Top 15 Chardonnays for Grilling
The best bets for grill-friendly Chardonnay, all under $50
7. Vasse Felix
This winery was founded with the planting of an eight-acre vineyard in 1967 in a cool region at the extreme southwestern tip of Australia—a cape surrounded by ocean on three sides. Virginia Willcock, the chief winemaker since 2006, was named Gourmet Traveller WINE Australian Winemaker of the Year in 2012. This is a terrific value with a lot of richness, making it an excellent foil for a range of grilled meats.
Light yellow color; hazelnut, toasted coconut nose; tasty, rich, oily textured, hazelnut, tart lemon, toasted coconut palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points
The Melvilles, Ron and sons Brent and Chad, farm 139 acres of vines they planted in Santa Rita Hills’ cool climate. The winemaker is Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton. Their Chardonnays are complex and minerally, exhibiting some of the salinity one gets from this appellation, which is exposed to constant ocean breezes. That salinity coupled with their acidity makes them delightful with grilled vegetables, seafood and chicken. The wines also age beautifully.
Light medium lemon yellow color; intriguing, tart lemon, ripe lime, tart pineapple nose; tasty, rich but balanced, tart lemon, quince, mineral, saline, briny palate; medium-plus finish. 14% alcohol. 92+ points
9. Sandhi Wines
See summary of this project under #1 above.
Light yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, ripe lemon, light hazelnut nose; tart lemon, mineral, lightly saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
10. Au Bon Climat
Jim Clendenen, winemaker/proprietor of Au Bon Climat, has been one of the leading figures in the Santa Barbara County wine world for decades. This Chardonnay from older vines at the Bien Nacido Vineyard in cool climate Santa Maria Valley is extremely food-friendly.
2009 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Historic Vineyards Collection Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Barbara County $30
Light yellow color; appealing, butter-poached pear, saline nose; tasty, tight, tart pear, mineral, saline, iodine, light hazelnut palate with good acidity; needs 2 to 3 years; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
Gavin Chanin launched this label in 2007 at the age of 21. He started as a cellar rat at Au Bon Climat and Qupé, the wineries where he’s now assistant winemaker. He has sought out older vineyards with particular soils in the Santa Barbara area, and picks his Chardonnay earlier than others in the area. He then ages them in largely neutral barrels for about 14 months.
Light canary yellow color; tart lemon, vanilla, lemon drop nose; tasty, rich, lemon drop, tart lemon palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
Light lemon yellow color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus; ripe pear, ripe lemon, pineapple, French oak nose; French oak on entry that should integrate in 2 years or so, tart pear, tart lemon, mineral, ripe grapefruit palate with medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish. 13.9% alcohol. 92+ points
12. La Follette
This is the eponymous label of Gary La Follette, who came to fame as winemaker at Flowers in the late 1990s. Greg, who holds a masters in food science and technology from UC Davis, is also very much a scientist, and has consulted for many wineries in California and abroad. For this project he seeks out vineyards from cool climate sites in Sonoma County.
Light lemon yellow color; floral, apple, vanilla, ripe pear, applesauce nose; tasty, tart pear, tart lemon, applesauce, lemon gelee palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish. Ten months in French oak sur lie; mainly old Wente clones, planted in '98. 14.2% alcohol. 92+ points
Diatom was a Japanese philosophy-and-food-inspired project of Greg Brewer, of Brewer-Clifton, who is also winemaker at Melville. The 2011 is the final vintage of this intriguing project, where the wine names represented styles and personalities rather than vineyard sites.
Light lemon yellow color; focused, ripe lemon, tart Golden Delicious apple nose; tasty, mineral, light green herb, very saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish. 13.8% alcohol. 92+ points
Flowers’ vineyards, devoted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, were some of the first planted on the “extreme” Sonoma Coast, on Pacific Ocean cliffs ranging from 1,100 to 1,850 foot elevations. The current winemaker is Jason Jardine, who was previously general manager and winemaker at Rhys in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Light straw yellow color; ripe pear, baked pear, white flower nose; rich, tart pear, mineral palate with good acidity and a light sense of salt; medium-plus finish. 92+ points
15. Giant Steps
Giant Steps is owned by Phil Sexton, a jazz lover, who named the project he founded in 1998 after a favorite album by John Coltrane. The focus is cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot/Cab blends from five vineyard sites in Australia’s Yarra Valley region. This wine has the richness to complement all kinds of grilled meats.
Light medium yellow color; leesy, hazelnut, almond nose; leesy, hazelnut, almond, tart lemon palate; medium-plus finish. 92+ points