7 Super Chardonnays

Excellent white wines that won't break the bank


With all the blustery weather we’ve been having lately, and the usual array of hearty, wintertime food I’ve been using as a defense against it, it’s not surprising that most of the wines I’ve tasted lately have been reds. I knew I had to do something about that, so I sat down recently with a small selection of Chardonnay.

Now Chardonnay, of course, is the world's favorite white wine, no surprise there. It’s a total chameleon of a grape, producing wines that reflect it’s climate and winemaking like no other. That leads to a ton of confusion in the marketplace, and the often-heard quip “I don’t like Chardonnay.” As I mentioned last year, that probably just means you don’t like crappy Chardonnay! With well-made Chardonnay, what’s not to like?

What to expect: Chardonnay

Chardonnay is America's most popular grape, and with good reason. Made in styles that range from steely, mineral-laced wines with crisp green apple fruit to wines that are buttery, rich, and laden with tropical fruits, there is a Chardonnay that will appeal to every palate. Chardonnay is most closely associated with France's Burgundy region and California's Northern valleys, though it has proven successful around the globe.
Well, there are the stylistic considerations to be taken into account. Do you like it crisp and minerally? Fat and buttery? Someplace in-between? Someplace else entirely? I’m not sure I can help you figure all that out, but I can give you my impression of these seven wines.

First off, the clear winner was the 2008 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Chardonnay. Coming in at under $20 it’s a real value and delivers power in a perfectly ripe and balanced package. It’s sophisticated yet easy to understand -- my kind of wine! It's a wine that plays with a touch of residual sugar, but it has the acidity to keep the wine vibrant with excellent depth of flavor. It may not be for everyone, and may, in fact, prove tiring to drink after the third or fourth glass, but I'm willing to test out that hypothesis.

In second place were two remarkable values. Both the 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay and the 2007 Cameron Hughes Lot 115 Russian River Chardonnay deliver a lot of depth and complexity for around $10 a bottle. The Cameron Hughes would be my personal pick of the two. It’s stylish and focused, even a little mysterious, which kept me going back for more. The Chateau Ste. Michelle is classic West Coast Chardonnay, expressive, fruity, balanced: A real crowd pleaser and a perfect wine for a party or large gathering.

Bringing up third place was another tie of two very different wines. The Adelsheim Willamette Valley is all about restraint, it might even be too restrained with its light weight and very crisp flavors. On the other hand, the Hess Su’Skol Vineyard is cut more from the cloth of a classic California Chardonnay, albeit updated for the lighter, more stylish times we’re in.

In last place are two decent wines, but ones that don’t really represent either value or a distinctive enough style to warrant an additional interest from me. So I leave you with the tasting notes on the following page.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Your selection is interesting, however I would rather have a chardonnay from France, a Saint Aubin Dents des chients from Chartron et Trebuchet or a Ladoix from Perrin. Those Chardonnay, to my taste, have the ability to romance the food they accompany and inhence it, and can as well be drunk as an aperitif.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM

  • It's hard to take the critiques seriously with all the typos/misspellings. Proofreading, anyone?

    Feb 15, 2010 at 1:33 PM

  • looloobelle:

    With all due respect, I don't think we should confuse wine evaluating prowess with grammatical expertise. The presence of one doesn't guarantee the presence of the other and vice versa. If I want to learn about a great wine, I wouldn't automatically be inclined to quiz an English professor. I do agree that one should make some effort at proofreading, however. No offense.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 2:00 PM

  • looloobelle:

    Long a problem and a tiresome distraction, the spelling and grammar mistakes detract greatly from the message. Must this be so difficult to repair?


    Agreed, but...

    Feb 15, 2010 at 2:08 PM

  • Pershonelly, after I've drunk a nice bottle of this ambar (oops sic) nectar I haven'y a clue where my fingers go on the keeeybored.

    Cheers and slange va as they missspell it oe'r here!

    Feb 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

  • Snooth User: KIWIwines
    352690 32

    Hi all!
    I know a beautifull Chardonnay produced bij Rimu Grove Winery in New Zealand. It is imported for the European market bij Wijnhandel KIWI in The Netherlands. http://www.wijnhandelkiwi.nl

    Feb 15, 2010 at 3:16 PM

  • Snooth User: design
    315823 1

    Finally discovered that I don't care for the overly oak taste of most Chardonnay wine. Tried the Tolosa 2007, No Oak Chardonnay. Buttery and crisp. Still not my favorite white, but I will purchase it again for certain meals and for diversity in my wine wanderings.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 4:26 PM

  • Have any of you tried Frank's Family Chardonnay??

    Feb 15, 2010 at 4:56 PM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    Cameron Hughes does not disappoint. I love this one (lot115). I still prefer his Chardonnays from the Margaret River area down under.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 5:28 PM

  • Snooth User: andyboza
    259524 8

    I have to agree with Gregory in the fact that the Stellenbosch region in the Western Cape province of South Africa is producing excellent wines.

    My favorite wine is the Two Oceans Chardonnay. An elegant medium-bodied wine with citrus flavors and just a hint of oak. It is also inexpensive at US$10 a bottle here in Costa Rica.

    It is a pity that Gregory didn't taste any South American wines for his review. Another great $10 wine is the chilean Sunrise Chardonnay by Concha y Toro. Brilliant yellow medium-bodied wine with intense tropical fruit aromas.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 5:54 PM

  • Snooth User: THEDOGE
    308614 20

    I am impressed with 2008 Chateau Ste.Michelle Chard/Columbia Valley,especially the cost.What I find is the taste,the nose(The fruitiness),reflects the hours of sunshine this special region has.I believe all can enjoy these delightful white wines chard or riesling.If you do not enjoy,at least the price is good.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 5:57 PM

  • Snooth User: THEDOGE
    308614 20

    I,can appreciate proper grammar,however this not for publication in a magazine,it is just people who love to talk about wine.In fact the money spent on vino is all the wine producer's are concerned with.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 6:06 PM

  • I have enjoyed both Franciscan Chardonnay and Benzinger Chardonnay, both under $15 a bottle. Easy to drink with or without food!

    Feb 15, 2010 at 6:23 PM

  • Snooth User: enotheque
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    45898 1,165

    Great picks, especially the Rustenberg and Adelsheim.

    Feb 16, 2010 at 10:33 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks! I'm thinking of Pinot for next week, but maybe it's time to take a look at a winery. Torbreck perhaps, no Chardonnay but a Shiraz-a-thon is possible.

    Feb 18, 2010 at 5:26 PM

  • Snooth User: 1cabernet
    264758 1

    Why mention screwcap closures as if they are inferior to cork. Tastings have demonstrated over and over again that screwcaps are superior to cork in retainting the fruitiness and flavour of wines. As well screwcaps are not susceptible to cork taint. For me a screwcap is superior to cork. Thanks for letting me know.

    Feb 18, 2010 at 9:04 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Why would you think I mention screwcaps as inferior? I made no mentions except to note when one was used. As you discovered for yourself this was a benefit to you. The intention is to let people know what I am tasting, not pass judgment of closures, though that layer of oil sealed with a rag and covered with pine pitch is out.

    Feb 22, 2010 at 7:29 PM

  • Snooth User: sfkapp
    354548 12

    I really enjoyed the 2008 Chardonnay Carneros from Charles Krug. Enough to pick up several bottles after my visit to the beautiful tasting room last week. Exploded with bright citrus fruit as soon as it hit my palate. Made me feel like it was summer.

    Feb 28, 2010 at 8:42 AM

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