Chardonnay the king of white wines, for it makes consistently excellent, rich and complex whites. In fact, Chardonnay is grown in more regions of the world than any other varietal. It has been speculated that Chardonnay first came from the Middle East and then was brought to Burgundy in eastern France. Chardonnay grows well in a variety of locations throughout the world. In Burgundy, it is used for the exquisite whites, such as Montrachet, Meursault and Pouilly-Fuissè, and Chablis; in Champagne it turns into Blanc de Blancs. And did you know that Chardonnay is in some of the most famous Champagnes of the world, such as Veuve Clicquot, Moet and Dom Perignon? New Zealand and Australia also make fantastic Chardonnay.
No other white varietal benefits as much from oak aging or barrel fermentation. Some Chardonnays do not have any oak barrel ageing, such as wines from Chablis in France, while others, such as the Mer Soileil Chardonnay, are aged 12-14 (or more) months in French oak. Some of the best California Chardonnays become more rich and complex with aging. Washington Chardonnays typically see some oak, but not usually as much as their California counterparts. For instance, the excellent 2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay is aged for 6 months in oak. Washington Chardonnays are typically made to drink right away, while some California Chardonnays can cellar 10+ years.
Because of Chardonnay's popularity, there is a broad spectrum in quality for the varietal. Here are some of my favorite Chardonnays from Washington and California.
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2012 Chateau St Michelle 'Mimi' Chardonnay- This wine is from Horse Heaven Hills and has tropical fruits on the nose. Palate has butter, golden delicious apple and minerals. Rounded out and smooth. Very solid. -90
2011 Chateau St. Michelle 'Cold Creek' Chardonnay- Pear and apple on the nose. Nice oak integration on the palate with green apple and pear with light butter characteristics. -91
2012 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay. Voted best in show for 40 bucks and above at the San Fran Wine Competition. Very light oak. Wonderful smoothness on the palate with golden delicious, pear and melon flavors. Excellent. Drink now. -92
2009 Saviah Cellars 'Stillwater Creek Vineyard' Chardonnay- Pale color with some green hues. Nose has green apple and cantaloupe with light nutmeg. Palate has good depth with vanilla cream, green apple, white peach and minerals. Very tasty. Cellared for a few years, and only 165 cases produced. Drink now. -92
2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay- Pale color with oak, butter and tropical fruit on the nose. Palate is vibrant with oak, cream, cantaloupe, pear and butter. Rock solid. Drink now. -92
2011 Maryhill Founders Reserve Chardonnay- Oak and cream on the nose. Needs some time to open up. Light bodied. Palate has pear, green apple and cream. Nice refreshing quality. Drink now. -89
2008 Chateau St. Jean Reserve Chardonnay - Aged 16-17 months in oak, this wine has a rich gold color with heavy oak on the nose. Whipping cream and creme brûlée on the palate. Thick and viscous with major oak. Excellent. Drink now. -93
2011 Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay- Honey, butter and golden delicious apple on the nose. Almost botrytis on the palate with serious depth and richness. Opulent fruit, this reaches a viscosity that few Chards can approach. Palate has golden raisin, butterscotch, golden delicious apple and white peach. This is serious juice. Drink now. -94
2009 Sbragia 'Home Ranch' Chardonnay- This wine underwent full malolactic fermentation and was aged in oak for 10 months. Rich golden hue with oak, orange blossom and honeydew melon on the nose. Palate has creme brûlée, golden delicious apple and ripe pear. Serious viscosity, this is just outstanding. Drink now. -94
2011 Ramey 'Russian River Valley' Chardonnay- Underwent full malolactic fermentation and aged in oak for 12 months. Oak and orange blossom with nutmeg on the nose. Palate is vibrant with pear, red apple and cracking minerality. Very Burgundian and crisp. Drink now.- 92
2012 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay- Pale color with toasted oak and vanilla on the nose. Fermented with 30% new oak and 70% old oak. Also near full malolactic fermentation. Palate has vibrant minerality with pineapple, butter, honeydew melon, starfruit and pear. Drink now. -92