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

Best Buys from Year’s Best California Chardonnays

Photo by Nick Mrozowski

As summer turns to fall, a rich white wine can be as comforting as any hearty red. Out of 379 California chardonnays our blind panels tasted over the past 12 months, here’s an array of great Best Buys from the Year’s Best California Chardonnays category in our October 2020 issue.

2017 Napa Valley Reserve Selection Chardonnay

$20 | 91 points

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With its scents of orange blossoms and gardenias, this smells like a flower garden in June. Layered with creamy vanilla notes and some relieving bitterness of oak tannins, it feels spicy and cool. —Joshua Greene 

2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

$23 | 91 points

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More fragrant honey than straight-on vanilla, this wine’s oak is cushioned by a basketful of summer peach and fresh green pear flavors. It feels cool and brisk, a mellow chardonnay to chill for salmon rillettes. —J.G. 

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
2018 Napa Valley Karia Chardonnay 

$34 | 91 points

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Clean and brisk, this takes creamy Napa Valley ripeness and adds a smoky, raw-almond depth of flavor. —J.G. 

Trig Point 
2017 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

$22 | 91 points

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Like a cool, gentle rain, this is more a textural pleasure than an overtly fruity chardonnay. The fruit that’s there is crunchy, like wild carrots and pale ginger, the texture creamy and broad, with grape-skin tannins enriching the middle. It’s salty and fat in a way that would cozy up to scallop sashimi and pickled ginger. —J.G.

Alma Fria
2017 Sonoma Coast Plural Chardonnay

$35 | 92 points

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A blend from two far-coast vineyards in Annapolis, this is a brisk, cool riff on sandstone. It has the floral spice of jasmine, some green-pear tannins and a mineral savor. —J.G.  

2018 Los Carneros Chardonnay

$18 | 92 points

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A smooth, supple chardonnay with crunchy grape flavors and a muscular scallop-like fatness to the fruit, this is salty, rich and a steal at $18. —J.G.  

2017 Santa Maria Valley Clone 4 Chardonnay

$30 | 92 points

Rich and tropical, this chardonnay becomes complex with exposure to air, with notes of golden apple, raisin and nutty sunflower seeds. It’s broad, powerful and focused. —Patrick J. Comiskey

Gary Farrell
2018 Russian River Valley Russian River Selection Chardonnay

$35 | 92 points

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This wine has the youthful insistence of a newly released Chablis, with tart cider-apple acidity and grassy notes. It’s creamy and blunt in its undeveloped intensity, formidable in its tension. Give this a year in bottle; it should develop with elegance. —J.G. 

2018 Sonoma Valley C. S. Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay

$30 | 92 points

A pale wine with cool flavors of kiwi and honeydew melon, this is simple, creamy and soft in the middle, with a lovely earthy acidity that carries the wine to a clean and savory finish. —J.G.  

Pennyroyal Farm 
2018 Anderson Valley Hammer Olsen Vineyard Chardonnay

$35 | 92 points

An elegant wine, with the rich feel of glycerol and honey, this is not particularly aromatic up front, but builds to a crescendo of complexity by the end, in layers of orchard fruit and toasted lees. —J.G.

Rodney Strong
2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay

$22 | 92 points

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With its mineral freshness and apple-skin spice, this is a clean and powerful chardonnay, that power driven by some reduction that keeps the wine tight. Give it time in a decanter to open up, then serve as an aperitif with poached prawns. —J.G.

2018 Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Chardonnay

$38 | 92 points

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Buzzing with grapey freshness, this simple, unfettered chardonnay follows a narrow path. It impresses with clarity rather than weight, a bright, light and mouthwatering wine that’s all about simple pleasures. Pour it on its own, or with pan-roasted lemon sole. —J.G. 

Au Bon Climat
2017 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

$35 | 93 points

All salt and smoke at first, with flashy new oak, this tames with air, turning elegant and exotic, toward mesquite smoke and golden caramel, salted apple and citrus, with a finish as buttery and generous as piecrust. —P.J.C.

I. Brand
2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Escolle Vineyard Chardonnay

$30 | 93 points

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Tightly wound, this wine is all lemon peel and lees, electric and lean. You can feel the tension in its mouthwatering energy, in its graceful lines and precise, mineral finish. It’s a whisper-clean performance for bracingly fresh fish. —P.J.C.

2018 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Chardonnay

$38 | 93 points

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Intriguing and layered, this wine has an earthy tannic briskness. The flavors range from lime to yellow apple and green plum, firm enough to absorb the oak in which it aged, and to last, with the cool pallor of a morning-sun wine. —J.G.  

2017 Alexander Valley Estate Chardonnay

$45 | 94 points

A classic California chardonnay in the best sense: Oak contributes a hint of butterscotch sweetness to an otherwise fresh, savory wine, layering scents of white roses, apples and wildflower honey. The wine feels gracious, perplexing, intense and pure. —J.G.

The wines in this newsletter were chosen by our editors, from our tastings for the October 2020 edition. After our editors made their selections, we offered wineries the opportunity to promote their Best Buy award with a bottle image and brand links.

This story appears in the print issue of October 2020.
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