Best Buys from Our Year’s Best California Chardonnays - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Best Buys from Our Year’s Best California Chardonnays

Our panels recommended 226 California chardonnays this year. Here are the wines that outperformed all others for their price. The North Coast and Sierra Foothills selections are from Joshua Greene; the Central Coast selections are from Patrick J. Comiskey.

2019 Carneros Elway’s Reserve Chardonnay (Best Buy)

91 | $25

Longtime Broncos quarterback John Elway founded this project with his business partner, Jeff Sperbeck, bringing in Robert Mondavi, Jr., as winemaker. The fruit for this chardonnay comes from the Hi Vista Vineyard in Carneros, fermented and aged in American oak barrels (33 percent new). It’s a rich, smooth white with significant oak influence, while subtle anise and lemon scents keep it tight and focused. —J.G.

Alma Rosa
2018 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $30

With its scents of toasted nuts and pineapple, this wine delivers the tense freshness of the Sta. Rita Hills. —P.J.C.

2018 Los Carneros Napa Valley Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $23

Clean flavors of nectarine and summer savory drive this generous chardonnay. The forward fruit and undertone of oak are ready for carnitas. —J.G.

Au Bon Climat
2019 Santa Barbara County Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay

92 | $40

From an exceedingly cool vineyard site, this chardonnay is all structure at present, brooding and turned in on itself, driven by floating lees and linear oak, beneath which modest fruit and a teeming citrusy acidity roils. It’s the movement in the wine, independent of unresolved flavors, that assures me of the wine’s potential. For the cellar. —P.J.C.

2018 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (Best Buy)

93 | $29

A wine of simple beauty, this opens to lemon and sweet pear flavors, the sunny fruit in the foreground. The acidity softens from apple-scented malic tension to hints of freshly churned butter, but it’s the lovely fruit that lasts. —J.G.

Chalk Hill Estate
2019 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $26

This savory chardonnay opens to pale intensity, layering chamomile and Poire William scents over seashell minerality. The flavors are integrated into the structure, bringing oak seamlessly into the weave of herbs. Its clean line is focused on delicate Japanese dishes, like hamachi kama. —J.G.

Davis Bynum
2018 Russian River Valley River West Vineyard Chardonnay (Best Buy)

91 | $25

Tense and gingery, this wine’s pear-like fruit has a rainwater clarity. It’s as smooth as river stones and as brisk as the water coursing over them. A youthful 2018 for grilled trout. —J.G.

Frei Brothers
2019 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $20

A supple chardonnay with succulent golden apple flavors and a gingery edge, this wine’s leesy richness is highlighted by notes of spring flowers. Easy to enjoy on its own. —J.G.

2019 Napa Valley Unoaked Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $24

“This tastes like a bite into a late-fall apple that still has some tart in it,” said Daniel Osman of the Dream Away Lodge in Becket, Mass. Delivering rich, round fruit and freshness, this is a sapid chardonnay with flavor depth. —J.G.

J. Wilkes
2019 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $25

With its mildly nutty nose and lemon-lime flavors, crackling with bright acidity, this is a seafood wine to pour with Dungeness crab cakes. —P.J.C.

2019 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $25

Markedly rich and quietly satisfying, this wine performs well above its price. The flavors of juicy apples and Rainier cherries have a sweet undercurrent of caramel and white chocolate. There’s a seashell savor that keeps it balanced and intriguing, especially with braised pork. —J.G.

2019 El Dorado Signature Collection Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $26

Tangy orange, ripe Asian pear and full yellow-peach flavors saturate this wine’s mineral structure. It’s tight, almost beefy, a white wine you could serve with burgers. —J.G.

Domaine Eden
2018 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay (Best Buy)

93 | $32

From the more fruit-forward lots at Domaine Eden’s two estate vineyards, this is supple and round, layering savory herb and flower petal notes, a contrast of voluptuous richness and delicacy. Pour it with an equally creamy pasta dressed in uni. —J.G.

2019 Sonoma Coast Estate Grown Chardonnay (Best Buy)

92 | $22

Here’s a steal: A brisk, bright chardonnay with depths of flavor for $22. The wine’s umami side brings to mind fennel and toasted sesame seeds. For bacon and Brussels sprouts. —J.G.

The wines on this page were chosen by our editors, from our tastings for the October 2021 edition. After our editors made their selections, we offered wineries the opportunity to promote their award with a bottle image and brand links.

This story appears in the print issue of June 2021.
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