As temperatures rise, many of us begin to crave more white wines, rosés and lighter reds. Among the whites, Chardonnay continues its several decades run as the undisputed favorite of American consumers.
Here, I highlight two basic styles of California and Oregon Chardonnay that basically draw inspiration from Burgundy, the historical benchmark for Chardonnay. The Côte d'Or style — mostly new oak for fermentation and aging, malolactic (“malo”) fermentation and aging on the lees — produces wines of lush texture with notes of cream, butter, toast, butterscotch or vanilla. The grape’s natural citrus fruit may be complemented with, pear, peach, melon, fig or tropical fruit.
Most wines in my tastings followed a version of the Côte d'Or approach. The ones below (in order of my personal preference, but all are recommended) deftly walked the line between opulence and freshness, pure fruit and richness, delivering complexity with oak influence more as seasoning.
Most impressive to me were three single vineyard wines of the 2017 Chappellet Grower Collection ($45): El Novillero Carneros — refreshing apricot and peach, honey toast, hazelnut; Calesa Petaluma Gap — rich, buttery apple and white fruits, fresh herbs, spice, tangerine, nutty; Sangiacomo Carneros — pure, sharp apple, pear, buttery rich.
• 2016 Mi Sueno Carneros ($42) rich butter cream, caramel apple, ginger
• 2017 Calera Mount Harlan ($50) complex, elegant, balanced
• 2016 Chalk Hill Estate Bottled ($42) floral, bright citrus, apple creamy caramel
• 2017 Migration Sonoma Coast ($40) floral vanilla, citrus, apricot, racy plush
• 2015 Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley ($39) intense lemon, lime, hint of stone
• 2016 Sea Smoke Santa Rita Hills ($60) dramatic citrus, seamless, honeyed
• 2017 Frank Family Carneros ($38) invigorating pineapple, juicy tropical fruit
• 2015 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill ($22) creamy brown butter, peach, apple, rich, toasty
• 2016 MacRostie Wildcat Mountain ($46) peach, apple, pear, toasty, spicy, elegant
• 2017 Duckhorn Napa Valley ($36) apple butter, spicy herb, pineapple
• 2017 Dry Creek Vineyard “Estate Block 10” ($34) ripe orange, pear, broad texture
• 2017 Left Coast “Truffle Hill” ($24) delightful orange, tangerine, cashew
• 2017 J. Lohr Arroyo Vista ($25) juicy, citrus, pineapple, lush, balanced
• 2017 McIntyre Santa Lucia Highlands ($28) focused citrus, firm texture
At the other end of the spectrum, some wineries emulate what can be described as the Chablis style. By limiting oak, especially new oak (in fermentation and aging) and restricting malo, the intent is to allow more pure fruit to shine through, yielding wines that are fresh, lively and vigorous. This style tends to present a lightness of being, though still with textural interest, intense aromatics and firm backbone.
• 2017 Jordan Alexander Valley ($34) dramatic apple and citrus, light butterscotch
• 2017 MacRostie Sonoma Coast ($25) zesty stone fruits, lightly savory
• 2017 FEL Anderson Valley ($32) mixed citrus, juicy, vigorous
• 2017 Calera Central Coast ($25) intensely crisp citrus, nicely creamy
• 2017 Scheid Estate Grown Monterey ($26) pure citrus, appealing sweet/tart
• 2015 J. McClelland Napa Valley ($35) brisk apple, cream, light spice
Three wines eschewed oak altogether. The juice for these “unoaked” wines was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills ($28) is a citrusy, peachy delight. The 2018 Chehalem “Inox” ($20) is focused and floral with peach and apple. The 2018 Kendall-Jackson “Avant” ($17) is pure, fresh and slightly sweet.