Allow us to reintroduce you to Chardonnay. The backbone of French white Burgundy and Chablis, Chardonnay remains the most popular white wine grape in the United States. Sure, it got a bad rap at the end of the 20th century due to the number of overly oaky “butter bombs” being produced, but it’s easier now than ever before to find fantastic Chardonnays that do the storied, versatile grape justice.
To help convert even the most ardent Chardonnay skeptics, we’ve pulled together a list of the best we’ve tried in the past year. The wines on this list all scored a B+ or higher in our wine reviews and are arranged by score and price. Surprisingly, over half the wines on this list are under $30, and none are over $100, proving that you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for affordability when it comes to Chardonnay. And yes, for those who love the butterscotch flavors — there are some terrific big, oaky California Chards here, too.
Here 25 of the best Chardonnays you can buy right now, with reviews by VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers.
This is one of the best examples on the market for quality and inherent varietal characteristics of one of the most famous grapes on the planet. I know that’s a big statement, but damn, is this wine good. Everything, and I mean everything, is in harmony here. Put the word “subtle” before the words: oak, vanilla, toast, and butter; and that only begins to convey the awesomeness. Acidity aids fruit and fruit aids a structure that grips your palate in a bear hug (who doesn’t like a bear hug?). Want an example of how an American Chardonnay can be in almost complete balance but doesn’t cost the house? Here ya go; and for this quality, $29 is a steal.
I’m only going to the Catalina wine mixer if Rusack is served. This wine is stupendous. It is impeccably balanced, elegant, and expressive in its subtlety. Sound a bit poetic? Well, dammit, that’s how this wine makes me feel. I want to wax on and off about the perfectly balanced aromas of light oak toast and just the right amount of vanilla. I want to shout from the rooftops about the perfect push and pull between acidity and grippy wood tannin, and shed a tear of joy regarding how amazing it tastes and feels on my palate. $60? Only available on their website? Yeah, it’s worth it.
If you’re going to spend a cool C-note on a white wine, this would be one to consider. This is the OG style of Chardonnay the New World tried to emulate back in the day, with balanced vanilla and baking spices never tipping over into too much. The aromas and mouthfeel of this wine are just right. The wine excites the palate with added aromas of pear and green apples with the slightest grip. You may have some trouble sharing the bottle.
This is a great example of restraint when it comes to this grape. Chardonnay is so malleable that it’s nice when a winemaker dials the extreme characteristics back a bit to make a very nice and refreshing white wine with just a kiss of oak in the form of subtle vanilla aromas. The mouthfeel won’t weigh you down because the alcohol, at 13.5 percent, is just right. There is great acidity lifting the wine up so the deeper aromas — a hint of butter, a skosh of nutmeg — aren’t all up in your business. It is a true summer Chardonnay, and an even better date starter.
Creamy, balanced, and rich — this is how it’s done. California is known for their big ol’ Chards with heavy oak, vanilla bean intensity, and high alcohol, but what if all these things were in actual harmony? You’d have this wine. The balance here is great. The oak is soft and plays well with the creamy mouthfeel. The acidity is just right, and the alcohol is very well integrated. At under $30, this is one helluva great wine.
Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2016 (A) ($26)
Chardonnay can be so fun when the alcohol is in check. This wine has all the depth of some of the bigger Chards out there, but with restraint and good retention of acidity, you can enjoy said depth without hot hot heat burning your nose hairs. It’s very balanced, with a nice, juicy, round palate, and classic aromas of apples and pears mingling with subtle hints of vanilla and that fancy French butter made in bistros. If you’re going to spend almost $30 on a Chardonnay, you deserve this kind of balance.
This wine makes me want to scream and curse. It’s so good. The varieties used are represented in the blend right down to the floral, orange blossom aromatics of the Gewürztraminer. The balance on the palate is impeccable, with depth and salinity pushing and pulling the mouthfeel between grip to velvet (a word used for red wines, but dammit, it’s here), only to let you go and wanting more.
Domaine Matrot Saint-Romain 2017 (A) ($33)
You really can’t go wrong here. It has all the Burgundy/Beaune vibes you are looking for in an elegant white from this region. This little area is void of grand or premier cru, so the prices are easier to swallow. It has a nice tart nose of ripe pear fruit and toasty vanilla. The palate has a great grip, too, with some dryness around the edges. This is a great wine to impress and not break the bank.
It’ll cost you, but this wine is worth it. It is such a nice, well-rounded Chardonnay made with restraint and focus. The nose has classic pear and apple aromas, with a toasty hint of vanilla. The palate is calm, broad, and not weighed down by high alcohol or too much oak. It’s a wonderful wine and deserves to be shared with good friends.
Balletto Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2018 (A-) ($18)
This wine is ridiculously good for under $20. It’s crisp and refreshing while having great depth. There’s no oak, so you get the full Russian River personality without the wooded distraction. It has a great grip on the palate, and feels nice and broad. I want to bring this to the next cookout and wash it down with some grilled chicken and butter-laden corn on the cob… damn.
Oberon Chardonnay 2018 (A-) ($20)
For $20 you get a very balanced Chardonnay that will not knee you in the head with tons of oak and alcohol, but instead bring you in with the embrace of soft earthy aromas that will remind you of peaches and concrete after a rainstorm. It is a great wine to gift and help drink, as well as a good bottle to impress the parents. They’ll love the old-school vibes of just enough oak, and you’ll dig the new-school vibes of mineral-driven fruit. Welcome to a new go-to.
VineSmoke Chardonnay 2017 (A-) ($20)
This wine is only available on their website (which also promotes their bags of vine cuttings that can be used for grilling) and the Chardonnay is damn good. It has depth and structure to jive with whatever you’re grilling — though chicken and veggies would pair best — and enough acidity so it won’t weigh you down on a nice, sunny cookout day. It’s crisp and soft with subtle aromas that will complement the char.
Niner Wine Estates Chardonnay 2018 (A-) ($27)
This is oaky Cali Chard with harmony. If you dig that rich vanilla-and-butter style of this grape, then this is your bottle. But the difference here is that all those intense characteristics are kept in absolute check by crazy vibrant acidity. It’s a great bottle for a light afternoon lunch with some homemade chicken salad sandwiches and a cheese plate, or even a sunset get-together with roasted chicken and some grilled veggies sprinkled with sea salt and some cumin.
Ripe, tart, and creamy all in one mouthful of this awesome wine. This is a very refreshing Chardonnay and won’t weigh you down with a bunch of oak and heat. It is soft, with vibrant acidity, like the grapes were grown on a sea slope (see what I did there). It has a nice briny character that is complemented by classic Chard aromas such as freshly sliced green apples and juicy pears. It’s just under $30 and worth your pennies. It’s also under a screw cap so easy, no muss no fuss!
Rappahannock Cellars Chardonnay 2017 (A-) ($28)
This wine is only available on the winery’s website but is worth your time if you want to get to know Virginia wine. It sees some oak, but you almost wouldn’t know it. There is a tart apple aroma happening and a crisp snap on the palate. The acidity is vibrant, and the wine lifts on the palate. This wine is for good friends and some nibbles (I’m thinking a cheese-and-meat plate with some chicken liver paté, whaaaat?).
Sokol Blosser Estate Chardonnay 2018 (A-) ($38)
Well, this is interesting. This bottle has that lean, grippy, mineral-driven feel to it. It says “nah” to oaky and vanilla-y. It says “what’s good” about aromas like freshly sliced green apples and mountain rocks after a rainstorm. It’s pricey, but an awesome idea for the next fish fry, or to wash down a roasted chicken.
Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay 2018 (A-) ($58)
This is how rich, full-bodied California Chardonnay should feel. It’s big and grippy, with a significant amount of oak. But that intensity doesn’t overwhelm, and ends with a nice medium finish (sticks to you, but not for too long). It’s the kind of fine wine you would jam out with some good friends and a legit cheese plate. You could do more food with it, but it may take over the table. Cheese, pals, and a sunset and you’re good here. It’s worth your dollars if you dig that big Chard vibe and crave balance.
Coming from the higher elevations of this region, this wine is more mineral-driven than others from these slopes on stony soil. The result is an elegant wine with racy acidity that’s softened by a touch of malolactic conversion (the process in winemaking that converts harsher acids to the creamy butter of lactic acid). Candied pears and apples abound, with flitting aromas of soft vanilla. The palate has a prominent grip from the oak tannins and will hold up to a meal of herbed and grilled poultry, even a rotisserie from the store.
Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2017 (B+) ($20)
This wine is as intense in aroma as any other Chardonnay in Cali with toasted oaky vanilla stuff and some butterscotch. But what sets it apart is the bracing acidity cleaning up the wine, not letting those intense aromas weigh you down. Also, it’s only 13.6 percent alcohol, which is glorious. It still has that classic big ol’ butter thing going on, but it’s much more approachable.
Calmere Estate Winery Chardonnay 2018 (B+) ($25)
For the price, this wine delivers. It’s rich and buttery, with some restraint on the oak. It has a nice grip on the palate as well, with aromas that will remind you of vanilla and coconut. All this makes up a classic Napa Chard that won’t kick you in the teeth with intensity. It’s nice, balanced, and ready for an afternoon on the terrace with some light nibbles.
I’M Wines Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay 2018 (B+) ($25)
Clean, crisp, and grippy is this wine’s MO. It has a nice balance to it and will be an awesome gift for a gracious host. The oak is restrained, too, which is a nice departure from the norm in Napa. It’s a great bottle to bring to a family event with various palate preferences.
Scott Family Estate Chardonnay 2017 (B+) ($26)
This wine will coat your palate. The acidity is low, so the weight is persistent with a long, creamy finish. If you dig rich oaked aromas and high alcohol in your Chard, this wine is for you. Even though it’s intense, the wine is balanced and would do well as a gift at a dinner party or wine-and-cheese night.
Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 2016 (B+) ($26)
This is an attractive wine that will raise the brow of someone used to oaky Chardonnay. It sees no oak, and is crisp and refreshing, while holding on to the fruit depth just beneath the surface. Lemon and white flower aromas wind through the wine and carry to the palate. The zippy mouthfeel allows for a great pairing, with grilled or roasted poultry, and may convert people happily to unoaked styles.
Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay 2018 (B+) ($27)
This Chardonnay is crazy refreshing. It smells like honeydew melons drizzled with lemon juice. The palate has nice depth with a cool sweetness from the high-ish alcohol that adds to the enjoyment of the wine. It’s sunshine in a bottle, and is affordable enough to make it a wind-down-the-day wine to share with friends. It would even jive with a sunset and a cheese plate.
Oceano Chardonnay 2017 (B+) ($40)
The vines used to make this wine are very close to the ocean, and you definitely get that in the wine. The nose and palate have a distinct briny vibe going on. The oak is pretty intense and fights with the briny acidity for your attention, and it almost wins, with the vanilla and butter aromas on this wine all up your face. All that said, it is still well balanced, and a nice wine to share at sunset, especially if you like the more upfront flavor profile.