When it comes to drinking white wine, many people adhere to the ABC rule—Anything But Chardonnay. That’s too bad given the fact that not only can good Chardonnay be delicious, it’s also a chameleon: Chardonnay expresses just what the winemaker wants it to. Age it in stainless steel or neutral (used) oak barrels to preserve minerality and bright fruit character. Or, age it in new oak to for toasted notes, richness and creamy flavors. When chardonnay is grown on the chalky limestone soils of Chablis, France, for example, it tends to become mineral rich and higher in acid. Chardonnays from warm weather Napa grapes, where the use of new oak is relatively standard, may have bright fruit but they also tend to have a more creamy mouthfeel and carry aromas and flavors of toast and cream.
All of this is to say that with Chardonnay you get what you’re looking for. Beverage Director Amanda Reed, who has done a lot of that looking, explains why she’s a Chardonnay fan, and shares some favorites.
Reed: I love how impressionable Chardonnay is. As a somewhat neutral grape, it really does rely on its elements and the winemaker to create a unique expression. I love its range, there are classic examples such as white Burgundy, Chablis, and even Napa Chardonnay, but really it’s grown all over the world and used in so many different styles of wine. No one can disqualify the importance of Champagne, but there are also the fun, oxidative wines of the Jura, and the unique mineral-driven Italian Chardonnays. It’s such a versatile grape.
After working in a Burgundy house for so many years, I am all about white Burgundy, but I also love a well-made new world Chardonnay that’s full of oak.
L’Ecole No. 41 , Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, 2014
Origin: Columbia Valley, WA
Nose: Grannysmith apples, Asian pear, pineapple, lemon zest, honey, flint.
Palate: Medium bodied, medium-plus acid, creamy mouth feel. Candied pear, pineapple, slate, wet stone.
Why it’s tasty: I like how bright this wine is. It has great structure. While there’s not a ton of complexity, it’s still fresh and easy.
Pride Mountain Vineyards, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2013
Origin: Napa, CA
Nose: Baked apple, candied pear, toasted almonds, coconut, vanilla bean, Ceylon cinnamon.
Palate: Full bodied, medium-plus in acid, opulent in texture, with a creamy mouthfeel. Full of baked apple, crème brûlée, cinnamon, and clove.
Why it’s tasty: Napa Chardonnays are not typically my favorite, but I think this wine has elegance. It’s full and rich, but also balanced by sharp acidity.
Domaine de Grisy, Bourgogne, 2014
Origin: Burgundy, France
Nose: Anjou pear, orange marmalade, jasmine, saline, chalk, and flint.
Palate: Medium body, medium-plus acid, steely texture, and a crisp mouthfeel. Flavors of green apple skin, lime peel, chalk, and wet river rock.
Why it’s tasty: This wine is all about the minerality and the acid. It also happens to be a great food wine at a great value, which is why we serve it by the glass.
Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru-Les Vergers, 2013
Origin: Côte de Beaune (Burgundy), France
Nose: Baked apple, lemon oil, orange blossom, brioche, almonds, flint, and river rocks.
Palate: Medium-plus body, medium-plus acid, waxy texture, and creamy mouthfeel. Full of Meyer lemon, candied pear, white flowers, biscuits, gravel, and wet stone.
Why it’s tasty: I have a true love affair with Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. I love how the richness is almost always balanced by bracing acidity. The complex mineralities really do speak to this wine’s place. Even at the village level, whites from the Montrachet appellation rarely disappoint.
Walter Scott, Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, 2014
Origin: Willamette Valley, OR
Nose: Ripe pear, white peach, white flowers, honeysuckle, gravel, river rocks, and flint.
Palate: Medium body, medium-plus acid, viscous texture, crisp mouthfeel. Flavors of pear, lemon zest, orange zest, grilled pineapple, and gardenias.
Why it’s tasty: For me, this wine bridges Old World and New World Chardonnay. It has bright, juicy New World fruit, but there’s a depth of minerality and a smoky-flinty quality that is reminiscent of Burgundian wines.