May 23 is National Chardonnay Day, and to celebrate the most popular white grape varietal, we rounded up seven bottles we've recently tried and adored. Whether you're a fan of the big oaky, buttery styles, prefer a clear and crisp version, or even lean toward sweeter white wines, we've got a bottle for you.
It's the final week of our wine month, and we were not about to turn a blind eye to the bottle of the 2010 Landmark Overlook Chardonnay ($25) sitting in our wine collection. Admittedly, 2009 is my preferred year for Chardonnay (cue the eye rolls), thanks to the buttery, oaky flavors prominent in that vintage, but I'm always willing to try another 2010 in hopes of finding that elusive flavor profile that my appetite craves. While, this bottle was more typical of Sonoma's 2010 run and is zestier and more acidic than I prefer, there is still much to praise.
Upon opening, the Chardonnay held so much promise. A robust perfume of toasted wheat, brown butter, and toasted oak filled the air. Yet on the tongue, it was sharp, citrusy, and pucker inducing, much like preserved lemon. While this particular style of Chardonnay might be too overwhelming for daytime drinking and light salad lunches, a well-chilled bottle would play nicely with creamy Gruyere, or butter-slathered seafood, spritzed with fresh lemon wedges. The 2010 Landmark Overlook Chardonnay may not have the exact smoothness of the Chardonnays I crave, but it's a worthy bottle to pair with late Summer and early Fall suppers.
Chardonnay typically runs in two veins: either crisp and apple tart or buttery and oaky. People feel strongly about both sides, but those who gravitate toward latter flavors will love this 2010 Franciscan Estate Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay from Napa Valley. At $40 a bottle, this is no table wine, but its unique method of fermentation and big, bold flavors make it worthy of opening on a special occasion.
Customarily, winemakers add yeast to the grapes to propel fermentation, but this Chardonnay is a cuvée sauvage. Sauvage in French means "wild" or "natural," indicating the grape juice, stored in a barrel, slowly developed natural yeast strains and fermented on its own. The fermented wine is then aged in oak barrels sur lie — meaning "on the yeast" — which contributes to added flavor complexity.
The wine pours out a golden hue, a sign that our palates are in for a strong, heavy white that holds its own and offers enough depth and intricacy to appeal to red-wine drinkers. On the nose and tongue, the scent and flavors sync harmoniously. Vanilla bean, butter, caramelized sugar, hazelnut, and toasty oak swirl together for a hefty, rich combination. Perhaps there's a slight hint of apple and lemon, but the fruitiness of the wine subtly lingers in the background. With each swallow, the velvety tannins from the oak coat the tongue and throat but don't stick there relentlessly. Red-wine drinkers, I challenge you to taste and enjoy this Chardonnay.
I prefer buttery, rich Chardonnays over acidic, zesty ones, and this 2009 Layer Cake Virgin Chardonnay ($14) has me giddy and excited, even after all the wines we've tried during wine month. The story behind this Central California Coast wine is a precious one. On the back of the label, winemaker Jayson Woodbridge explains the inspiration for the winery's name: "My old grandfather made and enjoyed wine for 80 years. He told me the soil in which the vines lived were a layer cake. He said the wine, if properly made, was like a great layer cake . . ."
This 2009 Chardonnay is a layer cake indeed. Aged in stainless steel tanks, rather than French oak barrels, the aroma of the Chardonnay is clean but also distinctly buttery. On the tongue, vanilla, tart lemon, and frothy meringue come to mind, and it swallows with a roasted flavor like popcorn and a hint of a warming spice, such as nutmeg. On a hot day, I'd pair this wine with a lightly sautéed white fish. However, I'd love to store a few of these bottles for the Winter, when I'm making creamy, rich fettuccine alfredo.
In addition to obsessing over anything grilled, we've spent the majority of this Summer seriously saluting the kernel. You know what we've discovered? Sure, corn tastes great when topped with crema and cotija cheese, but it tastes even better when paired with the perfect white wine.
One of these wines is Wyndham Estate's Bin 222 Chardonnay. Like a charred cob with a knob of sweet cream, this white is buttery, caramelly, and sweet on the side of the palate; it finishes warm, with hints of hazelnut and cardamom.
I'll be the first to say I'm not a fan of oaked Chardonnays, but this rendition was admittedly pretty easy to drink. Others quickly concurred: "I'm not a fan of the varietal — particularly oaked Chardonnays — but this is actually nice," one taster said. "It's a nice blend of dry and sweet flavors. I really love this," another added. And just about everyone was shocked to learn of the wine's $10 price tag: we were easily willing to pay $20 for a bottle of this!
We're dreaming of enjoying it again very soon on a relaxed night at home, when we're looking for a wine to make the meal but that won't break the bank. Oh — and with some of our grilled corn on the cob, of course.
Photos: Anna Monette Roberts
If you're a fan of Californian sparkling wines, you've probably enjoyed a glass or two of Chandon. With over 200,000 bottles produced a year, an affordable price tag, and a tasting room that sees 2,000 people on a Saturday, it's one of Napa Valley's most well-known bubbly producers. What you may not know, however, is that the winery also makes some well-rounded and interesting still wines. I recently had the chance to sample its offerings, so to learn more about Chandon's Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, keep reading.
If you want to feel the World Cup fever in a crowded bar, chances are, you have your pick of rowdy pubs to choose from. But if you're looking for a more refined way to watch the game, here's my suggestion. Settle in with an exquisite bottle of Cape Chardonnay. At a recent tasting, Jardiniere wine director Eugenio Jardim introduced me to 2008 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay ($24), and I haven't stopped thinking about it ever since.It's a rich, nuanced Old World-style Chardonnay with a ripeness that sings of pears and apples. The complex flavors can be largely attributed to the southerly, cool Walker Bay situation of the Hamilton Russell estate, and owner Anthony Hamilton Russell's fastidious winemaking practices. All of the grapes are grown and bottled on premises. Why buy a white Burgundy when you can nab something just as extraordinary for a fraction of the price?
I'll be reaching for this even after the World Cup closes. Have you ever tried a Cape Chardonnay?
Over the weekend, I jumped in a car with some friends and hightailed it to Napa Valley, where we enjoyed brunch at Thomas Keller's casual family restaurant, ad hoc. With full stomachs, we headed up Highway 29 to Rutherford to hit up some wineries. Visiting Napa wineries isn't unlike barhopping; the experience depends more on the tasting room staff and the crowd than it does the actual wine. After one underwhelming winery stop, we pulled into St. Supéry, which makes some of the best Sauvignon Blanc around. That's when our fate changed. Ryan, the expert pouring our wines, took turns cracking jokes and recommending interesting wines — including a Petit Verdot, a varietal usually reserved for blending. When he asked if we'd want to try his favorite, how could we resist? The 2008 Chardonnay, sold only at the winery, lived up to his hype. It smelled exactly like bananas on the nose, with a creamy, lush mouth feel. I loved it so much, I took one home for the road. Have you had a similar experience while wine tasting? Share it with us below!
Last week I attended a huge wine tasting hosted by the San Francisco Chronicle. The event showcased wineries from over 25 states that competed in the nation's largest wine competition. After the judging takes place — at another location on an earlier date — the newspaper hosts an impressive, almost overwhelming, public tasting. Although I tried countless wines, here are the bottles I plan on seeking out in the future.
Recently I had the chance to taste Barefoot's new Bubbly Chardonnay. Like a classic Chardonnay, it has a fresh fruit aroma, citrus apple flavor, and golden straw color. The body is refreshing and buoyant and the finish is crisp and light. The best thing about this bubbly is the incredible price; I've spotted it at Trader Joe's for only $4.99!
If you plan on hosting a Mother's Day brunch or shower and need to stock up on a good, affordable sparkling wine, I highly recommend you try Barefoot's Bubbly Chardonnay. It also makes a perfect bubbly for cocktails like a mimosa or bellini.