsicle, Groth’s Chardonnay will delight everyone. Almost tropical, this wine tickles like an orange blossom sitting on your nose. A lovely lady, this is perhaps the most feminine I sampled. She is a beauty.
HAFNER 2007 Alexander Valley:
This wine’s clean, peachy presentation and perfect balance rides the razor’s edge between fruit and oak. Piquant and expressive, this fantastic Sonoma Chardonnay is a stunner, absolutely worth finding. Run and buy it if you can. One of my new favorite wines. Plus the price represents a tremendous value. A great Chardonnay.
JARVIS 2007 Napa Valley Finch Hollow Reserve:
Perhaps the king of modern California Chardonnays, this a massively delicate wine. Fabulously smooth with a fantastic nose, terrific fruit flavors, creamy complexity and darn right delicious, this Chardonnay grown and produced in Napa’s eastern mountains represents the best of breed. What a wine!
JORDAN 2007 Russian River Valley:
A perennially beloved wine, Jordan continues its tradition of producing quality wines from its home in Alexander Valley. This straw colored Russian River Chardonnay exhibits gorgeous apple, pear and citrus flavors while delivering a restrained, elegant experience. Food friendly and delicious.
LA TOUR 2006 Mount Veeder Heritage Clone:
An opulent wine, a round wine and a Chardonnay lover’s wine. Grown high above Napa Valley on Mt. Veeder, this Chard offers an abundance of pineapple and tropical fruit flavors, 100% malo yet with a refined touch. Seek this wine out.
MI SUENO 2007 Los Carneros:
Renowned winemaker Rolando Herrera has done it again. With its vanilla/caramel notes, beautiful pale yellow hue, great body and mouthfeel, the Mi Sueno Los Carneros is an impressive wine. Exciting yet chic, I hope this is what the future of Chardonnay is all about. You cannot but love this Chardonnay.
MORGAN 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands:
This Santa Lucia Highland Chardonnay is oh so smooth and subtle, expertly balanced between fruit, oak and acid. (Paired sensationally with barbequed shrimp) Magnificent finish. This Morgan Chard is a knockout to be enjoyed throughout the year.
RIDGE MONTEBELLO 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains:
A classic Killer California Chardonnay. Gently barreled for 18 months, this unctuous Chard brims with pear/apple flavors, some floral notes, complexity few white wines can offer and a simmering, languorous finish. A showstopper.
TOR by Kenward Family Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley, Cuvee Torchiana:
Like biting into a luscious slice of lemon meringue pie, this citrusy Chardonnay provides a downy pillow of rich fruit and then, an enchanting mid palate finish. Crisp, highly developed, and nuanced, let this wine breathe and it will sing. What a new find.
Spare no expense and enjoy these “Killer” California Chardonnays.
Worthy Honorable Mentions: (Also in alphabetical order)
BUENA VISTA 2007 Carneros:
This wine is a hard-to-resist Carneros Chardonnay from one of the oldest wineries in California. Very good, unforced, light on the palate and composed. A pleasing wine on all levels.
CLOS DU VAL RESERVE 2007 Carneros:
An amalgam of American and French styles, this Reserve from Clod du Val packs a punch that lets you know you’re in Napa.
CONCANNON 2008 Livermore Valley Conservancy:
Lemony, with pale peach notes, light oakiness, good balance, excellent clarity. A fine value, what’s not to like?
DeLOACH 2008 Hawk Hill, Russian River:
Excellent straw color and tender grapey characteristics make this a wine to sip and savor on soothing summer afternoons.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA 2008 Reserve, Russian River Valley:
A fruity and smooth, yellow as sunshine Chardonnay that brings a smile to your lips. This wine also features an impressive pencil-drawn artwork on the label.
GRGICH HILLS 2007 Napa Valley:
An admirable, well crafted Napa Chardonnay from an estimable winery. I must admit, I enjoy everything Grgich Hills produces. Incidentally this wine was served by Michelle Obama this past January at a luncheon in the Executive Residence of The White House.
J VINEYARDS 2007 Russian River Valley:
Another tasty Russian River Chardonnay, well balanced wine flutters on the tongue with a little oak, a little spice and fruit flavors that are mighty nice.
NEWTON 2007 Unfiltered Napa County:
Slight notes of citrus on the middle palate and pristine balance an Olympic gymnast would envy, this consummate unfiltered Chardonnay leaves an impression.
WENTE 2008 Livermore Valley Morning Fog:
A well-bred, easy to drink Chardonnay from Livermore Valley presenting vivid fruit flavors and an excellent finish. A tremendous value to boot. Find it, drink it.
VINE CLIFF 2008 Carneros:
A crisp, leggy Carneros Chardonnay standing tall amongst competitors. This clear balanced wine shows well, food friendly with a proper finish.
c. Bob Ecker 2010
Bob Ecker is a wine/travel writer residing in Napa California