Fortunately for consumers, the $20 butter bombs seem to have, for the most part won that battle but at the same time producers of fine Chardonnay in California, of which there are many, continued to improve their wines, trading in some of the in your face unctuosity for complexity, detail and balance. Now of course there had been wines of this caliber produced in California for decades, but what we are seeing today is growth in this market segment. Growth as producers respond to market forces that seem to indicate that this style of wine is continuing to become increasing popular with consumers, and growth based on an improvd and increasingly specific understanding of the various terroirs that Chardonnay is best suited to.
These are expensive wines, there’s no doubt about that and as such they need to deliver on the promise of their price tags. There are of course hits and misses but as a whole the misses are becoming fewer and the hits, well they just keep on coming. Over the past few months I’ve tasted a handful of top Chardonnay at this price point, and I was really struck by the wonderful Gary Farrell Russian River Selection which was superb with sauteed asparagus topped with a little feta, and priced very well indeed. The 2011 Stuhlmuller proved once again to be a remarkable wine at it’s $20 price point and one to seek out, and Topel also flies much under the radar but their two Mendocino Chardonnays should be better known.
So there it is, plenty of Chardonnay to really enjoy, which for me is saying something. At this time of year lobster is on the menu in the north east and some of these wines would be just the ticket for a lobster dinner. Consider ones that are a bit buttery and fruity for your simple steamed lobster served with drawn butter but my preference runs towards grilled lobsters seasoned with ginger/basil/chili oil and for that preparation a bright, zesty example imbued with the gingery spice of oak works remarkably well. If lobster is not in your future, Chardonnay works as a great foil for crayfish, shrimp, scallops or prawns as well!