$20 Domestic Chardonnay

America's favorite white wine


Chardonnay is America’s favorite white wine. Why not buck the pseudo-trends this holiday season and drink what you like? But make it special by finding one of my favorite bottles. Yes, these may not all appeal to your palate, but from the explosive Schug to the subtle Sanford, I tasted a great range of styles and found a whole slew of excellent wines to recommend.

I’ve focused on domestic Chardonnay here primarily because we’re running out of time before the holidays. I focused on wines with broad availability. I’ll be following up early next year with some great examples from France, South America and South Africa, but for today, let us rejoice with delicious Chardonnay from California and Oregon!

Photo courtesy gedem via Flickr/CC

2009 Schug Chardonnay Carneros 14.5% $26


Toasty oak and tropical fruits greet the nose, laden with vanilla and fig accents. Big yet super bright in the mouth, this has bags of acid lending the palate a rather fresh, citrussy character, which compliments the vanilla and creamy ripe pineapple notes very well. There’s such a refreshing lime streak here that it’s hard not to like. The almond milk notes on the back end lead into a fresh and crisp fruit finish which gains support for very subtle oak spice. This is delightfully deceptive. Really expected an oakier, thicker wine from the nose, but the palate delivers freshness and succulent fruit. 92pts


2009 Sanford Chardonnay Santa Barbara CA 14.5% $


Very subdued on the nose with earth, honeycomb and toasted oat tones accented by a touch of butterscotch, some dried floral notes, and light orchard fruit. Very well balanced in the mouth, this hints at ripeness with a soft and almost sweet edge. The acids pull the ripeness back, revealing a nutty, oaked edge, crisp apricot and citrus fruit, and a light lashing of oak spice that adds perfume to the mouth. The finish is long, soft and subtle, with a lovely candied almond note on the finale. This is very restrained and rather refined. A lovely, subtle and elegant Chardonnay that reveals its detail slowly. 91pts


2009 Adelsheim Chardonnay Willamette Valley  13.8% $20


Crisp and bright on the nose with fresh apple fruit, accented with hints of peach and lime and a touch of oak. Bright, fresh and elegant, this has a thin band of baby fat right around the mid-palate. Otherwise. this offers sleek and well delineated flavors of apple, pear skin, soil and pollen with a low base of oak toast. The finish really pops with bright fruit and spice tones that show fine persistence. Very clear with cut and refreshing acids. 91pts


2008 Lafond SRH Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 13.8% $22


Caramel and butterscotch greet the nose over sweet toasted hazelnut notes and layers of dried tropical fruit. This really smells delicious. Sweetish on entry, this is big and intense with a fine set nutty vein of oak flavor offsetting the ripe pineapple, light citrus marmalade and dried apricot fruit on the mid-palate. This is really quite complex in the mouth, showing flashes of mineral, toast and some dried gaminess as the wine transitions to a clear, long pollen and dried fruit toned finish. This really shows some lovely subtlety and isn’t all about the upfront fruit. I really like this. 91pts


2009 Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 13.8% $25

This smells a little coconutty with tropical fruit tones, vanilla and cocoa butter notes, so it smells like suntan lotion a bit. Pretty bright in the mouth and nicely fruity, with pineapple and green apple fruit accented by hints of vanilla custard and mineral tones. A really complete wine with a very finely balanced array of soil, fruit and wine making notes that are melded to succulent acidity. The finish shows a bit more wood spice before clear fruit and a fine mineral edge move in and linger.  The nose is a bit funny, but on the palate this rocks. 91pts

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2009 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley CA 14.5% $19

Very tight on the nose with intense floral, spice, chalk and lemon zest notes accenting the ripe, perfumed pear fruit. This is bright and precise in the mouth, with wonderful freshness and clarity to the citrus flavors. Shows flashes of vanilla, mango and creamy mangosteen fruit. There’s a light baking notes of oak here, but it’s totally unobtrusive and leads to a moderately long, very clean and crisply pear toned finish. Wonderfully fresh and clear Chardonnay. 90pts

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