$12 Chardonnay

Upping the ante for better tasting results


Yesterday, I tasted Chardonnay that retails for under $10 a bottle with some pretty sad results. An inordinate amount of dreck is passed off on value seeking consumers, though there were a few bright spots in even that most painful of lineups. In an effort to bring you some better options, I upped the ante and moved on to $12 Chardonnay today. This is not an inconsequential amount of money, but is one that is still relatively affordable for all.

What did I find? A lot to like actually. While there where still some crap bottles, as there are at virtually all price points, the majority of these wines were both recognizable as Chardonnay and showed some style. The best wine was actually quite impressive and an excellent value.

Whether you'e looking for creamy oak, zesty and mineral laden fruit, or something in between, you can actually find pretty good options at 12 bucks, and that surprises even me!

Photo courtesy LollyKnit via Flickr/CC

2009 Tortoise Creek Wines Jam's Blend Chardonnay Lodi, California 13.4% $12

This shows some nice almond and cream notes on the nose over rather ripe pineapple and peach fruit. Big, broad and creamy, though with a fine core of bright acid that perks up the center of this nicely. This offers ripe peach and pineapple fruit, with lovely bright citrussy notes adding some energy here. The texture really is rather gossamer considering the nice richness. All that ripe fruit doesn't bring huge weight, and while the finish here is a touch short, it shows flashes of oak spice and ripe fruit with a hint of heat. 89pts

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2009 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay Livermore Valley 13.5% $12

Marshmallow, burnt sugar, ginger crème brûlée and vanilla all come together over the base of sweet yet indistinct orchard fruits. Another wine with a leading edge of sweetness, though this not only has plenty of balancing acid, but also has lovely citrus fruit flavors balanced by notes of blanched almonds and crème brûlée . Rich but well balanced in the mouth, with some wood spice emerging on the back end before the cream flavors return on the moderately long finish. Shows a hint of wood spice and tannin adding some mouthgrab to the finale. 88pts

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2009 Cave de Lugny Les Charmes Macon de Lugny 13% $12

Tight on the nose with heirloom apple tones, dried lemon peel and sandy, salty soil tones. This is surprisingly caressing in the mouth, with excellent acids that keep this taut, focused and tall. The fruit is rather pure and faintly redolent of heather and rocks, all under the fresh apple fruit. Tight with good drive through the bright, moderately long finish. Excellent tension and weight, though this is a touch simple. 87pts

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2009 Linen Chardonnay Wahluke Slope Washington 14.1% $12

This is pretty on the nose, with apricot tones, sweet apple undercurrents, floral top notes and a nice almond top note. A bit soft and lacking some focus on the palate though this has good acidity that helps to sharpen the ripe fruit flavors there alcohol lends a bit of sweetness and heat to the palate. The finish is rich with ripe orchard fruits and continues the rather silky texture of the palate, though here there is a touch of distracting heat. 87pts

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2010 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay 13.5% $12

Caramel and butterscotch greet the nose with underlying notes of lemongrass, white pepper and pineapple. This is creamy and moderate in scale, but with a richness that shows off its warm climate heritage. Plenty of oak peppers on the mid-palate, with praline and cream flavors. There's a refreshing vein of citrussy acid here that keeps this bright and extends over the moderately long, crisp finish. Shows a bit more wood spice but plenty of apple fruit as well. This is everything people expect from California Chardonnay. 87pts

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2010 Santa Julia Organic Chardonnay Mendoza, Argentina 13% $12

Earthy with notes of almond husk, soil and faint wood spice top the lightly citrussy and earthy apple fruit. Rather light bodied and fresh on the palate, with an edge of ripeness that helps to cover the solid acids. Very much in the apple end of the spectrum, with some creamed corn elements on the palate that lead to a dry, firm, earthy yet aromatically fruity finish which shows the sweetness of ripe fruit and good length. This is subtle, fairly complex and offers a lovely texture, though without much that is expected of Chardonnay.  87pts

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  • Snooth User: wriskit
    160011 77

    Greg, Thanks for the recommendations. I assume the no mas per favor wines are not recommended. I think you should provide the reasons why. It would be good for us as well as the producers involved to hear your criticisms. Wine is very subjective. Who would think anyone would enjoy sipping something that tasted of leather, mold, earth, clay, gasoline, turpentine, tar, etc. to name some of the descriptions used in describing various wines.

    Dec 08, 2011 at 9:32 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks for the suggestions and kind words.

    Yup, no mas por favor are the wines tasted that didn't make the cut.

    If you click through to any of their detail pages you'll see my note for that wine. Some will certainly appeal to others palate more than they appealed to my own.

    You are so right about wine being subjective, and why on earth would I want to drink a glass of leather, mushroom and tar?! It's funny how we describe wine sometimes. I do my best at trying to describe the wines with adjectives that we might agree on and also add some color commentary to help illustrate what I've liked and disliked.

    Here's the review for the Coppola for example

    Peaches and cream, apples with some spice tones and honey all comes together on the appetizing nose. This is a touch sweet on entry without sufficient acidity to brighten the palate so this remains a bit sweet right through the modest finish. Don't get me wrong, there is some acid here, and the flavors of apples, honey, and pineapple are attractive, it's just that this has no definition in the mouth and limps to a modest finish. 83pts

    Dec 08, 2011 at 9:55 AM

  • I too think it would be good for you to list those wines you think were “crap”. Why only list those that you like? Reviews should be balanced with both.

    Dec 09, 2011 at 12:30 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    You mean like I do with the slide labeled No Mas Por Favor?

    Dec 09, 2011 at 12:56 PM

  • No, I was referring to the under $10 wines you referred to as being “sad”. I ask because when we got into wine it was at the lower price point ($5 to $10). This was partly due to economics and partly because we didn’t know anything about wine, so we were not inclined to buy $15 bottle of wine for Wednesday chicken. As we drink more wine we find ourselves moving away from the lower price points and I am curious if it is because we have developed greater appreciation for wine or if those wines, (such as Yellowtail) are just not as good as they once were. Or in other words, it is good to compare our taste to those who do it for a living.

    BTW - I agree your picks of Wente and Rodney Strong. The others I haven't tried but will.

    Dec 09, 2011 at 2:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I used a different title there, "Please use the clear bags" for wines that I don't recommend.

    It's a tough call with those wines. Some folks obviously like them, they're just not for me, though some are awful. I've included my reviews on each wine's detail page for those folks interested in knowing what I thought.

    Just because I do this for a living doesn't mean much in all honesty. Well, that is nor entirely true. The facts are that truly great wines are expensive and rare, even I get to rarely try them. If we use those wines as a benchmark and hold all wine up to that benchmark we're all screwed.

    Every professional wine writer has a palate just like any drinker, though with a greater experience. You really have to find out what they are trying to do with their reviews. A lot of writers want attention, which both very high and very low scores generate.

    What I try to do when I review a wine is figure out how good it is for the style the producer is aiming for. A $40 Chardonnay is way different than an $8 one, and to use some rigid scale to assess both simply misses the point. It's as if one compared a minivan with a sports car and dismissed the mini-van as not sporty enough.

    The bottom line is trust your palate. You've enjoyed 2 wines that I've recommended here, check out the reviews and see if you liked them for the same reasons as I did. If so, we've got something to build on and you might be able to use my reviews for recommendations.

    And people's palates generally do evolve away from sweeter, more fruit driven wines such as Yellowtail to other styles, even if those other styles aren't necessarily more expensive!

    Dec 09, 2011 at 2:46 PM

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