California Chardonnay

Best California Chardonnay


The Fifty Best California Chardonnay Tasting of 2022


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 16 California Chardonnay wines with eight members of our wine judging panel. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Strict tasting rules were applied. 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 based on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded according to a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded for this tasting. Medals are provided based entirely on merit and only to products judged worthy of such award.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. Clicking on the brands' names will link to their websites.


Cazadero 2019 Chardonnay
Parmeter King Ridge Vineyard

(Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma County)

Aroma: Lemon chiffon, pink grapefruit, touch of lime, Welch’s white grape juice, rich coconut, subtle vanilla, cinnamon, spicy, wood.

Palate: Bosc pear, nectarine, lemon, nutmeg, smoky, buttery, floral, sunny, elegant.

Finish: Vanilla, light butter, creamy, lemonade, tart, tangy, enjoyable.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Cazadero Chardonnay Parmeter King Ridge Vineyard

Böen 2019 Chardonnay
(Monterey, Sonoma & Santa Barbara Counties)

Aroma: Bold green apple, papaya, mango, nectarine, vanilla, blue cheese, funky cheese rind, spice, creamy, buttery, wood.

Palate: Green apple, pear, grapefruit, lemon, lemon peel, guava skin, coconut, slightly floral, nutmeg, oaky, crisp.

Finish: Lemon, green melon, pineapple, tropical, hint of butter, has complexity, clean, fresh, good for brunch, pleasant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Böen Chardonnay

J. Lohr 2020 Arroyo Vista Chardonnay
(Arroyo Seco, Monterey)

Aroma: Pineapple, lemon, tutti frutti, Juicy Fruit gum, vanilla, buttery, baking spice, touch of oak.

Palate: Lemon, lemon zest, citrus, pineapple juice, upside down cake, angel food, vanilla, vanilla spice, oak, butter, mineral, acidic, complex, nicely balanced.

Finish: The gooey top of pineapple upside-down cake, buttery, a visit to the islands, striking tropical finish, has complexity, clean, balanced.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay

Belle Glos 2020 Chardonnay Glasir Holt
(Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County)

Aroma: Honeydew, bold hibiscus, honeysuckle flower, nutmeg, new leather, vanilla, buttery, oak, wood.

Palate: Lemon, lemon peel, citrus, pineapple dessert, vanilla, coconut, floral, cinnamon, tumbleweed, buttery, oak, complex.

Finish: Arizona at dusk, earthiness, mineral, acidic, soft, easy, approachable, lovely finish.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Belle Glos Chardonnay Glasir Holt


McManis Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2019
(River Junction AVA)

Aroma: Green apple, sweet melon, tangerine, bergamot, citrus, bright honeysuckle, orange blossom, chalk, slate.

Palate: Lemon, lime, grapefruit, pear, peach, honey, vanilla, creamy, oaky, elegant.

Finish: Peach Popsicle, clean, soft.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

McManis Family Vineyards Chardonnay

Cannonball Chardonnay 2020

Aroma: Lemon, grapefruit, pear, vanilla, nutmeg, baking spices, mineral, volcanic soil, organic, fresh sea breeze.

Palate: Lemon, lime, lemon tart, burnt pie crust, spicy, toasty, leather, chalk, minerality, acidic.

Finish: Pineapple, minerally volcanic soil, refreshing.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Cannonball Chardonnay

Lorenzi Estate Chardonnay 2019
(Temecula Valley)

Aroma: Lemon, fig, pear skin, vanilla, buttery, leather, spicy, earth, peat, very oaky, organic.

Palate: Pear, almond, vanilla, buttery, complex leather, tannins, oak, rich mouthfeel.

Finish: Jackfruit, lemon, mineral, fall leaves, buttery, oak.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lorenzi Estate Chardonnay

Frey Vineyards Biodynamic Chardonnay 2020

Aroma: Pear juice, lemon, citrus, sweet floral, raw pie crust dough, flint.

Palate: Pear, nectarine, purple plum, celery, floral, herbal, oaky, chalk, mineral, wet stone, bright.

Finish: Vanilla, juicy, mineral, hint of salinity, acidic, tart, crisp, smooth, extra-dry, great with cheese.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Frey Vineyards Biodynamic Chardonnay

B-Side 2018 Chardonnay
(North Coast)

Aroma: Green apple, fresh Golden Delicious apple skin, pineapple, pink grapefruit lemon peel, apple blossom.

Palate: Golden Delicious apple, pineapple, lemon, grapefruit, nutmeg, butter, very light oak, smoke, zesty minerality.

Finish: Tart green apple, hint of guava, soft vanilla, buttery, creamy, subtle wood, stone, clean, crisp, bright.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

B-Side Chardonnay

Pellet Estate Chardonnay 2018 Sunchase Vineyard
(Petaluma Gap, Sonoma County)

Aroma: Green apple, lemon drop candy, Key lime pie, vanilla, honey, hint of honeysuckle, nuts, toast.

Palate: Green apple, grapefruit, citrus, Lemonhead candy, creamy lemon tart, almond, chalk, oak.

Finish: Sour green apple, frozen lemonade, sip on your front porch, good for spritz, soft, very pleasant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Pellet Estate Chardonnay Sunchase Vineyard

Frey Vineyards Organic Chardonnay 2020

Aroma: Fresh homemade McIntosh applesauce, papaya, buttery, vanilla, cinnamon, musky tannins, like a Riesling.

Palate: Grapefruit, pear, baked apples, buttery coconut, floral citrus, cinnamon, woody, meadow, natural, distinctive.

Finish: Pear, flowers, grass, meadow plants, stone, significant acidity, clean, soft, very approachable, have this with cheese plate, great with cheese & seafood.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Frey Vineyards Organic Chardonnay

Kwaya Organic Chardonnay 2019
(Various California)

Aroma: Lemon, lemon zest, bold papaya, pineapple, red apple, potato latkes with applesauce, buttery, vanilla.

Palate: Tart green apple, apple cider, lemon peel, citrus, floral, buttery, oak, 10 steel cask, tasty.

Finish: Fresh, acidic, drink this with swordfish/bluefish, tastes like spring.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Kwaya Organic Chardonnay


Jordan Chardonnay 2019
(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County)

Aroma: Baked lemon pie, white flowers, cardamom, coconut husk, leather, fresh minerality.

Palate: Prominent pineapple, lemon, organic lemon skin, coconut, white flowers, mint.

Finish: Pineapple, lime, acidic, light butter, slight oak.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Jordan Chardonnay

Sun & Rain Organic Chardonnay 2020

Aroma: Fresh green grapes, Mott’s apple sauce, baked pear, mango, agave note, soil, smoke, hint of organic materials, funky.

Palate: Green apple, grapefruit, strawberry, cherry, pineapple tart, buttery, honeysuckle, oily lemon peel, grassy, spicy, rich.

Finish: Green apple, complex vanilla, wet stone, layer of smoke.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Sun & Rain Organic Chardonnay

Sill Family Vineyards tres Chardonnay 2016
(Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County)

Aroma: Lemon, citrus, vanilla, creamy, apple blossom, honeysuckle, chalk, wet saddle, slate.

Palate: Lemon, fun lime, grapefruit, guava on steroids, Italian figs, vanilla, floral.

Finish: Lemon tart, lots of guava, fig, stone, clean, soft, pleasant, easy to drink.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Sill Family Vineyards tres Chardonnay

FitVine Chardonnay 2020

Aroma: Grapefruit, citrus, orange blossom, wet fields, subtle smoke, chalk.

Palate: Lemon, apricot, blueberry, pineapple, vanilla, herbal, cucumber skin, wet flint, Burgundian-style.

Finish: Lemon zest, bitter Chinese melon, chalk, minerality, stone, clean, nice body, pleasant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

FitVine Chardonnay




The Evolving Styles of California Chardonnay

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.

In wine, balance is everything, and eventually a style for chardonnay evolved that seems natural and unforced. To oak or not to oak? 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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