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The Chardonnay Grape

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About Chardonnay

(Synonyms: Arboisier, Arnaison blanc, Arnoison, Aubain, Aubaine, Auvergnat blanc, Auvernas, Auvernas blanc, Auvernat blanc, Auxeras, Auxerras blanc, Auxerrois blanc, Auxois, Auxois blanc, Bargeois blanc, Beaunois, Biela Klevanjika, Blanc de Champagne, Blanc de Cramant, Breisgauer Sueßling, Breisgauer Sußling, Burgundi Feher, Chablis, Chardenai, Chardenay, Chardenet, Chardennet, Chardonay, Chardonnet, Chatenait, Chatey Petit, Chatte, Chaudenay, Chaudenet, Chaudent, Clävner, Clevner Weiß, Cravner, Epinette, Epinette blanc, Epinette blanche, Epinette de Champagne, Ericey blanc, Feher Chardonnay, Feherburgundi, Feinburgunder, Gamay blanc, Gelber Weißburgunder, Gentil blanc, Große Bourgogne, Klawner, Klevanjka Biela, Klevner, Lisant, Luisant, Luizannais, Luizant, Luzannois, Maconnais, Maurillon blanc, Melon blanc, Melon D'Arbois, Meroué, Moreau blanc, Morillon blanc, Moulon, Noirien blanc, Obaideh, Petit Chatey, Petit Sainte-Marie, Petite Sainte Marie, Pineau blanc, Pino Sardone, Pino Shardone, Pinot Blanc à Cramant, Pinot Blanc Chardonnay, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot de Bourgogne, Pinot Giallo, Pinot Planc, Plant de Tonnerre, Romere, Romeret, Rouci Bile, Roußeau, Roußot, Ruländer Weiß, Sainte Marie Petite, Sardone, Shardone, Shardonne, Später Weiß Burgunder, Weiß Burgunder, Weiß Clevner, Weiß Edler, Weiß Elder, Weiß Klewner, Weiß Silber, Weißedler, Weißer Clevner, Weißer Rulander)


Chardonnay grapes Map showing Burgundy

Chardonnay is a white-wine grape originating in the Burgundy region of France, but now grown practically everywhere in the world where wine grapes can be grown at all. It is more widely planted than any other white-wine grape except the low-grade Airén of Spain. It is probably the foremost white in popularity, having soared to a dominant role in the 1980s to become, for novice wine drinkers, virtually a synonym for "white wine". It is generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

While Chardonnay certainly can and often does produce some of the world's finest, its stupendous popularity inevitably brought a tidal wave of inexpensive plonk, which severly dampened the grape's reputation. That, and its eclipsing of many excellent but less-well-known regional wines—as planters adapted to the world market by tearing out such less-known grapes and replanting in chardonny—produced in the mid-1990s, a distinct backlash against the grape, sometimes called the "ABC Movement" (Anything But Chardonnay). Chardonnay today retains a very strong position, but no longer so completely dominates white wine.

(This is illustrated by the continuing fame of a quotation from noted wine writer Oz Clarke, describing Chardonnay as "...the ruthless coloniser and destroyer of the world's vineyards and the world's palates." Others have expressed similar feelings about not just Chardonnay, but all the so-called "international varieties".)

American wine drinkers are generally familiar with the Burgundian style of Chardonnay, which also dominates most New World vinification of the grape: put through malolactic fermentation (which produces distinctly buttery overtones and a fruity quality) and heavily (not a few think excessively) oaked. Much less familiar in the New World is the Chablis style (it is arguable that most casual wine drinkers are unaware the "Chablis" is 100% Chardonnay), typically without malolactic or oak, which produces a wine that emphasizes minerality, a vaguely citrus quality, and a sense of "leanness". (The Mâcon region also produces many unoaked Chardonnays, many at value prices.)

(Actually, it's much more complicated than that as to what malolactic fermentation does or does not accomplish; check out the back-and-forth expert comments at The Gray Report.)

In either of those two styles, Chardonnay is well capable of producing magnificent and distinctive wine. But the two are so different that one must almost think of them as two separate wines. Chardonnay grapes are actually surprisingly neutral in flavor, and acquire most of their characteristics from the vinification process; they are said to also be especially good at transmitting terroir, a distinctive taste derived from the soil and climate in which they grew. As you will see from some of the descriptions below, though there are general styles, in truth Chardonnay wines can be pretty much anything the vintner wants to make them as.

Factoid: half a century ago, when Chardonny was rising in renown, it was commonly known in the U.S. as "Pinot chardonnay".

Some Descriptions of Chardonnay Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "In addition to being the most expensive, the Burgundy examples of Chardonnay were long considered the benchmark standard of expressing terroir through Chardonnay. The Montrachets are noted for their high alcohol levels, often above 13%, as well as deep concentration of flavors. The vineyards around Chassagne-Montrachet tend to have a characteristic hazelnut aroma to them while those of Puligny-Montrachet have more steely flavors. Both grand cru and premier cru examples from Corton-Charlemagne have been known to demonstrate marzipan while Meursault wines tend to be the most round and buttery examples. . . The full-bodied wines of the Pouilly-Fuissé have long held cult wine status with prices that can rival the Grand cru white burgundies. . . With the exception of Pouilly-Fuissé, the wines of the Mâconnais are the closest Burgundy example to "New World" Chardonnay though it is not identical. . . Hazelnut, licorice and spice are some of the flavors that can develop as these wines age. . . Chablis winemakers want to emphasis the terroir of the calcareous soil and cooler climate that help maintain high acidity. The wines rarely will go through malolactic fermentation or be exposed to oak (though its use is increasing). The biting, green apple-like acidity is a trademark of Chablis and can be noticeable in the bouquet. The acidity can mellow with age and Chablis are some of the longest living examples of Chardonnay. Some examples of Chablis can have an earthy "wet stone" flavor that can get mustier as it ages before mellowing into delicate honeyed notes. The use of oak is controversial in the Chablis community with some winemakers dismissing it as counter to the "Chablis style" or terroir while other embrace its use though not to the length that would characterized a "New World" Chardonnay. The winemakers that do use oak tend to favor more neutral oak that doesn't impart the vanilla characteristic associated with American oak. The amount of "char" in the barrel is often very light which limits the amount of "toastiness" that is perceived in the wine. The advocates of oak in Chablis point to the positive benefits of allowing limited oxygenation with the wine through the permeable oak barrels. This can have the effect of softening the wine and make the generally austere and acidic Chablis more approachable at a younger age."

  • Wine 101, Food & Wine

    "Burgundies are powerful and rich, with complex fruit flavors and notes of earth and minerals. More affordable Chardonnays from Burgundy—for instance, those simply labeled Bourgogne Blanc—are crisp and lively, with apple and lemon flavors. Chardonnays from America, Australia and Chile tend to be ripe and full-bodied, even buttery, with higher alcohol levels and vanilla notes from oak aging."

  • Jancis Robinson

    "The truly thrilling thing about Chardonnay grown on the Cote d'Or is that here, as nowhere else, it can express a sense of place, even if winemaking - which for top-quality Chardonnay produced anywhere almost invariably includes fermentation and maturation in different sorts of oak barrels; a second, softening malolactic fermentation; and different levels of stirring, or 'batonnage', of the lees at the bottom of the barrel - inevitably superimposes itself too. Oak can be tasted in the form of a certain toastiness, char - or even vanilla flavours in the case of American rather than the more normal French oak favoured by Burgundian wine producers. . . The distinctions between the wines of the famous white wine villages can therefore easily be blurred by the different winemaking regimes of different producers, but stereotypically Meursault is buttery, Puligny-Montrachet is steely and creamy, while next door Chassagne-Montrachet can be slightly nuttier and more textured. . . The one wine region where Chardonnay is not routinely oaked by its most ambitious practitioners is Chablis in the far north of Burgundy, almost as far north as Champagne. And Chablis is a widely misunderstood wine as a result of all this. Because of its latitude, Chablis does not easily ripen the Chardonnay on which it exclusively depends. The wines are much higher in acidity and lighter in body than those made on the Côte d'Or to the south. Oak and malolactic fermentation are exceptional and - partly as a result - Chablis can age superbly. It invariably tastes 'green' somehow when it's young, very sappy and refreshing. It then typically goes through a rather awkward adolescent stage where it can take on some odd wet wool odours and then, in glorious maturity at about 10 to 15 years old, it is an extraordinarily appetising drink reminiscent of wet stones and oatmeal."

  • Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast

    "On the Côte de Beaune, from Corton-Charlemagne to Chassagne-Montrachet, including Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, each village and vineyard brings a different character. Corton-Charlemagne has weight, solemnity. Meursault has opulence, richness. Chassagne-Montrachet is calm, mine ral, often honeyed. Puligny-Montrachet is, simply, the best, producing wines from its grand cru vineyards that age for 20, 30, 40 years—often with prices to match. . . Chablis is certainly the purest expression of the grape. The cool climate allows acidity to bring a crispness and steely character to even the ripest Grand Cru wine."

  • Time to Wine

    "The majority of chardonnays on the market are fermented in oak with the un-oaked chardonnay being the exception. Because of this, when people think 'CHARDONNAY' they think spicy, smokey, vanilla, and butterscotch. This isn't the grape they are tasting though, it is the oak in which chardonnay is typically fermented. An unoaked chardonnay has little in common with the often overly oaked Chardonnay. A quality crafted un-oaked chardonnay will boast deliciously fruity flavors ranging from apple and melon in the colder growing regions to luscious tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple in the warmer climates."

  • The French Scout

    "Typical taste of the different types of chardonnay: voluptuous. Chardonnay wines are often wider-bodied (and more velvety) than other types of dry whites, with rich citrus (lemon, grapefruit) flavors. Fermenting in new oak barrels adds a buttery tone (vanilla, toast, coconut, toffee). Tasting a $20 Californian Chardonnay should give citrus fruit flavors, hints of melon, vanilla, some toasty character and some creaminess. Burgundy whites can taste very different."

  • Bill St. John, The Chicago Tribune

    "Chablis is 100 percent chardonnay, grown on clay and limestone that is riddled with chunks of blazing white chalk, which are fossilized marine shells and a signpost of a famed vineyard soil known as the Kimmeridgian. Many feel that the "chalky note" in both the aroma and taste of Chablis derives from this soil. In any case, it is unique to Chablis. Unique especially in the sense that other chardonnay-based wines made elsewhere in Burgundy differ from Chablis as yes does from no — in other words, they are substantially different, and furthermore they differ from one another. Chablis is not Puligny-Montrachet, which is not Chassagne-Montrachet, nor Macon, nor Rully and so on. All 100 percent chardonnay, all related by grape alone, each a singular personality. Thus the claim, in Burgundy, that terroir trumps technique. You always know where a well-made Burgundian chardonnay comes from because the terroir will tell you."

  • Fred Tasker, The Miami Herald

    "Chardonnay always has been a chameleon grape – changing character readily by climate, ripeness and fermenting technique. In California's cool, foggy Russian River Valley it turns crisp and intensely fruity; in warmer climes it can be creamy and lush, spicy and caramel scented. Aging in oak barrels can give it vanilla flavors; a secondary "malolactic" fermentation can soften its acids and create complex and creamy texture and buttery flavors. Aging in stainless steel tanks, without oak exposure, on the other hand, can create crisp, purely fruity wines."

  • wine.com blog

    "Chardonnay is an interesting grape because on its own, it's not that interesting. Chardonnay is a chameleon of a grape, meaning that the way it tastes truly reflects where it is grown and choices made by the winemaker. Winemakers often enjoy the variety because it's a sturdy grape; it has reliably high ripeness and it responds well to a variety of winemaking techniques, so much so, that it's hard to make a blanket statement that you love or hate Chardonnay. You just have not tasted enough of them. For instance, in the cool-climate, chalky soils of Chablis, Chardonnay never sees new oak and the resulting wines are crisp, clean and mineral-driven, with high acidity and virtually no buttery tones to note. Take a Napa Valley Chardonnay and you'll have a warm climate and heavier oak use, producing a wine that showcases ripe, rich fruits and vanilla and toast characteristics from the oak. Not to say one is better than another, but there are some stark stylistic differences when it comes to Chardonnay."

Some Chardonnays to Try

(About this list.)

Because Chardonnay produces such diverse wines, we have tried to make this list representative of at least a few of the many alternative styles; included here are a couple of value-priced California wines, a couple of Mâconais wines, a couple of Chablis, and a Chilean. You will have to decide for yourself which style suits your palate.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Chalone Vineyards Monterey Chardonnay, $7 - $12. (Chalone also makes "Estate Grown" and "Estate Grown Heritage" Chardonnays, which are notably more expensive.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Chalone makes wine very much in the French, Burgundian style. The grapes are sourced from the northern portion of the Salinas Valley, in the Arroyo Seco AVA. The soil consists largely of limestone which gives us a clue to the Burgundian connection. By "Burgundian" I mean terroir or specific place driven wine as apposed to producer driven wine such as Bordeaux. Chalone's Monterey Chardonnay is also relatively light . . . the alcohol comes in at 13.5% [It] saw 6 months in a combination of French, American and European oak. Light on the oak, but enough to soften the crispness of the mountain fruit a little, as well as add another layer of complexity not found in the other two wines. This wine retails for around $10 which is actually an amazing deal.

    This beautiful, white Burgundy-style wine was pale straw in color with clear edges and clarity. (The 2010 was more golden with, as would be expected, a little more oak.) The 2009 was crisp and refreshing, with some minerals woven in, and a delicious tart acidity. The French oak created a tightly woven structure, but only a hint of oak taste. Its delicious tart acidity was balanced by a silky, slightly creamy mouthfeel as it opened. The finish was amazing, with flavors of lemon and orange. The 2010 was similar: crisp and acidic, but not overdone. Green fruit: apple, pear, honeydew. Mineral, vertical. Medium finish with lemon. Almost too drinkable—it took some discipline to swish and chew rather than swill!

    It was too acidic for me and I was not able to taste the fruit profile the winemaker describes. However, I did taste a hint of oak.

    Citrus-pineapple tropical fruit aromas, combined with luscious pear flavors, crisp acidity and bright floral aromas. Impressive up front, the wine shows a very long, elegant finish.

    This reminds us of the famed and hard-to-find (and expensive) Chalone Chardonnay of our youth, with a bit of Chablis-like focus, tightly wound fruit, intensity and sunshine-like acidity. It's a steal.

    Pretty young chardonnay but delicious, creamy and citrusy.

    Lots of fruit here, with lemon, nectarine, pineapple, pear, and apple that add a pleasant "zing," and a long, hazelnut finish. An excellent value.

  • Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay, Paragon Vineyard, $9 - $18. (EV makes other, more expensive Chardonnays as well; this is about the Paragon Vineyard bottling.)
         ($11.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Edna Valley Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay is heavy with the aroma of pear, apple, apricot and pineapple, with notes of spice, cinnamon and clove in the background. These fruit aromas carry over to the taste, where they are intertwined with oak and vanilla and end in a creamy mouth feel. There is a solid acid bite to the wine, which will assure a longer-than-average life span.

    This is honest, elegant Chardonnay — a wine to sip and savor slowly, made mostly off the grapes of EVV's Paragon Vineyard. Lift a glass to your nose and inhale scents of green apple, pear, pineapple, citrus, white nectarine and subtle smoke off the barrels. In the mouth, the oak barrel aging infuses the wine with lovely spice and adds to the structure. It has length on the palate, finishing dry and citrusy. I love good Chardonnay, and this one is affordable considering its pedigree.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2012), 89 Points

    [N]otes of tropical fruit. The wine displayed the perfect amount of acidity and is aged six months in French oak, which is 33% new oak.

    [P]erfect for summer sipping. This wine offers a peachy-light refreshing, lightly acidic buttery flavor . . . Its got a great nose of the oak barrel's vanilla and is buttery on the tongue -- with a nice baking spice finish.

    The Edna Valley Chardonnay is a medium bodied Chardonnay heavy in fruit and oak flavors. It is mostly pear, but other fruits including apricot and even some apple can be detected. The oak is strong, too strong for some. You have to like your Chardonnay with a lot of oak to enjoy this wine. It has a creamy texture and less acidity that I expected. I am on the fence about the Edna Valley Chardonnay. I can certainly see why a lot of people enjoy it. If you like the oakier Chardonnay, you will certainly enjoy this. No doubt. On the other hand, if you are (like me) not as excited about oak, think twice.

    Always love this wine—crisp and clean.

    [R]ound and full with a creamy texture, forward fruit (pear, apple, banana), and a good dose of spicy vanilla oak. As mentioned, the acidity is on the low side, so don't try it with fatty or acidic dishes; stick with leaner plates such as mildly prepared but gamey flavored fish (salmon) or better yet chicken, turkey, or lean pork. It's more of a cocktail drinker — in other words, enjoyable by itself.

    Medium-bodied, and balanced, it has straightforward, juicy tropical and citrus flavors and a clean, refreshing finish. It's a bargain and widely available. 87

    This wine was very good but different than some chardonnays. It was a pale yellow, almost gold. On the sniff and swirl, I got minerals, which worried me. But on tasting, I got spice right way, so only a hint of oak, and no mineral taste. It felt lush without being buttery, and had a long finish of the spice (clove). This chard would pair nicely with lots of dishes.

    The Edna Valley Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay is heavy with the aroma of pear, apple, apricot and pineapple, with notes of spice, cinnamon and clove in the background. These fruit aromas carry over to the taste, where they are intertwined with oak and vanilla and end in a creamy mouth feel. There is a solid acid bite to the wine, which will assure a longer-than-average life span. This wine will fit well with light red meats, even if they are covered with one of the more interesting sauces.

  • Les Charmes Mâcon-Lugny, $10 - $20. (The Lugny co-op also makes a plain Mâcon-Village that is a little less expensive.)
         ($15.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    On the nose mineral, fig, ginger and wet stone. After 30 minutes, good aromatics with a rich almost floral aroma, similar to our local sagebrush (Rosacae Purshia Tridentata) in bloom, with cinnamon and rose petal. I enjoyed the crisp, mineral and stone fruit qualities of the Les Charmes. With a lively finish of mineral, stone fruit, river rock and cinnamon it hangs for a while and put a smile on my face. A balanced wine, refreshing and tasty.

    This wine is a straw color. The nose is filled with beautiful aromas of ripe citrus fruit, a hint of peach and floral notes. The palate is lush, and has those same ripe citrus fruit flavors, peach notes, and hint of lemon zest on the finish. The wine has some mineral notes along with a nice dose of acidity. It was like I was transported to France, or maybe I just got a bit of France in my wine glass. This wine would be great to sip alone or be paired with light appetizers.

    The 2010 Cave de Lugny Les Charmes Macon-Lugny Single Vineyard Chardonnay begins with fresh and fruity aromas of apricot and lemon along with some mineral undertones and a bit of spice. Tasting the wine reveals a creamy mouthfeel with more apricot and lemon flavors and a good bit of spice. According to the winemaker this wine has not seen any time in oak, but I would have guessed it had seen at least a little. On the finish grapefruit flavors come to the front and the nice spice component continues. The mineral notes also become a little more prominent.

    This very elegant, stainless steel fermented wine, offers a beautiful fruity aromas. On the palate it opens into bright and clean flavors of cantaloupe, with notes of white peach and citrus. Great balance of fruit and acidity makes this pretty Chardonnay crisp and refreshing. Lovely, long finish. For its more than reasonable price, this wine is definitely a great value! Even if you happen to be a fan of bigger, oaky, buttery styles of Chardonnay, or – just like my friend, you look for something different, this wine is worth to try.

    Mid-gold in color, the nose is attractive, ripe yet subtle showing ripe orchard fruit, melon, grapefruit, an earthy mineral note, hints of apricot and a tinge of honey and creamy spice. Bright and fairly crisp with a refreshing, lively mouthfeel, but also sufficiently round and creamy. Nice palate weight, with ample broad, well defined flavors that mirror the nose. Moderately long finish. This wine is not overly fruity and is nicely structured, therefore its place is more at the table than sipped as an apéritif.

    [T]his $11 vino is a steal. What a great wine—steeliness and apple on the nose, crisp, bright acid, nice well-rounded fruit with a medium-long finish.

    There is good intensity on the nose of this chardonnay, with a nice bouquet. The aromas are fig, melon, apple and flint. On the palate is has a soft apple, melon and peach flavors which transition into a lime / citrus flavor in the mid-palate. The acidity is good, it's sufficient but not overpowering. The lime flavors make for a bright and crisp finish. It could use a little more concentration of flavors, but overall it's a great wine for the price and definitely worth checking out if you're interested in trying something different.

    It's a unoaked white Burgundy with floral notes on the nose with lemon notes and a finish with hints of minerals. This golden wine is a bit of an anomaly, both elegant and affordable.

    White gold in color, the wine has modest aromas of fresh apple and citrus. Flavors are smooth and lean, tasting slightly of lemon. Well-structured, it has good acid on the finish. This bone-dry wine is best imbibed with food.

    Oh the joy of this nose after so many recent over-oaked, California-style butterscotch bomb Chards! Citrus, freshly baked bread, clean granite dust, fresh leather, and acidic spring water. Taste, medium mouthfeel. Very nice first citrus-laden acid blast, but with a very creamy, inviting texture. Lime zest and fresh lemon juice flavors frame an ample mineral presence and "tastes" of granite and dry rocks. Long, subtle tropical fruit close, and a final kiss of dry earth. Exceptional balance and finesse for this price point.

  • Maison Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny Les Genièvres, $11 - $18. (Latour makes numerous chardonnay-based wines; this is the Les Genièvres Màconais bottling.)
         ($10.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Opened to a fresh, soft bouquet of flowers, herbs, twigs, honey, apples and flashes of nuts. On the palate it was beautifully balanced, with delicate acidity and minerality. Cooling refreshing fruits lead to a lovely muted dry finish. Overall quite delightful for a Villages wine which supposedly Tony Blair celebrated his election victory with. Good value Burgundy.

    Full in the mouth, this is a rich, wood-lifted wine, the peach and apricot fruits given an edge by a light steeliness. The acidity fits well into the rich flavors here, creating a burst of apple juice over the yellow fruits. 87 points.

    It's not often that one can find an $18 wine that will improve with age. . . The Latour, though, is a welcome exception. It's white Burgundy, which means chardonnay, and since it's Macon, it means it wasn't aged in oak. This wine is perfectly acceptable now, and I drank it last weekend. It's still a little tight, with some spiciness typical of young white Burgundies. But let it sit for a year or two, and it will open up, becoming a fuller, richer, more complex wine. In fact, I'll probably buy another bottle and let it sit for 12 months to see just what happens.

    This wine opens with a mild bouquet. On the palate, the wine is creamy and slightly acidic. The finish was pleasant. This is a very nice food wine. It will marry well with many foods. It can serve as your everyday white wine as well. Enjoy this good value.

    This wine was quite the crowd pleaser. They moved a lot of it. The wine opens with a fresh and steely bouquet. On the palate, the wine is very easy to drink and tasty. It is very well balanced between its fruit and acidity. The finish is slightly dry and quite refreshing. We really enjoy this wine.

    Plump and buttery mouthfeel and flavor with crisp fruit. Surprisingly heavy for burgundy.

    Let's see, . . . we can buy 40 bottles of Maison Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny 'Les Genièvres' 2009 or . . . one bottle of Montrachet, on the chance that it may be the best bottle of white wine we'll ever taste. No matter how precious, we'd kill the Montrachet in one night. While the three and a half cases of Les Genièvres would keep us in delicious, delicate French chardonnay for a good six months. We'll give you three guesses which we'd choose.

    [I]it consistently delivers enjoyment at a reasonable price. The 2004 has subtle creaminess and a citric edge that keeps it lively. 88

    Slightly darker straw colour with green tinges. Butter and parsley sauce on the nose, less defined than the Chablis but cooler and more citrusy in character; also more mouthfilling in texture if lighter in body. Some cucumber flavours, bitterish-herbal, more consistent finish. Lacks some intensity but decent.

  • Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux, $16 - $30.
         ($22.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    If you drink the 2008 Champs Royaux at the temperature of your refrigerator or ice bucket, you'll receive a distinctly tropical lemon-lime fragrance, ripe pear flavor and bracing lime-like acidity. It will be very pleasing. But if you put the bottle on the table and allow it to warm to 55-60 degrees, the aromas will transform into scents suggesting an ocean breeze and white pepper, a creamy texture develops, coating the mouth, and a pineapple taste merges with the pear. Yet behind either experience of the 2008 Champs Royaux, is Chablis' essential acidity. It is the purity of chardonnay's aroma and flavors, grown in Chablis' cool climate and from soil imbedded with the stones and shells from ancient oceans, that produce these unique wines. Oak barrels are but an afterthought.

    The 2011 Champs Royaux is equal parts estate and purchased fruit, mostly from left bank sites. The nose is of crushed seashells, lime, grapefruit. The palate is clean, bright citrus on front, the mid palate has excellent wet stone minerality, the finish is long, with saline and wet rock notes. 90 Points.

    Pale green-tinged color. Aromas of lime, green apple and ginger, plus a whiff of dusty minerality. A step up in richness and texture from the Champs Royaux, but with nice spicy lift to the flavors of lime and fresh herbs. Finishes with good saline length and grip. 89 Points

    Fevre's 2011 Chablis Champs Royaux (maison) impresses for its precision and linearity. There is plenty of nuance here in a style that also expresses some of the richness of the vintage. Crushed rocks, white flowers and citrus are layered into the vibrant finish.

    There is a pretty mix of pear, green fruit and iodine hints that merge seamlessly into rich, round and very generous flavors that benefit from a touch of backend minerality. This delicious and saline-infused effort is really very good. Worth considering.

    Shiny and bright lemon with flashes of white green, it greets with green apple, mineral, salt and lime. The palate is limey dry, with juicy green apple and mineral, and a touch of ripe melon roundness. Fresh and clean.

    Pale straw presence with buttery sweet, tropical fruit aromas with creme brulee notes. Palate--racy acidity with green apples galore,citrus foundation,some minerals and a fruity finish. . . Burgundy Chardonnays yield the stripped down beauty of the grape. No pretentious manipulation, artificial color or petri dish flavors; Just pure Chardonnay. . . On the lower end of the price point it is a value; on the higher end a nice treat so raise a glass!

    This pale yellow wine abounds in citrus and flinty scents. The flavors are fresh, crisp, lean and extremely tart. Unlike California chardonnays, the style is light, austere and food-driven.

  • Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis, $18 - $25. (Droin produces several levels of Chablis: this is the "Chablis", the level just above basic Petit Chablis.)
         ($21.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Fine fresh aromas, intense crème fraiche fruit quality, intense, taut, mineral and dry, this is wonderfully pure and full-flavoured with a fine blade of trenchant acidity and super bone dry finish. Classy Chablis that doesn't need to rely on oak for its quality. 90+

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2012), 90 points

    I very much like the way the 2010 Chablis resonates on the palate with notable energy. White pears, green apples, white flowers and crushed rocks meld together in the glass. In 2010, the Chablis is effortless, gracious and totally impeccable. A crystalline finish rounds things out in style. This is a great introduction to the vintage and an equally compelling example of just how delicious the entry-level wines can be in 2010.

    A classic nose of green fruit and oyster shells gives way to rich, intense and agreeably racy middle weight flavors that possess a fine minerality on the minerally, pure and linear finish. Like the Petit Chablis, this is worth a look as it offers very good quality at this level.

    Generous yellow stone fruits and an open, inviting personality are the signatures in Droin's 2011 Chablis. The wine comes across as quite rich and textured, with gorgeous depth and fabulous overall balance in a more approachable style than the 2010. This is a great showing. . . Droin doesn't seem to get a lot of attention in the press, but in my opinion, this is one of the very finest producers in Chablis. I have also had great luck with older bottles, as these are typically wines that age beautifully.

    Crisp and clean with aromas and flavors of lemon custard and green apple, this light bodied Chardonnay is pleasant all by itself but deserves to be paired with food.

    Light gold with an orange tint, showing fine metallic minerals and on the nose and palate grapefruit and grapefruit peel along with spring flowers. A lovely and lovely if not overly compelx wine.

    This was my favorite of the first four [tasted Chablis]. It had more structure, brighter citrus fruit, and good minerality and tasted like classic Chablis.

  • Concha y Toro "Marques de Casa Concha" Chardonnay, $10 - $29.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This chardonnay has a rather spicy and smoky nose. In terms of the fruit it’s mostly melon aromas. The palate offers green apple, melon and pineapple flavors, with outstanding acidity. The mid-palate and finish show a touch of spice too. It has a nice mouth feel and a long, tasty finish.

    Nose: Vanilla, kiwi fruit, apples and pears. Taste: Lush in mouth. Refreshing, crisp, mineral, balanced, and delicious. Summary: Balance is what good wine is all about, and this is one of the most well balanced chardonnay’s I've tasted. Oak, fruit, acidity, in harmony with a silky body that finishes nicely. 11 months in French oak permits this wine to carry just the right amount of wood on the palate without being overbearing. Whether you like your chardonnay on the fruity side, or you prefer it more buttery and heavily oaked, this chardonnay will please everyone that loves chardonnay. You cannot go wrong with this one.

    It is crisp and firmly structured while exhibiting notes of spice and lemon crème, with a hint of brioche. . . Whether you are a fan of Chardonnay or not, this vintage of Marques de Casa Concha is a stunner, even moreso because of the price. . . I would not hesitate to serve it in company with Chardonnay from California or France costing twice as much.

    Less than 12 months old, this Chardonny has a silky buttery texture despite it being oaked. It has notes of minerals, pears, figs and hazelnuts and is dry, crisp and a clean palate.

    Decanter magazine: [2011 vintage] is the best Chardonnay in the world under £15.

    This Chardonnay is intense, layered, salty-savoury and invigorating. Is a validation of that work, as well as the natural bounties of the land.

    It would also be easy to get carried away with this smooth and highly drinkable white. Fresh citrus notes accompany hints of gooseberry and vanilla in a bright, medium body.

    This straw colored Chardonnay opens with a wet stone and gentle musty oak bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, nicely balanced and mouthwatering. The flavor profile is a gentle old oak and apple blend with hints of lemon and white pepper. The finish is dry and its flavors linger nicely after the wine is gone.

  • Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay Maipo Valley, $11 - $18. (Cousiño-Macul makes other chardonnays; this is the "Antiguas Reservas".)

    Some quotations and facts:

    I am not sure if it is the terrior or the technology . . . but it is tough to find a good chardonnay from [Chile]. This wine is the needle in the haystack. It is surprisingly good, and for the money, it is a steal. All of you that write to complain about the price of a good chardonnay take note. For less then $15 you can drink a wine that will outperform wines $25 and more. It is straw colored and pours cleanly. The nose is pear, citrus, apple, white flowers and a bit of toast. Although aged in oak, this is not an oaky chardonnay. The flavor of apple, pear and grapefruit are nicely balanced. The finish reveals a whiff of oak, but wonderfully integrated and balanced. This balance is rare in a wine in this price range. Cousino Macul is no longer an up and comer. They are one of the leaders of the Chilean wine industry, and have proven their value. Their premium wines are classified as "Antiguas Reservas". It is well worth the few dollars more to buy this reserve wine. Don't skimp in this price range. The winners are few and far between. This wine is a winner and available everywhere. Go out and try a bottle.

    And its slightly more expensive sibling, Cousiño-Macul - Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay Maipo Valley, is well worth a few dollars more. "If there is anyone delivering more bang-for-the-buck than Arturo Cousino and his namesake winery Cousino-Macul, I’d like to know about it," Jay Miller, formerly of the Wine Advocate wrote in the April 2009 issue. "Over the years Cousino has continued to fine-tune his portfolio, and the wines are better today than they have ever been."

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2010), 90 points.

    Hint of toast, plenty of pear, melon, and apple aromas and flavors; excellent depth and length.

    [T]his wine is a little bit of a wild card for me. It's somewhere between a lemon drop and a green apple with some zestiness mixed in like crystallized ginger. In the mouth, it is creamy; lighter than other Chardonnays so it plays on more of the citrus and lemon notes. The acidity is bright and this wine could go with anything from buttermilk fried chicken to grilled swordfish and gremolata.

    While not fatally flawed . . . seemed to simply lack in all directions. Intensity, complexity and finesse. Light nose of barrels. Chardonnay fruit in mouth. In the fully malolactic style, short finish. 82/100

    Judicious, background oak lends a hint of vanilla to chardonnay, such as the vivid, mango-y 2011 Cousino-Macul Antiguas Reservas from Chile.

    Tropical aromas include banana. There's good texture here framing toasted apple, melon and banana flavors. Tastes lightly buttered on the finish, with notes of apple and lemon. Normal and good. 86 points.

    Tropical fruit nose. Taste: Light body with a pleasing balanced finish. A good balance of oak and fruit. Summary: A soft, oaky warm day companion. Goes great with crab salad. Nice crisp finish. A good price for the taste. Comparable to a few $20 California Chardonnays.

For a Splurge

If you really want to splurge, take out a second mortgage and buy a bottle of real Montrachet, for which you can expect to pay a few thousand dollars (that's a new bottle, not an aged one—aged, they're even more, circa $6000).

A more reasonable Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Premier cru can be had for between $45 and $60. Mind, that's for a new bottle; keep in mind that it's a sin to drink a wine like that without its having some years of aging first, so have a good storage place. (Or you could just buy a 15-year old bottle for around $370.)

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