Last week we wrote about expensive California chardonnays that are commonly buttery and rich. As promised, this week we offer some more reasonably priced chardonnays.
Cost is often driven by location (Napa Valley being the most expensive), single vineyard sourcing and the use of expensive French barrels. Less expensive chardonnays are often blends from several regions and instead of using expensive French oak, producers add wood chips to the juice or ferment the wines in concrete or stainless-steel tanks. They may not have the complexity that come with oak-aged chardonnay but their simplicity can be their strength.
Here are several we like:
Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2021 ($18). We regularly point consumers to Wente if they ask for a “good, inexpensive chardonnay.” The Morning Fog consistently outperforms with its citrus and apple notes, minerality and natural acidity.
Qupé Santa Maria Valley “Y” Block Chardonnay 2020 ($22). This reasonably priced, austere chardonnay out-delivers its price. The 4 percent viognier picks up the aromas. Pear and citrus notes.
Diatom Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2021 ($25). Citrus aromas and white peach flavors with a bit of salinity characterize this austere and sleek chardonnay.
Alma de Cattleya Sonoma County Chardonnay 2020 ($26). Ripe apple aromas give way to green apple and ripe pear flavors with a remarkable minerality.
C.K. Mondavi Family Chardonnay 2021 ($7). The price is not a typo. Although not as rich or complex as the higher-priced chardonnays, it is a decent wine for the money. Fresh acidity and tropical fruit notes with a touch of residual sugar.
Calera Central Coast Chardonnay 2019 ($26). This is a great value in quality chardonnay. Using grapes from the vast Central Coast — primarily Edna and Santa Maria valleys — the wine has a lot of energy with stone-fruit aromas with pear and lemon flavors. Supple texture makes it a delight to drink and only 5 percent French oak keeps it more linear. It undergoes complete malolatic fermentation to give it that supple mouthfeel.
Decoy California Chardonnay 2020 ($20). Using grapes from a variety of sources — mostly from Sonoma County — this Duckhorn property has crafted a decent chardonnay for the price. Fresh citrus and tropical fruit notes with a smooth mouthfeel and a hint of spice.
Harken Chardonnay California 2020 ($15). This barrel fermented chardonnay is one of the best examples of this oaky style at this modest price point. Tropical fruit flavors are accented by buttery toasted oak notes in perfect balance.
Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 ($22). The flagship chardonnay of this Santa Maria Valley producer, this is another great value in chardonnay. Barrell fermented, it has big oak flavors with hints of vanilla, caramel and crème brûlée. On the palate, there are ripe apple notes and a hint of citrus.
J. Lohr October Night Chardonnay 2020 ($25). J. Lohr is known for its opulent wines and this chardonnay is just that. From the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County, it is very floral and rich with peach and spice flavors. The producer also makes a good Arroyo Vista Chardonnay for the same price that has pear and apricot flavors. It has more oak notes.
Head High Sonoma County Chardonnay 2021 ($22). One of the best chardonnays we’ve tasted at this price, this wine from legend Bill Price has effusive apple and lemon aromas followed by broad tropical fruit and citrus flavors wrapped in a velvet body.
Burgundy is known for its opulent, pricey and surreal chardonnays. But in satellite regions of the Maconnais and Cotes Chalonnaise, there are great values to be found. These wines are austere, lean and pure. Here are a few we recently tasted:
Chateau Fuisse Pouilly-Fuise “Les Brules” 2019 ($45). Ripe apple and vanilla aromas, stone fruit flavors with hints of toasted oak and coconut. Good acidity and long in the finish.
Arnaud Baillot Montagny Premier Cru 2019 ($35). Unfiltered, this bottle from the Chalonnaise exhibits a bit of cloudiness that for us portends good things to come. Loads of pure, vibrant tropical fruit and apple character. For the price, it’s hard to beat as long as you can handle some suspended particles.
Henri Perrusset Macon-Villages 2019 ($18). Using native yeasts and drawing from vineyards grown in limestone, this gem has zest with crisp acidity and fresh fruit built on a mineral base.
Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay 2020 ($15). This historical producer, whose wines are ubiquitous in this country, deviates from others by using the grape variety on the label. It reminds consumers that chardonnay is the white grape of Burgundy. Simple and medium bodied, it has apple and citrus notes. Nice minerality.
Cree Montagny 2018 ($15). This premier cru from the Cotes Chalonnaise far exceeds in price in quality. The château was purchased in 2015 by Ken and Grace Evanstad, founders of Domaine Serene in Oregon. Although Ken recently died, Grace continues to lead a team of winemakers to produce only top-quality wine. The chardonnay exhibits apple and citrus notes with a dash of melon.
Domaine Alain Chavy Bourgogne Chardonnay 2019 ($28). Drawing grapes from young vines planted in Puligny, Chavy delivers a great value. Fresh apple and citrus flavors, distinct minerality and balanced oak.
Jean-Jaques Girard Sauvigny-les-Beaune 2018 ($54). About 85 percent of the wine from this region is red, but once in a while we come across a white that represents the same value in quality French burgundy. Apple and spice aromas with rich apple flavors and good minerality.
Sosi Charlie Smith Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($75). From the Moon Mountain District in Sonoma County, this gritty and muscular wine has great concentration, thanks in part from the vineyard which is perched 1,600 feet from the valley floor. Black cherry and plum notes with hints of chocolate and pepper.
Abbot’s Passage “The Traverse” Red Blend 2018 ($45). This Glen Ellen producer specializes in small-lots of red varietals. The Traverse is a Bordeaux blend of cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. The winemaker should be familiar by name to most of you: Katie Bundschu, who represents the sixth generation in her family to be involved in wine. The wine is delicious with red and dark berry flavors.
Tribute Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($20). Winemaker Chris Benziger pays tribute to his multigenerational family with this outstanding value from three sources in San Benito County, Paso Robles and his San Lucas Vineyard near Monterey. Black berry and plum flavors with hints of tea, vanilla and dark chocolate.