Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the best wines in that category for the year.

April 2004

Over the last twelve months,
Wine & Spirits tasted 558 chardonnays.

The following 14 wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all chardonnays wines tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is available on

94 I Von Strasser $40
2001 Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Rainin Vineyard Chardonnay

The Rainin vineyard was an early clonal experiment - seven clones of chardonnay on two acres of red clay. It's a north-facing slope, so the vines bud late, and ripen relatively late in the season. Von Strasser has farmed Rainin since 2001, growing the chardonnay for long aging; this vintage presented tight and structured. Its bright yellow fruit flavors and intoxicating scents of fresh herbs make a potent, lasting impression; they cut through the smoky nuttiness of oak with the power of the sun breaking through clouds. Youthfully blunt for now, this is a wine to enjoy through the course of its development over the next ten years. (W&S 4/04) Von Strasser Wine Co., St. Helena, CA

93 I Patz & Hall $36
2001 Russian River Valley Dutton Vyd. Chardonnay

This voluptuous chardonnay starts big and gets outrageously bigger. The wine grows with a ripe, round melony sweetness even as a tense chamomile spice seems to cut through the fruit, keeping it clean and clear. It's sweet, but smells wonderful and expressive. As Patrick Comiskey noted after the tasting, James Hall says he's "always trying to hit the biggest sweet spot I can find." (W&S 8/03) Patz & Hall Wine Co., Rutherford, CA

93 I Talley $35
2001 Arroyo Grande Valley Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay

It may sound contradictory to describe this wine as tightly knit in a full-blown style, but the wine doesn't taste like a contradiction. The ripe fruit and oak reads as balance and restraint: Scents of fresh-pressed apple cider, clear flavors of apple and pear edging toward pineapple feel crisp and mouthwatering. The structure supports all the fruit, extending it in silky, smoky refinement. Ready for arctic char or sable, this will only improve over the next five years. (470 cases) (W&S 4/04) Talley Vineyards, Arroyo Grande, CA

92 I Bannister $28
2001 Russian River Valley Rochioli & Allen Vineyards Chardonnay

Marty Bannister makes this wine from two neighboring vineyards, both managed by Joe Rochioli. It's a pure expression of Russian River Valley chardonnay, with the scent of windfall apples and a light-footed grace. The flavors are clean and clear, lasting with a savory richness of apple butter and pineapple, all held tense. Decant a bottle for Petrale sole sautˇed with wild mushrooms. (303 cases) (W&S 4/04) Bannister Wines, Sebastopol, CA

92 I Cakebread $35.50
2002 Napa Valley Chardonnay

Grown in Carneros (50 percent) and further north in the Napa Valley, this is a dynamic chardonnay with broad dimensions. It builds on a rich fruit flavor of cider apples, layered with chamomile and wheat. There's a satisfying length of flavor, seeming to incorporate the cool feel of a stone-walled cellar with the warmth of the autumn sun. Delicious now, this should gain more complexity with age. (W&S 4/04) Cakebread Cellars, Rutherford, CA

92 I Dutton Goldfield $ 30
2001 Russian River Valley Dutton Ranch Chardonnay

Plump and fresh, this needs plenty of time to open and show all its layers of flavor. It's tight at first, giving a sense of its density, but only hinting at the floral and citrus tones held within. A day later, the rich flavors have emerged, still tight and zesty enough to serve with sushi, or pasta with salmon roe. (1,400 cases) (W&S 12/03) Dutton Goldfield Winery, Santa Rosa, CA

92 I Thomas Fogarty $ 23
2001 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay

This wine grew at Fogarty's four estate vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 2000 feet above the ocean. The 2001 vintage was cool and dry, building a beautiful cleanness and freshness into this wine, a Pacific line of mineral that brings quinine and lime to mind. The mineral character cuts the richness, keeps the fruit delineated as green apples and wildflower honey, luscious yet completely dry. It's crisp, and has the fat and the clarity to serve with sushi. (5,709 cases) (W&S 4/04) Thomas Fogarty Winery, Portola Valley, CA

92 I Franciscan $35
2001 Napa Valley Cuvee Sauvage Chardonnay

Franciscan has been working with a native yeast fermentation in their Cuvˇe Sauvage since 1987, and all that work seems to have come together in this vintage. The cool, slow early progression of a fermentation without inoculated yeast builds the gentle complexity of this wine, layering mineral tones of lees, scents of beeswax and floral notes of chamomile and rose. It ends firm and cool, worthy of age. (W&S 10/03) Franciscan Oakville Estate, Oakville, CA

92 I Hartford Court $61
2001 Sonoma Coast Laura's Chardonnay

Coastal winds infused this wine with a taste of the sea, with floral scents of thyme and honey, with a sea-salt rasp of minerals. It's tightly wound, but the flavors play out complex and long. Decant a bottle for roast halibut. (265 cases) (W&S 4/04) Hartford Court Winery, Forestville, CA

92 I Melville $28
2002 Santa Rita Hills Inox Chardonnay

Creamy and crisp, this unwooded chardonnay has a nutty green flavor that parallels albariño. The lively flavors of lime (both as fruit and stone) ride fresh over a leesy structure. Then the wine finishes firm, with green apple and savory chestnut tones. Delicious with anything from the sea. (323 cases) (W&S 4/04) Melville Winery, Lompoc, CA

92 I Stephen Ross $20
2001 Edna Valley Edna Ranch Chardonnay

Dry and austere when first poured, this takes its time opening up to fresh white peach flavors. But when it does open, it seems to glisten and glow, like that peach just cut open in the sun. There's also a crushed mineral acidity to keep it fresh as it ages and evolves. A chardonnay for the cellar, this needs five or six years to begin to show its best. (609 cases) (W&S 10/03) Stephen R. Dooley, San Luis Obispo, CA

92 I Rutz $ 27
2000 Russian River Valley Maison Grand Cru Chardonnay

Crisply delineated with fine detail of flavor, this cool Russian River Valley wine is firm and dry. The creamy peach flavors rise over a golden wheat edge of leesy acidity in the end, lifted and composed. Order a bottle with halibut braised in a mushroom-infused broth. (W&S 10/03) Rutz Cellars, Sebastopol, CA

93 I Vine Cliff $50
2001 Napa Valley Proprietress Reserve Chardonnay

This has the slightly cloudy color of an unfiltered chardonnay and the intriguing mineral tones of a long, slow, native yeast fermentation. The fruit comes from a new Carneros vineyard, essentially a first, and extremely low, crop. It emphasizes oak when first poured, with hazelnut and pastry flavors, but there's a concentration of fruit expanding toward fresh pear and lime. Alcohol adds a warm buzz, completely filled by mineral-lees, fruit and toasty oak, all in balance. The dry finish needs a rich and fatty seafood, such as halibut or lobster. (W&S 10/03) Vine Cliff Winery, Napa, CA

92 I Whitford $19.50
2000 Napa Valley Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay

Given enough air, this beautifully toned wine begins to open with scents of jasmine and citrus. And it develops a firm complexity of flavor, giving in the end, long and satisfying, and - more remarkable for chardonnay - refreshing. It works as an amuse bouche, getting the mouth ready for Hayes Street Grill's Petrale sole with artichokes and mushrooms. (W&S 10/03) Whitford Cellars, Napa, CA