Chardonnay under $15

Finding rare values and too many duds.


Chardonnay is a pain in my ass. Really it is. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s worth mentioning again. When I lead staff tastings in retail the Chardonnay days were the only one we all feared. Why you ask? Too many wines smell of old tuna fish cans and taste even worse. OK, that is a slight exaggeration, but the truth is that there is more crappy Chardonnay out there than any other variety of wine. On the one hand are those pretty terrible examples at the bottom of the spectrum. Lord knows what’s going on there. Over-ripe fruit, under-ripe fruit, wood chips or worse, residual sugar up the wazoo to cover all the faults. At at the top of the spectrum. Well a generation of wine writers have convinced many of us that chardonnay should taste like marshmallows and caramel and feel like buttermilk in the mouth. Bleech!

So that leaves me searching through the middle for Chardonnay that tastes like Chardonnay and not a candy factory. To a certain extent these lower, but not rock-bottom, price points hold the mother load of attractive Chardonnays. The sell for prices that prevent winemakers from going too low with yields and too high with toasty new oak. There’s also a new winemaking style that prefers barrel ageing, which along with less stirring can add a lovely roundness to Chardonnay, but forgoes the use of new oak and the flavors, and textures it brings.
This price point is roughly the $15 to $35 range, and while today I am exploring the lower end of that range, I was pleasantly surprised by what I tasted. Four wines stood out, delivery a decent range of styles and quality that could easily be found for nearly twice the price. But then Chardonnay delivered it usually underwhelming delivery. Some insipid wines, though at $8 a bottle these are arguably good values, and too many wines that just kind of suck. I’m sure people buy and enjoy these wines, though I don’t understand why. With better buys out there I would guess that it’s simply the case of people sticking with the familiar, though there is a strong contingent of consumers who just prefer sweeter wines. Something that I struggle with. 
So while my batting average was low today, at least a got some wood on the ball, though not too sweet and tasty wood. There is always the right time for Chardonnay and while people who claim to not like Chardonnay really don’t know what they are talking about. Do they also not like the color blue, or liquid? Chardonnay is a many faceted beast. It takes some taming, and often it wins the battle and leaves your mouth mauled and battered. But every so often someone gets the upper hand, and what pours forth from the bottle is a magical liquid that has captured the ephemeral essence of Chardonnay and built upon that with skillful winemaking that takes advantage of malolactic fermentation, lees stirring, and yes, sometime even new wood.
I used to be one of those people. I don’t like Chardonnay I would say. What an ass I was. And yet, here we are two decades later and look who still seems to have the upper hand.

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Top Value Chardonnay Tasted 2/14

Apaltagua Chardonnay Unoaked Reserva Casablanca Valley Chile (2013)
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Jacob's Creek Chardonnay Barossa Valley (2012)
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Vina Leyda Chardonnay (2013)
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Castillo Monjardin Chardonnay El Cerezo Unoaked (2013)
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Cousino-Macul Chardonnay Antiguas Reserva Maipo Valley (2011)
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