I hate Chardonnay.
There’s always one friend, family member, or know-it-all co-worker who thinks Chardonnay is the bane of his drinking existence. However, some of the best wines in the world come from this valiant, versatile grape. Chardonnays from California tend to get the brunt of the hate due to their frequent, heavy use of new American oak. While we do agree that some bottles do get a little oak-heavy, there are tons of well-balanced, affordable Cali Chards out there that we love. Here’s an ode to six of our favorite, well-balanced California Chardonnays that we adore drinking.
Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay
Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay comes from the vine selection 4, a widely planted variety that highlights the positive, tropical fruit notes that can be present in American Chardonnay as opposed to their French counterparts. This particular cuvée comes from the winery’s number 46 plot in Monterey, one of the coolest grape-growing locations in the state. Malolactic fermentation and lees stirring result in a medium-bodied final product, with light tropical and stone fruit flavors followed by a creamy, well-balanced finish.
Scribe Estate Chardonnay
Founded in 2007, Scribe Winery was founded by Andrew and Adam Mariani, fourth generation farmers in California. Their strong respect for the land and deep understanding of the concept of terroir leads them to intervene as minimally as possible in the winemaking process. The grapes grow in loamy, volcanic soils. The wine is aged in concrete tanks produced in Sonoma, with heavy lees contact and no oak. The result is a complex, mineral-driven wine, highly reflective of the earth from which it came.
Tom Gore Chardonnay
This full bodied Cali Chard is perfect for those who enjoy a decent oak presence in the glass without an overpowering of fruit. The grapes are sourced from both Central Coast and North Coast vineyards, followed by 60 percent barrel and 40 percent stainless steel fermentation. Vineyard variation and use of both fermentation vessels results in a full-bodied wine, with strong flavors of stewed apple, pear and baking spice. Velvety and full-bodied, the wine pairs beautifully with creamy soups and roasted chicken.
Hanzell ‘Sebella’ Chardonnay
Hanzell Vineyards has been producing wine in California for over 50 years, with its vines an average of 30 years old. The wines are strictly produced from estate-grown fruit, which is picked by hand and hand-sorted. The “Sebella” cuvée comes from younger vineyards is fermented in stainless steel. The wine is then aged in neutral French oak, resulting in a highly aromatic wine with citrusy pear flavors and zesty acidity, leading to a long, juicy finish.
Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay
This California favorite is strikingly fresh, bursting with flavors of crisp apple and zesty citrus. The wine ages for 8 months in 35 percent new French oak, yet maintains a strong balance of acidity and fruit. The high-acid component creates a mouthwatering finish, making the wine a perfect companion for lemon-based sauces and crudité platters.
Rutherford Ranch Napa Valley Chardonnay
While Napa tends to be known for its big, full-bodied Cabs, Rutherford Ranch’s Chardonnay is a solid, affordable example of what Chard can do in Napa soils. Most of the grapes for this cuvée come from Carneros, with various Rutherford and Napa vineyards contributing to the blend. The wine is fermented in both stainless steel and sur lie in barrel, creating a layered, textured palate of ripe stone fruit and lemon cream. At under $20, this bottle’s a steal.