California Chardonnay
 

California Chardonnay

 

The Fifty Best California Chardonnay Tasting of 2020

 

The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 23 recent release California Chardonnay wines with 10 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh glasses from new sealed bottles and served well chilled. Only ice water and crusty peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. Prices indicated do not include tax.

 



DOUBLE-GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

El Molino 2016 Chardonnay
(Rutherford, Napa Valley)   $70

Made from 3 clones of Chardonnay grapes (Wente IV, Stony Hill and Atlas Peak), this wine was barrel fermented and aged in French oak on its lees (wasted yeast) for 11 months prior to bottling, then bottle-aged another 10 months before release.

Aroma: Anjou pear, green apple skins, lemon peel, soft florals, honeysuckle, honey, butterscotch, buttered popcorn, herbal, minerals, wet flint, soft tannins, cedar, elegant.

Palate: Pear, ripe Anjou pear, sweet Golden apple, mango, guava, stone fruit, green apple, grapefruit, herby, almond, oaky, buttery, vanilla, creamy.

Finish: Pineapple, nectarine, green apple, apple skins, citrus, hay, spice, well-balanced, smooth, crisp, flavorful.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



El Molino 2016 Chardonnay

 



Thirty-Seven Chardonnay Reserve 2016
(Sonoma Coast) $36

Following fermentation in barrel, this wine was aged in 100% new French oak on its lees (wasted yeast) for 15 months before bottling.

Aroma: Pear, melon, pineapple, lemon, bright citrus, lemon curd, white cake, honey, floral, vanilla, buttery, slight oak, crisp, bright, rich.

Palate: Golden apple, green apple, lemon, Meyer lemon, pineapple, bright citrus, honey, caramel corn, olive oil, slightly buttery, oak, balanced oak, creamy, soft.

Finish: Green apple, tart apple skin lemon, melon, grapefruit, citrus, popcorn, mild tannins, creamy, smooth.


Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Thirty-Seven Chardonnay Reserve 2016



Red Car 2018 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay
(Fort Ross - Seaview)   $62

Following fermentation of grapes from an area noted for a cool climate, the wine was aged in French oak (13% new, 87% neutral) for 10 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Apple, red apple, light apricot, pineapple, citrus, sweet lemon, lemonade, minerals, buttery, fresh, bright.

Palate: Gold apple, green apples, pear, white peach, peach, pineapple, papaya, mango, citrus, juicy, fresh ginger, woody, mineral, high acid, balance of sweet & tart, delicate.

Finish: Ripe pear, juicy, red apple skin, soft acid, well balanced, layered, pleasant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal



Red Car Estate Vineyard Chardonnay



GOLD MEDAL WINNERS

Lorenzi 2017 Chardonnay
Dijon Clone 76 Estate

(Temecula Valley)   $48

Following fermentation, this wine ( made from Dijon Clone 76 grapes) was aged in French oak barrels (65% new, 25% 2-year old, 10% 3-year old).

Aroma: Mango, piña colada, coconut, tropical fruit, banana Laffy Taffy, gooseberry, pear, apple, green apple, citrus notes, earth, mossy, cedar, cut wood, buttery, soft, crisp.

Palate: Apple, honey Gala apples, white peaches, light citrus, Sweet Tarts, lemon custard, almond, nutty, vanilla, buttery richness, oaky, heavy oak, cedar, nice wood integration, crisp.

Finish: Pear, roasted pear, unripe pineapple, citrus, soft tannins, slightly smoky, toasty, cedar, soft, creamy, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Lorenzi Chardonnay Dijon Clone 76 Estate



Castello di Amorosa 2018 Reserve Chardonnay
(Napa Valley)   $59

Following fermentation, this 100% Chardonnay was aged in 100% new Burgundian French oak barrels for 12 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Green apple, rambutan, lemon peel, minerality, subtle malo, slight oak, buttery.

Palate: Bountiful lemon, lemon peel, apple, pear, melon, mango, peach, great tropical fruit, floral, cedar box, balanced oak, buttery, buttered popcorn, creamy, vanilla, smooth, crisp, classic California chardonnay.

Finish: Ripe lemon, lime, mango, papaya, oak, vanilla, creamy, soft, balanced.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Castello di Amorosa Reserve Chardonnay



Pedroncelli 2018 Chardonnay Signature Selection
Dry Creek Valley Vineyards

(Sonoma County)   $17

Grapes for this wine were sourced from vineyards at the southern end of Dry Creek Valley, known for alluvial soil and a cool microclimate. Fermentation and aging of 85% of the grapes was in stainless steel, with 15% barrel-fermented and aged in barrels for 8 months before bottling.

Aroma: Golden apple, crisp apple, white grape, star fruit, tropical fruit, lemon, grapefruit, lime zest, citrus, summer flowers, zingy, softly bright.

Palate: Golden apple, Sweet Tarts, citron, lemon peel, honey suckle, vanilla, creamy, light butter, oak, tannins, consistent throughout, summer in a glass, delightful.

Finish: Orange, gardenia, floral, mineral, earthy, medium tannins, complex, balanced, Burgundian, approachable, pleasant, lovely.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Pedroncelli Chardonnay Signature Selection



Pellet Estate 2016 Chardonnay
Sun Chase Vineyard

(Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County)   $68

Following hand-sorting of the grapes, they were pressed as whole clusters and then fermented in French oak barrels (30% new) over 6 months during which the wine rested on its lees (wasted yeast).

Aroma: Green apple, pear, unripe mango, rambutan, soft citrus, floral, grass, hay, white peppercorn, minerals, musty, earth, faint oak, buttery, vanilla, savory.

Palate: Lemon, tart lime, green apple, sweet apple, pear, green grapes, gooseberry, melon, peach, great tropical fruit, bitter almond, nutty, olives, musty, oaky, buttery, Tootsie Roll, creamy, fresh, crisp.

Finish: Melon, juicy, popcorn, hay, oaky, creamy, smooth, soft, delicate, a food wine.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Pellet Estate Chardonnay



Thomas George Estates 2017 Chardonnay
Baker Ridge Estate Single Vineyard

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $45

This 100% Chardonnay, with grapes from a 3-acre vineyard facing northeast (the coolest section of the vineyard) was barrel-fermented (following pressing of whole clusters) and aged on its lees (wasted yeast) for 11 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Apple, crisp apples, lemon peel, Meyer lemon peel, unripe mango, gentle orange, stone fruit, soft florals, grass, oak, flint, minerals, crisp.

Palate: Green apple, pear, charred pineapple, lush tropical fruit, lemon, fresh lemonade, grapefruit, citrus, parsley, minerals, wet stone, soft tannins, oak, balanced, bright, creamy, buttery, highly drinkable.

Finish: Apple, strawberry, citrus, almond, oak, balanced, crisp, smooth, pleasant, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Baker Ridge Estate



Frey Chardonnay 2018
(various California)   $15
BEST VALUE

For this wine, “certified organic” grapes (made without the addition of sulfites) were fermented and aged in stainless steel, with the addition oak staves for a brief time during aging.

Aroma: Ripe Golden apples, apple juice, pear, figs, lychee, gooseberry, banana, bubblegum, nutty, mineral oil, ashes, fire ashes.

Palate: White grapes, melon, cantaloupe, pomelo, juicy, jammy, florals, nutty, stone, acidic, tannic, fire ashes, green oak, oaky, buttery, soft, silky mouthfeel.

Finish: Fresh sliced lemon, light apple, bubble gum, vanilla, heavy tannins, fire ash, cedar notes, oak, complex, rounded, soft.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Frey Chardonnay



Thomas George Estates 2017 Chardonnay
Starr Ridge Estate Single Vineyard

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $40

For this wine, 100% Chardonnay grapes from the Starr Vineyard were fermented in 25% new French oak barrels (90%) or stainless steel (10%), then aged on its lees (wasted yeast) for 10 months before bottling.

Aroma: Mango, unripe peaches, unripe nectarines, apple, Korean pear, melon, bergamot, citrus, lemon macaroon, vanilla, toasted flowers, musty, smoky, bright.

Palate: Lemon, Meyer lemon, unsweetened lemon, green apple, pear, melon, unripe nectarine, white peach, apricot, mint, leather, oaky, clean.

Finish: Lemon, citrus, lingering peach, melon, grassy, minerality, flint, oaky, fresh, super bright.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Starr Ridge Estate



Line 39 Chardonnay 2018
(various California)   $11
BEST VALUE

Following harvest, this wine was fermented in stainless steel (85%) or French oak (15%) and then aged for 6 months in mostly French oak prior to bottling.

Aroma: White peach, gooseberry, baked apples, tropical, soft orange, faint citrus, grassy, sweet clover, tannins, oaky, lightly buttery.

Palate: Peach, white peach, sweet pear, apple, cantaloupe, tangerine, mandarin orange, lemon peel, soft lemon cream, honey, honeysuckle, vanilla, black pepper, some tannins, buttery, mellow.

Finish: Peach, pear, gooseberry, juicy, grassy, delicate, silky, smooth, beautiful.

Gold Medal
Gold medal



Line 39 Chardonnay



SILVER MEDAL WINNERS

Elaine 2017 Chardonnay Calypte Vineyard
Estate Grown

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $50

Made from hand-harvested grapes that were fermented using native yeast, this wine was aged in new French oak (50%) prior to bottling.

Aroma: Apricots, mango, coconut, red apple, quince, citrus, honeysuckle, vanilla blossom, spicy, malo, oak, buttery, crisp.

Palate: Apples, green apple, pear, star fruit, lime, vanilla, almond, natural acidity, oaky, buttery, creamy, Burgundian.

Finish: Hints of tropical fruits, light butter, light wood, bright, acidity, balanced, delicious.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Elaine Chardonnay Calypte Vineyard



Red Mare 2016 Chardonnay Dutton Ranch
(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $48

Following harvest, the grapes for this wine were pressed as whole clusters and fermented in 100% Burgundian barrels (15% new).

Aroma: Meyer lemon peel, lemon curd, lemon meringue, citrus, lychee, pear, melon, spring flowers, malo, vanilla, creamy, crisp.

Palate: Lemon, bright Meyer lemon peel, green apple, pears, jack fruit, mango, melon, orange, straw, doughy, bready, musty, high acid, crisp, tannin, touch of oak, creamy, vanilla.

Finish: Meyer lemon, lemon rind, wet stone, malo, tannins, creamy, zingy, nice, soft.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Red Mare Chardonnay Dutton Ranch



Thomas George Estates 2017 Chardonnay
Sons and Daughters Ranch Estate

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $25

Grapes (100% Chardonnay) for this wine were pressed as whole clusters, fermented and then aged (for 10 months before bottling) in either stainless steel tanks (69%) or concrete (31%) containers.

Aroma: Apple. crisp apple, melon, grapefruit, citrus, lemon, lemon curd, lilac, mums, forsythia, floral, grassy, minerals.

Palate: Pear, Bosc pear, sweet pear, apple, melon, peach, strawberry, pineapple, tangerine, lemon, spearmint, floral acidity, high acid, bright, slightly effervescent, good with spicy food.

Finish: Pear, lychee, lemon, lime, citrus, oak, bright, crisp.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Sons and Daughters Ranch



Frey Biodynamic Chardonnay 2018
(Mendocino)   $20

This wine was made biodynamically using “certified organic” grapes that were fermented using natural, indigenous yeast, then aged in stainless steel with the addition of oak staves for a short time during the aging process.

Aroma: Apple, slightly sweet crisp apples, apple cider, apple sauce, melon, hint of lemon, citrus, apricot, peach, macerated red fruit, white flowers, sparkling glera grape, prosecco.

Palate: Green apple, juicy apples, apple cider, guava, peach, tamarind, lime, floral, oak, buttery, rich, bubbly, slightly frizzante.

Finish: Apple, apple skin, tropical fruit, gardenia, like a chenin blanc, nice, easy, flavorful, refreshing.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Frey Biodynamic Chardonnay



Thomas George Estates 2017 Chardonnay
Cresta Ridge Single Estate

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)   $40

Following harvest, grapes for this wine were pressed as whole clusters, fermented in either French oak barrels (90%) or stainless steel (10%), then aged on its lees (wasted yeast) in French oak barrels (25% new) or stainless steel for 11 months before bottling.

Aroma: Pineapple, fresh sliced pineapple, tropical fruit, green apple, light melon, grapefruit, citrus, honey, floral, bright.

Palate: Golden apple, green apple, lemony, fresh lemon, grapefruit, golden pineapple, pear, apricots, figs, tart, soft tannins, cedar, buttery, creamy.

Finish: Green apples, lemon rind, citrus zest, citrus, honey suckle, earthy note, tannic, oak, toasty, well balanced, soft, beautiful.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Thomas George Estates Chardonnay Cresta Ridge Single Estate



Austerity 2017 Chardonnay
(Arroyo Seco)   $15

Grown in a mix of gravelly and loamy soils, grapes for this wine were either barrel fermented (50%) and then aged in oak (65% French, 35% American) for 8 months or fermented (50%) in stainless steel and then aged in oak (50% French, 50% American) for 8 months.

Aroma: White peach, pear, lemon, white flowers, perfume, black jelly beans, Angostura bitters, dusty, minerality, earthy, butter, oak.

Palate: Lemon, lemon zest, pink grapefruit, grapefruit bitters, banana, Juicy Fruit gum, cinnamon, vanilla, buttery, oak.

Finish: Lemon, cider, anisette, nutmeg, minerals, buttery, creamy.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Austerity Chardonnay



Frey Sun & Rain Organic Chardonnay 2018
(Mendocino)   $16

Made from “certified organic” grapes, this wine underwent fermentation and aging in stainless steel, with the addition of oak staves for a brief time during the aging process.

Aroma: Golden apple, Red Delicious apple, pear, sweet Anjou pear, 7 Up, bright citrus, peach, honey, Bit-o-Honey, caramel notes, pastry dough, green wood.

Palate: Golden apple, Red Delicious apple, applesauce, pear, citrus, lime, lime peel, lime curd, peaches, pastry, cilantro, zesty, layers of flavors.

Finish: Peach, ripe peach, pear, white grape, floral, cream note, buttery, toasty, soft tannins, smoky, balanced, zingy, rich.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Frey Sun & Rain Organic Chardonnay



Oceans Churning 2014 Chardonnay
Sangiacomo Green Acres Hills Vineyard

(Carneros)   $50

Following night harvest, the wine was fermented using a special South African yeast in a stainless steel tank over 12 days, then aged for 14 months in 5-7 year-old French oak barriques before bottling.

Aroma: Apple, green apple skins, white grape, peach, lemon, grassy, musty, forest floor, gentle oak, ash, toasted sugar.

Palate: Apple, green apple, orange peel, citrus, yellow peach, floral, butter, minerals, musty, woody, bright acidity, zingy, zesty, striking.

Finish: Lemon, citrus, deep apple skins, creamy, butter, mineral, wet flint, musty, sweet smoke, round, rich.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Oceans Churning Chardonnay Sangiacomo Green Acres Hills Vineyard



Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2018
(Parlier, California)   $12

Following barrel fermentation, this wine was aged in American oak (60%) and French oak (40%) before bottling.

Aroma: Vanilla, butterscotch, buttered popcorn, lemon, minerals, earthy notes, nice oak, beautiful.

Palate: Mango, apricot, peach, melon, pear, ripe tropical fruits, yeasty, toasty, honey, caramel, creamy, butter, oak.

Finish: Green apple, great lemon zest, orange peel, slight oak, buttery, nice, crisp.

Silver Medal
Silver medal



Harken Barrel Fermented Chardonnay



BRONZE MEDAL WINNERS

Oceans Churning 2016 Chardonnay
Sangiacomo Green Acres Hills Vineyard

(Sonoma Coast)   $50

Made from 100% Old Wente Clone grapes harvested at night, the juice was pressed as whole-clusters and fermented over 12 days in a stainless steel tank. It was then aged in neutral, 7-9 year-old French barriques for 14 months prior to bottling.

Aroma: Crisp green apple, pear, ripe tropical fruit, honey dew melon, lemony, honey, nougat, peach blossoms, dill, sourdough, leather, earthy.

Palate: Golden apple, green apple, white peach, peachy zing, apricot, banana, bright orange peel, hint of grapefruit, lemony, lemon curd, creamy, almond, nutty, mushrooms, earthy, high acid, bright, elegant.

Finish: Lemon, lemon peel, lemon curd, citrus, melon, honeysuckle, fresh summer, buttery, soft tannins, woody.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Oceans Churning Chardonnay Sangiacomo Green Acres Hills Vineyard



Pacific Redwood 2018 Organic Chard
(Redwood Valley)   $15

Made from organic grapes without the addition of sulfites, this wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in stainless steel with French oak.

Aroma: Apple, Golden apple, pear, Bosc pear, white peach, tangerine peel, apple blossoms, honeysuckle, honey, almond, toasted sesame, oak.

Palate: Apples, applesauce, melon, charred nectarine, charred peaches, almond, nutty, smoky, tannins, high acid, delicate.

Finish: Red apple skin, dried apples, pear, pie crust, biscuit, olives, oak, soft, smooth.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal



Pacific Redwood Organic Chard

 

 


 

California Chardonnay – To oak or not to oak?

Chardonnays are not nearly what they once were. And this is a good thing.

Chardonnay is the top-selling wine in the U.S., and the 5th most widely planted grape variety in the world. But back in the early 1950s, James Zellerbach, a paper magnate and American ambassador to Italy, produced a Chardonnay at his Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley that had been aged in small French oak barrels. Connoisseurs understood the importance of a wine that was made in the traditional Burgundian method, but Hanzell’s Chardonnay was appreciated by only a select few. Chardonnay plantings in California grew throughout the 1960s, with 18 times more acreage in 1972 than in 1959. However, most wine drinkers still preferred their misleadingly labeled “Chablis” and “Sauternes.”

All that changed after the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay took First Place in a blind tasting that included both American and French wines, and was widely hailed in the media. Chardonnay became a superstar. Virtually every winemaker in California wanted to make one. So in went Chardonnay vines, often replacing less the popular varieties. French oak barrels arrived into American ports by the boatload, ordered by winemakers who felt that if new French oak was good enough for white Burgundy, it was good enough for them. And that's when the trouble started.

In wine, balance is everything, and eventually a style for chardonnay evolved that seems natural and unforced. Today, unoaked California Chardonnay is more than a trend, it’s a movement. But in the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Consumers decide for themselves which style of Chardonnay they like: unoaked, heavily oaked or something in between. And that’s the beauty of California: no rules, few regulations, a wide range of terroirs and vintners willing to explore the possibilities while keeping a close eye on the market.

What to look for in California Chardonnays? Richness, depth and a refreshing sense of acidity. An emphasis on orchard and tropical fruits, with tart citrus, creamy and mineral flavors. Chardonnay is an easy wine for food pairings because of its wide variety of styles, textures, levels of sweetness and natural acidity. All types of seafood, chicken, veal, pork are good pairings with Chardonnay. It's also perfect with a wide variety of hard, soft and creamy cheeses.

 

 

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