Grocery Store Chardonnay Project

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some of the more elaborate & colorful grocery store Chardonnay packaging

This is a report on 230 domestic Chardonnays representative of what can be found on grocery store shelves in Northern California. Many of these Chardonnays can be found in grocery stores in the 35 states in the U.S. where wine sales at such stores are permitted.

This report includes detailed tasting notes, ratings both by price range and alphabetically, an assessment of alcohol levels and styles of wine available, and a look at that fact that over 37% of the 230 wines rated are owned by only eight wine firms.

I selected Chardonnay as the varietal to examine for this report since it’s both the most widely represented wine grape varietal in grocery stores (approximately 10% of varietal wines) and the most widely planted wine grape in California. It’s also one of the world’s premier grape varieties, capable under ideal conditions of producing sublime and long aging wines as well as vast quantities of perfectly adequate raw material that is highly manipulable through winemaking techniques. From everything I’ve reviewed in researching for this report, this is the first time such a comprehensive critical tasting and analysis has been done of widely distributed grocery store Chardonnays.

Some of the insights I gained from this survey can be summarized briefly as follows:
• My scores on these wines ranged widely, from 75 to 92 points
• My average score was 85.8 points (i.e., slightly above average)
• Prices ranged from $3 to $41 before sales tax
• Very drinkable (86 to 87 point) wines can be obtained for as low as $7-9
• While high QPR (quality price ratio) wines can be found at virtually all price points, the highest rated wines (92 and 91+ points) can be found at the $15-20, $20-25 and $30-and-above price ranges
• The $26-30 range contains surprisingly few highly rated wines
• Three U.S. wine firms are responsible for nearly 17% of these wines, and the top eight wine firms own over 37% of these labels
• Nearly 16% of these grocery store Chardonnays exhibited relatively high residual sugar (sweetness)
• Less than 14% of these wines were bottled under screwcap
• 6% of the wines were affected by TCA and/or oxidation

Background

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Cupertino Safeway’s wine section

For years people who know I rate and write about wines have asked me what to buy when they are at a grocery store or supermarket. I’ve always responded that supermarkets and grocery stores are not the place to buy wine.

To be in distribution at such large volume outlets means the wine has been made in sufficiently large quantities to justify their place on the shelf. Top quality, artisanal wines are made in relatively small quantities, from very limited fruit sources, so simply can’t be produced in the quantities required by nationwide chain stores. Therefore, if you’re looking for highly rated, artisanal wines, you are not going to find them in a grocery aisle.

Supermarkets also rarely have on hand someone knowledgeable about wine and what they carry to offer advice and counsel. The best place to purchase fine wine is a dedicated wine store, where they typically stock a hand selected inventory featuring a range of excellent wines and employ knowledgeable staff that can guide your selection.

Moreover, such outlets often turn the stocking of their shelves over to one or more of the country’s major wine and spirits distributors, meaning that although there may be dozens of labels on the shelf, many of them are owned by or in the portfolio of Constellation, E&J Gallo, The Wine Group or one of the other major wine firms.

Nonetheless, having received the same request from numerous friends and acquaintances over the years, and finding myself in the past year visiting smaller cities and towns that lacked easily accessible wine retailers, I decided to see if there were choices available at a typical grocery store that I might be able to recommend. I was also curious as to whether the increasing quality level we’ve seen in artisanal California Chardonnay in recent years might be having any influence on the quality level of mass market Chardonnay, or whether sweet and oaky styles of Chardonnay that have tended to be popular at the mass market level would continue to predominate.

The Lucky Store in Sunnyvale I regularly visit had a wine sale last Fall—buy four and save 10%—so that motivated me to take the plunge and see what their wine shelves had to offer. It turned out Safeway had a similar sale going, offering 30% off if you bought four or more bottles. Since the Safeway in Cupertino has the widest selection of any in Silicon Valley, that gave me a lot of labels to sample. I filled out the range of what’s available at grocery stores locally by buying up the several domestic Chardonnay labels on hand at the Mountain View Costco I hadn’t seen at Lucky or Safeway.

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Chardonnay shelves at Lucky

I was fortunate to have received samples of some of the Chardonnays I saw at grocery stores from producers over the past year, so I could rely on my notes and scores on those wines for a small percentage of my survey. For the most part, though, I bought a dozen or more bottles at a time from the stores listed above, and proceeded to taste through them several nights a week over a three month period. The project ended up costing me close to $4,000 in wine purchases, but I learned a lot from the survey and hope my findings will prove valuable to others.

TCA, Oxidation and Bottle Closures

TCA–short for 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole–is a chemical compound ubiquitous in nature and frequently found in natural cork that imparts a “moldy newspaper” or “wet dog” odor and off taste to affected wines. Wine connoisseurs refer to wines with evident TCA contamination as “corked.” Because TCA and premature oxidation, particularly of white wines, is still a major problem, despite natural cork producers’ best efforts to bring the percentage of tainted cork down, I inevitably ended up with a number of faulty bottles—either corked or severely oxidized current releases. This was true of 6% of what I tasted. These I returned to the store for a replacement so I could sample a clean bottle.

I wish more consumers would return wines that are faulty due to contaminated or particularly porous natural corks. If so, wine producers and distributors might be motivated to switch all the more quickly to one of the many good alternative closures available that don’t run the risk of leaving consumers with a tainted or prematurely oxidized wine. Unfortunately, though, I knew I was in a tiny minority of grocery store wine buyers when I brought these bottles, with most of the wine still intact, back to the store and had to explain to the store manager or assistant manager why I was returning them. These personnel usually reacted as though I was the first person ever to return faulty wine. Nonetheless, they all agreed to let me have a replacement bottle, especially when I pointed out to them the volume of my recent wine purchases there.

To be fair, many consumers just don’t know have enough experience with wine to realize that a bottle with a funky smell or attenuated taste on the palate has been tainted as a result of problems with its closure. So rather than return it to see if another bottle smells and tastes better, they typically just avoid that wine in the future.

The bottom line is there is no reason why grocery store Chardonnay should be sealed under natural cork, except for the fact that many American consumers (unlike consumers in Australia, New Zealand, and increasing numbers of Europeans) continue to expect “fine wine” to have a cork closure. These are not wines meant for aging, and it is appalling that 6% of the bottles I tried had severe faults attributable to their cork closures. Only 14% of the wines in this survey were bottled under screw cap, which is an alternative closure that will not impart TCA to a wine and that will help prevent premature oxidation. We’d all be better off if wines like these were bottled under screw cap or other good, non-natural cork closures.

Grocery Store Merchandising

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expensive top shelf wines at Lucky

From my visits to the grocery stores mentioned above, and to others—like Raley’s Nob Hill Foods—just to see there weren’t labels stocked there that I hadn’t tried from my primary sources, I got to learn something about retail wine merchandising.

Firstly, at each store, the highest priced wines can be found on the very top shelf. At immediate eye level, these pricey offerings dominate a casual consumer’s view. The very cheapest bottlings are placed on the bottommost shelf—making them hard to view easily if you’re not hunting for wines priced at that level. The remaining shelves in between contain a mix of wines at different price points, and generally decreasing prices as you proceed from top shelf to bottom. Sometimes the wines in the middle are in alphabetical or appellation order, and sometimes in no real discernable order at all.

I also found that, like shopping for dairy products and other perishable goods at grocery stores, it’s important to check the “sell by” dates by looking at all the containers available, including those toward the back of the shelf. In the case of white wine, that means paying attention to the vintage. Since premature oxidation is a real problem with wines sealed under cork, it is best to search to make sure you are getting the most recent vintage of the wine a store has available. I found that often there are two or more vintages of a particular wine on hand, with the more recent vintage placed in back of the older bottles.

Wine Label Ownership/Distribution

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expansive Chardonnay selection at Safeway Cupertino

According to a 2012 study of concentration in the U.S. wine industry published by Michigan State University, three firms account for more than half the wine sales in the U.S. In the study’s report on the inventory of 20 Michigan retailers, they also found that the top six firms accounted for 21.9% of the total inventory on wine shelves there. The study claimed that the top firms “each contribute to an illusion of diverse ownership by offering dozens of brands . . . many of which do not clearly indicate the parent company on their label.” They found this illusion of diverse ownership strongest at chain drug stores, like CVS and Rite Aid, that “offered more than one hundred unique varieties, but the majority were supplied by E. & J. Gallo or Constellation Brands.” This phenomenon is also increasingly apparent at some grocery store chains, such as Kroger, which announced in January this year that it planned to hire Southern Wine & Spirits to oversee how it distributes shelf space to alcohol brands.

According to data for last year (i.e., before Treasury Wine Estate’s recent acquisition of the Diageo wine brands), the top three domestic wine producers, who split over half of U.S. total wine sales between them, were E. & J. Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands. The next five in order were Trinchero, Bronco, Treasury, Delicato and Kendall-Jackson.

Of the 230 wines I found at local grocery stores, 16.96% were owned by one of the top three wine firms. Together, the top eight wine firms accounted for 37.39% of the wine labels available at local supermarkets. And these percentages are probably significantly lower than at an average supermarket, since the Cupertino Safeway where I found the greatest variety of labels stocks an unusually high number of bottlings from local and independent producers.

In the listings at the end of this report, I identify the major ownership group, if there is one, in brackets following the name of the wine.

Top Rated Wines by Price Point

The dollar prices used below are based on the average sales price, before tax, reported for the wines nationwide on Wine-Searcher.com, the most comprehensive source for this info available online. In each grouping by price point, I’ve listed the wines from highest to lowest rating, and within each rating point, in order of lowest to highest price.

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I was happy to find that very drinkable, good quality wines can be found for as low as $6 to $9 at supermarkets. I found 15 wines at this price level. My top recommendation at this price point is Ravenswood Vintners Blend (Constellation Wines) at 87 points. This wine has good varietal character and is balanced, meaning that it has good balancing acidity. I bought it for $7 at Safeway and Wine-searcher shows it averaging $9 throughout the country, where it is widely available. Also decent values are Bogle Vineyards and The Seeker, both at 86 points and averaging $9 a bottle.

In the under $6 range, my highest rating was 85+ points for ForestVille from Bronco Wine Estates. The other nine Chards at this level, priced between $3 and $5.99, ranged in scores from 76 to 83 points. I’d be hard pressed to recommend any of those wines, nearly all of which are non-vintage bottlings sourced from grapes throughout California (i.e., with no appellation identified except “California”). This is also a fast shrinking category, as market reports the last few years have shown consumers have been trading up from this price point to wines priced at $10 and higher.

In the $10 to $12 price range, the number of available labels jumped to 39. The highest rated for me, at 87 points, was Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington State, at an average price of $10. Also close behind, at 86+ points, were A by Acacia and the 2012 bottling of Lucinda & Millie from California’s Mendocino County. I rated another four wines at this price point 86 points.

My scores start to climb at the $13 to $15 level—consisting of 42 wines–with two 89 point wines, Rodney Strong ($13) and Foxglove ($14). The Simi ($14) was close behind at 88+ points followed by the Jamieson Ranch Light Horse ($13) at 88 points. I rated another three wines at this level 87 to 87+ points and 10 wines from 86 to 86+ points.

My scores climb again at the $16 to $19 range, with the Alma Rosa Santa Barbara County bottling ($19) meriting 91+ points and Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard ($17) from Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley scoring 91 points. For those looking for high quality wines at relatively affordable prices, these are strong showings, both offering complexity and good balance for under $20. I found a total of 42 wines at this price point and rated another three 90 to 90+ points, and two more each 89 and 88 points.

The largest number of wines at any price point, a total of 43, were found at the $20-25 level, along with one of my highest scoring wines, at 92 points–the admirable, minerally Au Bon Climat ($21). Even though I was delighted to find that wine at Safeway Cupertino, I doubt it is available at many grocery stores throughout the country. More widely available and meriting 91+ points are the very satisfying Clos du Val Carneros appellation and Landmark Overlook from Sonoma County, both averaging $23. Another three wines at this level scored 91 points (Gundlach Bundschu, Beringer and Freemark Abbey) while seven more came in at 90 to 90+ points.

As mentioned above, the showing of wines priced from $26-$29 was relatively disappointing, with only one (Stags’ Leap) meriting 90+ points, another two 89 points and four 88 points among 14 wines total at this level.

The highest price range found at the grocery stores, $30 and up, actually ranged to $41 before tax. Of 24 wines at this price level, three merited 92 points: Qupe Bien Nacido Block 11 ($30), Jordan Russian River Valley ($31) and Frank Family Napa Valley ($34). Five more scored 91 to 91+ points, and another five merited 90 to 90+ points.

The complete ratings (along with tasting notes) at each price point, as well as alphabetically by wine, can be found at the end of this report.

Pure Chardonnay?

At the low end of the market, one can be pretty sure producers are taking advantage of the fact that Federal and California law allow a wine to be labeled as being of a particular varietal, e.g., Chardonnay, as long as 75% of the grapes used were that variety. Since Chardonnay grapes tend to fetch higher prices than other white grapes, producers of wines at lower price points can keep production costs down by blending in less sought after varieties, such as French Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc.

Producers are not required by law to state the other grapes that might make up as much as 25% of the blend, so that information generally does not appear on labels of low priced Chardonnays. It can also be hard to find even on the tech sheets on producer websites. For the non-vintage Chardonnays, it makes sense that a producer wouldn’t want to be limited in what other grapes they incorporate in a given bottling of “Chardonnay.” Nonetheless, I did find information on blends in a few cases, which give us an idea of what’s being used in Chardonnays at that price level.

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The 2013 ForestVille, my top ranked wine at the $6 and under level, is identified on the Bronco Wine Co. website as a blend of Chardonnay, “French Colombard, Muscat and Mixed Varietals.” The Seeker (86 points, $9) is mainly Chardonnay with 5% Gewurztraminer. Beaulieu (85 points, $9) contains 5% Viognier. Fetzer Sundial (84 points, $7), a top seller, was a blend in 2013 of 89% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier, 3% Chenin Blanc, 2% Pinot Grigio and 1% Sauvignon Blanc. The 2014 Guenoc contains 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Finally Woodbridge, another huge seller (83+ points, $7), does not currently identify the blend, but the tech sheet for the 2011 on the Woodbridge website describes the cuvee as 76% Chardonnay, 18% French Colombard, 3% Viognier, and 3% “a proprietary blend of aromatic varietals.”

One can be pretty sure that wines priced at $15 and higher are going to be 100% Chardonnay, and many clearly state that on their tech sheets. For the lower priced wines that are blends, the other grapes are likely to contribute to the aromas and flavors in ways that explain why many varietal bottlings at lower price levels tend to lack clear varietal character.

Alcohol, Balance and Style

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At the $6 and under level, one finds relatively low alcohol wines, ranging from 11.5% to 13.87 and averaging 12.95%. This is both because the juice for wines at this level tends to come from less ripe, less premium grapes, and because some of the wines are not fermented all the way to dry, so as to retain some of the grape sugar for sweetness. This residual grape sugar would otherwise have been converted to alcohol, raising the alcohol level more to the standard found in California—13.5 to 14.5%. This was the case, for example, with the Turning Leaf (11.5% alcohol) and the Safeway private label Quail Oak (12.5%).

There was a time ten and 15 years ago when oaky and sweet Chardonnays were particularly popular. The Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, for example, which was one of California’s biggest selling Chardonnays for some years, was intentionally made with close to 1% residual sugar. Today the residual sugar level in Kendall-Jackson’s Chards has reportedly dropped to half that.

One sees an increase in alcohol levels at the $6 to $9 price point, where the reported alcohol level averages 13.5%, and again at the $10 to $12 level (13.58% average) and $13 to $15 (13.73%). Alcohol levels generally continue to rise with price, except for a slight dip at the $26 to $29 range, as follows: 13.89% average from $16 to $19, 14.16% from $20-25, 14.06% at $26-29, and 14.14% for wines $30 and up.

I think balanced wines can be made at a variety of alcohol levels. What’s important for balance in white wines in particular is the acidity level. The acidity—ranging from virtually nil to medium in the case of these grocery store Chardonnays—was a major factor in my rating. Wines with very little acidity are hard to pair with food and quickly get tiresome on the palate. Some sweetness, if that’s the style of wine one enjoys, can be fine as long as there is balancing acidity to keep the wine lively on the palate.

Another important factor in my ratings is the complexity of the wine, both on the nose and in the mouth. A wine that shows only one flavor can, like a wine without acidity, get pretty boring after a few sips. Wines that have complexity of aromas and flavors keep one coming back to experience that variety of flavors and their nuances.

Finally, as I’ve written before here, Chardonnay is a malleable grape that can be made in a variety of styles. Unoaked Chardonnays have become more popular in recent years, and the better examples of those tend to highlight the pure citrus and/or stone fruit, often showing admirable acidity. Different oak treatments can also have a marked effect on Chardonnay, adding everything from savory, toast, hazelnut and almond notes to heavier, butter and popcorn flavors.

There’s definitely a market for buttery types of Chardonnay, and many of these grocery store Chardonnays exhibited that character. My best recommendations for balanced wines in that style are Rodney Strong (89 points, $13), Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard (91 points, $17), Nottingham Cellars (90+ points, $24) and Stags’ Leap (90+ points, $26).

The wine that most reminded me of a crisp, minerally white Burgundy was the Jordan Russian River Valley. I scored it 92 points, but it is pretty pricey for a grocery store wine at $33.

For wines in the unoaked, clean style emphasizing citrus, apple and/or pear fruit, I can recommend A by Acacia-Unoaked (86+ points, $11) and Foxglove (89 points, $14).

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For a combination of complexity of flavors and bright balancing acidity, my top picks are, at increasing price levels: Ravenswood Vintners Blend (87 points, $9), Chateau Ste. Michelle (87 points, $10), Alma Rosa (91+ points, $19), Clos du Val Carneros (91+ points, $23), Landmark Overlook (91+ points, $23), and Freemark Abbey (91 points, $24).

Final Notes

As a result of this survey, I am happy to have a number of Chardonnays to recommend to people who have occasion to buy wine at a supermarket. I did not, however, find much influence of the increasing quality level of artisanal California Chardonnays on these more mass market offerings. Sweet and very oak driven styles continue to be dominant, often without the balance that would make such wines at least somewhat palatable. My scores overall, even on fairly high priced wines, were significantly lower than I hoped, with a number of notable exceptions at the 90 to 92 point level.

I look forward to thoughts and comments on this report, and ideas on how future such reports could be made more useful for consumers. My intention is to continue the project, probably moving on next to the second most dominant wine variety found in grocery stores—Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve added a PayPal donation button to the right side of the website in case you are inclined to contribute toward continuing this project. Money raised through such contributions will be used to continue buying and rating wines that are widely available at grocery stores and similar outlets throughout the country.

$6 and Under

  • 2013 ForestVille Chardonnay California [Bronco Wine Co.] $6.00
    Light yellow color; apple, baked apple, pear syrup nose; juicy, pear, apple, spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (blend of Chardonnay, French Colombard, Muscat and “Mixed Varietals”; 12.5% alcohol; 1st bottle had TCA, this was replacement bottle) 85+ points
  • 2014 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay California [Treasury Wine Estates] $6.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, pear nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.7% alcohol) 83 points
  • NV Rex Goliath Chardonnay Giant 47 Pound Rooster California, Central Coast [Constellation Brands] $6.00
    Light yellow color; baked apple, nutmeg nose; simple, baked apple, pear nectar palate with a touch of residual sugar; short medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
  • NV Turning Leaf Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
    Light yellow color; tart apple, apple turnover, vanilla nose; simple, ripe apple, baked apple palate with residual sugar and low acidity; short finish (11.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • NV Sutter Home Winery Chardonnay California [Trinchero Family Estates] $4.00
    Light yellow color; apple, baking spice nose; one-dimensional, apple, baking spice palate with slight balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 82 points
  • NV Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
    Very light yellow color; ripe green apple, lime aid nose; ripe green apple, lime aid palate with residual sugar and slight balancing acidity; short finish (13% alcohol) 80 points
  • NV Flipflop Wines Chardonnay California [The Wine Group]
    Light yellow color; ripe peach, light banana nose; ripe peach, confectioner sugar palate with little balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 79 points
  • NV The Naked Grape Chardonnay California [E&J Gallo] $6.00
    Light straw yellow color; honeysuckle, ripe pear, candy apple nose; juicy, candy apple, pear juice palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol; label says Naked Truth #6) $6.00 79 points
  • NV Quail Oak Vineyards Chardonnay California [Safeway private label] $3.00
    Light yellow color; pear nectar, baked apricot, mango nose; pear nectar, baked apricot palate with no acidity and residual sugar; short-medium finish (12.5% alcohol) 78 points
  • 2012 Spin The Bottle Cellars Chardonnay (Terravant) California $6.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked apple, butter, oak nose; flabby, one-note, baked apple palate with residual sugar and low acidity; short finish (13.8% alcohol) 76 points

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$7 to $9

  • 2013 Ravenswood Chardonnay Vintners Blend California [Constellation Brands] $9.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, pear pastry filling, vanilla nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, pear pastry filling palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay California $9.00
    Light yellow color; pear, apple, oak nose; tart pear, vanilla, apple, oak palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5 alcohol; 9 months in American oak, 50% new) 86 points
  • 2011 The Seeker Chardonnay California [Kobrand] $9.00
    Light yellow color; tart citrus nose; tart citrus palate; medium finish (95% Chardonnay, 5% Gewurztraminer; 13.3% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Gnarly Head Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $7.00
    Light yellow color; vanilla, baked apple, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, simple, baked apple, vanilla, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Coastal Estates California [Treasury Wine Estates] $9.00
    Light yellow color; oak, sauteed pear, butter, baking spice nose; oak, toast, pear, spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier; 13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Dark Horse Wines Chardonnay The Original California [E&J Gallo] $9.00
    Light straw yellow color; applesauce, light vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, rich, baked pear, nutmeg palate with low acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Three Thieves Chardonnay California [Trinchero Family Estates] $9.00
    Light yellow color; apple, pear cream nose; apple, pear cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Fetzer Chardonnay Sundial California [Vina Concha y Toro S.A.] $7.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, pear, baked apple nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (89% Chardonnay, 5% Viognier, 3% Chenin Blanc, 2% Pinot Grigio, 1% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2014 Woodbridge Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $7.00
    Light yellow color; pineapple, apple nose; apple gelee, lemon, oak palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (on the Woodbridge website, the only vintage for which there is tech info is 2011, where the blend was 76% Chardonnay, 18% French Colombard, 3% Viognier and 3% “proprietary blend of aromatic varietals”; the RS that vintage was 0.3%; 13.5% alcohol) 83+ points
  • 2013 A Crisp Cellars Chardonnay (Luna) California $9.00
    Light straw yellow color; mango, tart apple, light reduction nose; apple, pear palate with low acidity; short finish (14.6% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Founders’ Estate California [Treasury Wine Estates] $9.00
    Light yellow color; guava, green melon, lime cream nose; guava, green apple, lime cream palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Blackstone Winery Chardonnay Winemaker’s Select California, Central Coast, Monterey County [Constellation Brands] $9.00
    Light yellow color; mango, butter sauce nose; sweet butter, pineapple syrup palate with lots of residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Smoking Loon Chardonnay Steelbird California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $9.00
    Light yellow color; lemon, light vanilla, pear nose; medium bodied, pear, ripe apple palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2012 Smoking Loon Chardonnay California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $9.00
    Light yellow color; butter, apple nose; apple, butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2014 Guenoc Chardonnay California [Foley Food & Wine Society] $9.00
    Light yellow color; reduction, green apple, lime nose; medium bodied, single note, green apple palate with lowish acidity; short finish (90% Chardonnay, 10% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.5% alcohol) 81 points
  • 2012 Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $9.00
    Light yellow color; baked apple, tart peach nose; insipid, ripe peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 80 points

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$10 to $12

  • 2014 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; vanilla, ripe pear, apple cream, butter nose; rich, creamy textured, ripe pear, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 A by Acacia–Unoaked Chardonnay California [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; appealing, tart apple, pear gelee nose; apple, ripe lemon, grapefruit palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2012 Lucinda & Millie Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino County [V2 Wine Group] $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, baked apple, vanilla nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, baked pear, light vanilla palate; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Magnolia Court Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Southern Wine & Spirits] $10.00
    Light medium yellow color; aromatic, ripe pear, baked apple nose; baked pear, mineral, apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2012 14 Hands Chardonnay – Unoaked Chardonnay Washington [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light yellow color; oak, apple juice, almond, toasted pecan nose; pear, baked apple palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2014 Avalon Chardonnay California [Purple Wine Co.] $11.00
    Light yellow color; apple, tart pear nose; juicy, tart pear, tart apple, spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (13.8% alcohol; a pretty honest $10 Chardonnay) 86 points
  • 2012 Four Vines Chardonnay Naked Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Purple Wine Co.] $11.00
    Light yellow color; pie crust, tart apple nose; juicy, tart apple, green pear palate; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked apple, vanilla, nutmeg nose; baked apple, vanilla, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Grand Estates Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; vanilla, apple pie filling, nutmeg, baking spice nose; vanilla, baked apple, apple pie filling, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Once Upon a Vine Chardonnay The Fairest California, Sonoma County [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; tart apple, tart pear, butter, light toast nose; juicy, apple, tart pear, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Toasted Head Chardonnay Barrel Aged (R.H. Phillips) California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
    Light yellow color; pear, pear cream, vanilla nose; vanilla, pear cream palate; medium finish (14% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay Central Coast California, Central Coast [The Wine Group] $10.00
    Light yellow color; pear, butter nose; pear, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Estancia Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [Constellation Brands] $10.00
    Light yellow color; apple, butter nose; apple, butter palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Clos du Bois Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
    Light yellow color; ripe peach, pear, sweet butter, vanilla nose; sweet butter, pear, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2014 Myka Cellars Chardonnay Mitzi California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains $11.00
    Light yellow color; apple, baked apple, apple butter nose; tart apple, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.3% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Hahn Chardonnay Monterey County California, Central Coast, Monterey County $12.00
    Light straw yellow color; savory, almond, lemon, sesame seed nose; medium bodied, green pear, almond, sesame seed palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2014 Hogue Cellars Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [Constellation Brands] $10.00
    Light yellow color; pear, applesauce nose; pear, applesauce palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 84+ points
  • 2013 Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. Chardonnay Calling All Angels California, Napa Valley [The Wine Group] $10.00
    Light yellow color; baked apple, ripe peach, nutmeg nose; apple, peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2012 Seaglass Chardonnay Unoaked California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Trinchero Family Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; tart baked apple, applesauce nose; simple, one-note, tart baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Collection California, Central Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light yellow color; pineapple, papaya, vanilla nose; pineapple, papaya, mango palate with some acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Bijou California [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light yellow color; vanilla, vanilla cream, creme caramel nose; vanilla, vanilla cream, creme caramel palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Central Coast California, Central Coast [E&J Gallo] $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; mango, papaya, vanilla nose; dull, pear, mango palate with some balancing acid; medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2014 Kenwood Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Pernod Ricard] $11.00
    Light yellow color; pear, apple, vanilla, butterscotch nose; pear, apple, butter palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Parducci Chardonnay Small Lot Blend California, North Coast, Mendocino County $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; tart apple, nectarine nose; juicy, ripe apple, nectarine palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 The Hess Collection Chardonnay Hess Select California, Central Coast, Monterey $11.00
    Light medium yellow color; ripe pear, vanilla, spice nose; pear, apple pie, honey, orange cream palate with low acidity and apparent residual sugar; medium finish (13.3% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2014 De Loach Chardonnay Heritage Reserve California [Boisset Collection] $10.00
    Light yellow color; reduction, mango, lemon cream nose; lemon, reduction, mango palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2012 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Rosso & Bianco California $10.00
    Light yellow color; reduction, ripe lemon, butter nose; near medium bodied, reduction, ripe grapefruit, tart apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 HandCraft Chardonnay California [Delicato Family Vyds] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; ripe apple, apple juice nose; ripe apple, apple juice palate with low acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2014 Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay California California [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light yellow color; pineapple, ripe apple nose; ripe apple, pear, pineapple palate with some balancing acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Private Selection California [Constellation Brands] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, apple cream nose; apple, apple cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay California, North Coast [Vintage Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light yellow color; guava, apple nose; ripe apple, guava, lime cream palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Mark West Chardonnay California California [Constellation Brands] $11.00
    Light yellow color; apple, baked pear, vanilla nose; baked pear, vanilla palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Woodwork Wines Chardonnay Batch No. 12 California, Central Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $11.00
    Light straw yellow color; butter, oak, pie spice, vanilla nose; medium bodied, vanilla, baked pear, pie spice, oak palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 The Other Guys Chardonnay Leese-Fitch California $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, apple nose; baked pear, light reduction, apple palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 82+ points
  • 2012 Folie à Deux Chardonnay Ménage à Trois White California [Trinchero Family Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, baked apple, vanilla, lemon cream nose; butterscotch, vanilla, baked apple palate with virtually no acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2012 Mirassou Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [E&J Gallo] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple butter, baked apple, pie spice nose; blowsy, baked apple, apple butter palate with low acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2014 Firefly Ridge Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Safeway private label] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; candied apple, pear nectar nose; confected, apple gelee, pear nectar palate with low acidity and apparent residual sugar; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 79 points
  • 2014 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Selected Vineyards California [The Wine Group] $10.00
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple juice, applesauce nose; flabby, applesauce, pear juice palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 77 points
  • 2012 The Great American Wine Company by Rosenblum Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Treasury Wine Estates] $10.00
    Light straw yellow color; oak, mango, green papaya, reduction nose; mango, ripe papaya palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 77 points

$13 to $15

  • 2013 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $13.00
    Light yellow color; savory, butter, hazelnut cream, nutmeg nose; tasty, hazelnut cream, tart pear, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89
  • 2013 Foxglove Chardonnay Central Coast (Varner) California, Central Coast $14.00
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe kumquat, fresh lemon nose; rich, medium bodied, lemon, lemon cream, pear cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.7% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Simi Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Constellation Brands] $14.00
    Light yellow color; lifted, tart pear, tart apple, spice, light nutmeg nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, lemon gelee palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2013 Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Chardonnay Light Horse California $13.00
    Light yellow color; lemon gelee, pear gelee nose; light-medium bodied, tart lemon gelee, pear gelee palate; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2012 True Myth Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $14.00
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, baked apple, apple pie filling nose; tart pear, tart apple palate with good acidity; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 87+
  • 2013 Kirkland Signature Chardonnay Signature Series Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Costco private label] $13.00
    Light yellow color; savory, lemon cream, vanilla nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, lemon cream, vanilla palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 St. Francis Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [Kobrand] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; lemon cream, apple pie filling, vanilla nose; flamboyant, creamy textured, lemon gelee, butter poached pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Clos LaChance Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, apple, pear nectar, pie spice nose; pear nectar, apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast $13.00
    Light yellow color; almond, hazelnut, honey butter nose; almond cream, light hazelnut, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2014 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Morning Fog Livermore Valley California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley $13.00
    Light yellow color; pear gelee, vanilla nose; pear gelee, vanilla, pear cream palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Joyce Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $14.00
    Light yellow color; tart apple, baked apple nose; tart apple, baked apple palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino County [Vina Concha y Toro S.A.] $13.00
    Light yellow color; savory, nutmeg, peach cobbler, apricot, baking spice nose; medium bodied, luscious, baked peach, lemon gelee, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay California, North Coast [Treasury Wine Estates] $13.00
    Light yellow color; savory, toasted almond, oak, baking spice nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, apple butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Toad Hollow Chardonnay Francine’s Selection California, North Coast, Mendocino County [V2 Wine Group] $13.00
    Light yellow color; vanilla, poached pear, apple gelee nose; pear, apple gelee, light vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $14.00
    Light yellow color; savory, tart baked apple, butter nose; medium bodied, tart baked apple, lemon cream palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Hahn Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $14.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, ripe pear, floral, honeysuckle, vanilla nose; medium bodied, pear syrup, peach syrup, orange palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2012 William Hill Winery Chardonnay North Coast California, North Coast [E&J Gallo] $14.00
    Light medium yellow color; butterscotch, mature, pastry, sweet butter nose; rich, medium bodied, sweet butter, baked pear palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Diamond Collection Gold Label California, Central Coast, Monterey County $13.00
    Light yellow color; oak, apple, butter nose; rich, butter, oak, pear palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 It’s a HeadSnapper Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [The Wine Group] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; savory, butter, nutmeg, vanilla nose; nutmeg, lemon, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2014 J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, almond nose; apple, almond palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Murphy-Goode Chardonnay California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
    Light yellow color; butter, pear nose; butter, pear palate with medium acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Picket Fence Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Bronco Wine Co.] $13.00
    Light lemon yellow color; odd, reduction, peanut oil nose; near medium bodied, lemon, peanut oil, safflower oil palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2014 Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $14.00
    Light yellow color; lemon, apple, pear nose; tasty, vanilla, lemon, apple, pear palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Pure Love Wines Chardonnay Layer Cake One Hundred Percent Pure California, Central Coast [Pure Love Wines] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, pie spice nose; apple gelee, baked pear, oak palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84+ points
  • 2014 Joel Gott Chardonnay Unoaked California [Trinchero Family Estates] $14.00
    Light yellow color; apple, nutmeg nose; baked pear, baked apple, pie spice palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 84+ points
  • 2012 Chloe Wines Chardonnay Chloe California, Sonoma County [The Wine Group] $13.00
    Light yellow color; guava, reduction, oak, nutmeg nose; near medium bodied, guava, green apple, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2012 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Washington, Columbia Valley [E&J Gallo] $13.00
    Light lemon yellow color; apple pie filling, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon custard nose; odd, apple pie filling, lemon custard palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (89% Chardonnay, 7% Semillon, 3% Chenin Blanc, 1% Other; 13.9% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Avant California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
    Light yellow color; pear, pear cream nose; pear cream, apple palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve California [Jackson Family Wines] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; creme caramel, baked apple, nutmeg, vanilla nose; rich, baked pear, creme caramel, vanilla palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head (Crew) California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; butter sauce, pie spice, apricot nose; medium bodied, sweet butter, apricot palate showing substantial residual sugar; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 McBride Sisters Chardonnay Truvee California, Central Coast $13.00
    Light yellow color; green apple, reduction, lime, green melon, cinnamon nose; ripe green apple, green melon palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Simple Life Winery Chardonnay California [Don Sebastiani & Sons] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, apple cream, lemon chiffon nose; apple cream, ripe pear, lemon cream palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (93% Chardonnay, 7% Viognier; 13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Cameron Hughes Chardonnay CAM Collection California, Central Coast, Monterey County [V2 Wine Group] $14.00
    Light yellow color; reduction, lemon gelee, guava nose; one-dimensional, lemon gelee, guava palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2014 Joseph Carr Chardonnay Josh Cellars California $13.00
    Light yellow color; apple, apple cream nose; apple, apple cream palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Seven Daughters Chardonnay California [Terlato Wines] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; applesauce, ripe apple, pie spice nose; light-medium bodied, applesauce, apple palate with some balancing acidity; tastes watered down though; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Slow Press Wines Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County [The Wine Group] $13.00
    Light yellow color; candied apple, caramel nose; medium bodied, apple, peach, caramel palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2014 Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay Essential California $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, peach, pie crust nose; juicy, baked pear, ripe peach palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82
  • 2013 Curious Beasts Wines Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley [Truett-Hurst, Inc.] $13.00
    Light medium yellow color; oxidized apple, peach nectar nose; sweet, peach syrup, baked apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2013 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Foley Food & Wine Society] $13.00
    Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, caramel, nutmeg nose; creamy textured, butterscotch, caramel, honey butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2013 True Myth Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $14.00
    Light yellow color; apple, reduction, green pea nose; odd, green apple, green pea, reduction palate with some balancing acidity but unattractive flavors, perhaps due to the reduction; short-medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 81 points
  • 2014 Ca’ Momi Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $14.00
    Light yellow color; apple, vanilla, rum nose; odd, ripe apple, pear syrup, vanilla palate with low acidity and substantial residual sugar, tasting more like a confected drink than a natural grape expression; medium finish (13.9% alcohol) 75 points

$16 to $19

  • 2014 Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $19.00
    Light yellow color; savory, lemon, lemon gelee, lemon verbena nose; tasty, juicy, tart lemon, lemon verbena, mineral palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2013 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
    Light lemon yellow color; savory, hazelnut, butter sauce, nutmeg nose; poised, savory, hazelnut, butter sauce, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2013 Black Stallion Estate Winery Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Delicato Family Vyds] $16.00
    Light yellow color; tart apple, green apple, lime cream, green almond nose; tart apple, subtle spice, ripe pear palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2014 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay California, North Coast, Mendocino $16.00
    Light lemon yellow color; vanilla, pear, light pie spice nose; poised, medium bodied, tart pear, lemon cream, vanilla palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2014 Carmel Road Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey [Jackson Family Wines] $16.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, pear, honeysuckle, floral nose; tasty, bright, ripe pear, honeysuckle, pear cream palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2012 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $16.00
    Light lemon yellow color; tart pineapple, lemon, white jasmine nose; tart lemon, white jasmine palate with integrating oak; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Indian Wells Washington, Columbia Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $17.00
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, savory, gunpowder, butter nose; savory, butter, tart lemon, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley $16.00
    Light yellow color; savory, applesauce, tart pear, apple nose; tasty, lemon, tart pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (14% alcohol; 70% stainless steel, 30% French oak for 6-8 months) 88 points
  • 2013 Cherry Pie (Hundred Acre) Chardonnay Cherry Tart California $19.00
    Light straw yellow color; savory, toast, butter sauce, nutmeg, orange nose; medium bodied, butter sauce, tart apple, mango palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol; 40% Monterey Co., 30% Sonoma Co., 21% Napa Co.) 88 points
  • 2013 Taken Wine Co. Chardonnay Complicated California, Sonoma County [Trinchero Family Estates] $17.00
    Light straw yellow color; pear, light vanilla, apple, baked apple nose; juicy, honeysuckle, white jasmine, pear gelee palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 87+ points
  • 2014 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $19.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, butter poached pear nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, baked pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 87+ points
  • 2013 Folie à Deux Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Trinchero Family Estates] $16.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg, vanilla nose; vanilla, baked apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill $16.00
    Light yellow color; apple pie filling, pie spice, nutmeg nose; pear nectar, vanilla, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Byron Chardonnay Nielson by Byron California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
    Light straw yellow color; pear, apple, fig nose; medium bodied, ripe apple, ripe lemon, blond fig palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $17.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, baked apple, pear, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, baked apple, nutmeg, lemon cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Fess Parker Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $16.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, baked apple, nutmeg nose; rich, tasty, baked apple, pear, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Ghost Pines Chardonnay Winemaker’s Blend California [E&J Gallo] $16.00
    Light yellow color; vanilla, apple cream, sweet butter, nutmeg, apple pie filling nose; apple, pear, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 38% Monterey County, 33% Sonoma County, 29% Napa County) 86+ points
  • 2014 Au Contraire Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Palm Bay International] $17.00
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, tart pear, apple, applesauce nose; juicy, pear, apple palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 La Crema Chardonnay Monterey California, Central Coast, Monterey [Jackson Family Wines] $19.00
    Light straw yellow color; lemon cream, vanilla nose; medium bodied, lemon cream, vanilla palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Constellation Brands] $16.00
    Light straw yellow color; oak, butter, nutmeg, pie spice nose; creamy textured, butter, oak, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol; one of the better examples in the buttery style at this price point) 86 points
  • 2013 Trefethen Chardonnay Double T California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll $16.00
    Light yellow color; apple, pie spice, baked apple nose; juicy, medium bodied, apple, pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2012 Valley of the Moon Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [V2 Wine Group] $16.00
    Light yellow color; honey butter, vanilla nose; medium bodied, peach, ripe pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Decoy Sonoma County California, Sonoma County $17.00
    Light yellow color; apple, tart pear, pie spice nose; juicy, ripe apple, pie spice palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Kali Hart Vineyard Chardonnay (Talbott) California, Monterey Co. $17.00
    Light medium yellow color; vanilla, baked pear, pineapple nose; pear, pineapple palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Lincourt Chardonnay Steel California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills [Foley Food & Wine Society] $17.00
    Light yellow color; pear, guava, papaya nose; juicy, tart pear, papaya palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $17.00
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, orange, hazelnut nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, pear, orange, sweet butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2012 Artesa Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $19.00
    Light medium yellow color; mango, papaya, reduction, sweet butter nose; medium bodied, juicy, sweet, ripe pineapple, mango, sweet butter palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Raymond Vineyard & Cellar Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa Valley [Boisset Collection] $19.00
    Light yellow color; oak, lemon custard, condensed milk, apple sauce nose; pear, lemon custard palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2012 Reata Chardonnay (Jamieson Ranch) California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $19.00
    Light medium yellow color; odd, green pepper, reduction, cabbage water nose; less off putting on the palate of tart pear, green apple and vanilla with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2014 Kunde Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Valley California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley $16.00
    Light straw yellow color; butter, lemon cream, apple nose; creamy textured, butter, pear cream palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Wild Horse Chardonnay California, Central Coast [Constellation Brands] $16.00
    Light yellow color; butter, pear, green pea soup, vanilla nose; butter, pear palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2012 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Réserve California [Jackson Family Wines] $17.00
    Light medium golden yellow color; butter, oak, brioche, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, buttery, lemon cream palate with noticeable residual sugar and lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 51% Monterey County, 49% Santa Barbara County) 85+ points
  • 2013 La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County [Jackson Family Wines] $19.00
    Light straw yellow color; vanilla, vanilla custard, creme caramel nose; creamy textured, vanilla, apple cream palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Napa Cellars Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Trinchero Family Estates] $19.00
    Light yellow color; pear, pie crust, nutmeg nose; near medium bodied, pear gelee, almond palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Sofia California, Central Coast, Monterey County $16.00
    Light yellow color; savory, pear, green apple, butter nose; ripe pear, apple palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (12.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Markham Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Terlato Wines] $16.00
    Light medium yellow color; aromatic, savory, butter sauce, lemon butter, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, baked pear, pie spice, nutmeg palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.8% alcohol) 85 points
  • NV Eye Chart Wines Chardonnay California $19.00
    Light medium yellow color; baked apple, candied apple, vanilla, honey butter nose; medium bodied, honey butter, vanilla cream palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 BNA Wine Group Chardonnay Butternut California $16.00
    Medium golden yellow color; oxidative, almond, lemon nose; medium bodied, somewhat oxidized, lemon palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Nine Points Chardonnay (Stags’ Leap) California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $18.50
    Light yellow color; butter sauce, apple gelee nose; medium bodied, apple cream, butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Bennett Valley Cellars Chardonnay BIN 5757 California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley $19.00
    Light yellow color; papaya, guava, pineapple, vanilla nose; juicy, sweet, lemon gelee, papaya, pineapple syrup palate exhibiting residual sugar; medium finish (13% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Treana Chardonnay White (Hope Family) California, Central Coast $19.00
    Light medium yellow color; honey butter, vanilla, nougat nose; medium bodied, honey butter, nougat, pear cream palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Meiomi Chardonnay California [Constellation Brands] $19.00
    Light yellow color; lemon gelee, reduction, apple nose; odd, confected, lemon gelee, reduction, apple palate with very low acidity; short finish (13.8% alcohol) 78 points

20151026_204636
$20 to $24

  • 2013 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County $21.00
    Light lemon yellow color; aromatic, almond, tart pear, apple gelee, pie spice nose; tasty, poised, almond, pear, lemon, mineral palate with good medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $23.00
    Light yellow color; tart pear, lemon gelee, light toast nose; medium bodied, juicy, tart pear, lemon gelee, almond palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2013 Landmark Chardonnay Overlook California, Sonoma County $23.00
    Light yellow color; savory, Meyer lemon, almond, pear, pie spice nose; tasty, Meyer lemon, mineral, tart pear, lime, pie spice palate with crisp medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol; 83% Sonoma Co., 11% Monterey Co., 6% Santa Barbara Co. fruit) 91+ points
  • 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $21.00
    Light yellow color; lemon, pear, almond, hazelnut nose; tasty, lemon, pear, mineral, almond palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2013 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Luminus California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll [Treasury Wine Estates] $23.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, pear cream, lemon cream, honey butter nose; medium bodied, luscious, lemon cream, tart pear, pear cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2012 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $24.00
    Light yellow color; pear, toast, almond nose; tasty, poised, tart pear, mineral, brioche palate with crisp, medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol; no malolactic) 91 points
  • 2012 Gainey Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills $21.00
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, poached pear, apple pie filling, light caramel nose; clean, rich, medium bodied, baked apple, tart pear, apple pie filling palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (60% barrel fermented, 60% malo, 10 months in oak; 13.9% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2013 Hanna Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Terlato Wines] $21.00
    Light yellow color; reduction, savory, hazelnut, butter, nutmeg, orange spice nose; medium bodied, savory, lemon gelee, pear, hazelnut, nutmeg, reduction palate with bright balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2013 Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay California, Sonoma County $23.00
    Light yellow color; vanilla, almond, pear, nutmeg nose; poised, juicy, pear, almond, mineral, nutmeg palate; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2013 Nottingham Cellars Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco $24.00
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, savory, poached pear, Bearnaise sauce, lemon butter nose; tasty, poised, tart sauteed pear, mineral, tart baked apple palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol; good pairing with all kinds of chicken and seafood dishes with light sauces) 90+ points
  • 2011 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Belle Terre Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $24.00
    Light straw yellow color; green apple, toast, herb butter nose; tart pear, light nutmeg, herb butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.4% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2012 Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley $24.00
    Light straw yellow color; pecan pie, baked apple, nutmeg, baked peach nose; medium bodied, peach, tart pear, pecan palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2013 Tolosa Winery Chardonnay Edna Ranch California, Central Coast, Edna Valley $24.00
    Light yellow color; pear, nutmeg nose; tasty, baked pear, spice, tart apple palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2013 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [Foley Food & Wine Society] $20.00
    Light yellow color; ripe lemon, pear, vanilla, nutmeg nose; poised, juicy, tart pear, nutmeg, lemon cream palate; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County California, Sonoma County [Jackson Family Wines] $21.00
    Light yellow color; pear, butter, almond nose; medium bodied, savory, butter, pear, almond cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2012 Saintsbury Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $23.00
    Light straw yellow color; nutmeg, butter, tart apple nose; poised, tart apple cream, lemon, light butter palate with good balancing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2012 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver Unoaked California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands [Wagner Family] $21.00
    Light medium canary yellow color; golden mango, peach nose; juicy, ripe peach, tart pineapple palate; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2013 Luli Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
    Light yellow color; almond, tart pear nose; almond, tart pear palate; medium finish 88 points
  • 2013 MacRostie Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $21.00 [Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners]
    Light straw yellow color; ripe apple, pear, green apple nose; juicy, apple, ripe pear, light green herb, orange palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2013 Newton Chardonnay (Red Label) California, North Coast, Napa County [LVMH] $21.00
    Light medium yellow color; savory, oak, butter sauce, papaya nose; lemon, butter sauce, papaya palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast [Brown-Forman] $24.00
    Light straw yellow color; butterscotch, honey butter, almond cream, Abba Zabba filling nose; medium bodied, baked pear, almond, butter sauce palate with integrating oak and some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2013 Morgan Chardonnay Highland Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $24.00
    Light yellow color; pear syrup, baked pear nose; pear syrup, baked pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 87+ points
  • 2012 Rancho Sisquoc Chardonnay Flood Family Vineyards California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Bronco Wine Co.] $20.00 Light yellow color; graham cracker, lemon pie, vanilla nose; medium bodied, luscious, graham cracker, lemon pie filling, pie crust, vanilla, almond palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 J. Lohr Chardonnay Highland Bench California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
    Light medium yellow color; pear nectar nose; ripe pear, pear nectar palate; medium-plus finish 87 points
  • 2013 J. Wilkes Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley $21.00
    Light yellow color; tart pineapple, lemon gelee nose; medium bodied, lemon gelee, ripe citrus palate with some acidity and RS; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 The Hess Collection Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $21.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, lemon custard, pie spice, orange blossom nose; medium bodied, lemon gelee, pear cream, orange cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Vintage Wine Estates] $23.00
    Light yellow color; savory, hazelnut, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, nutmeg, ripe pear, hazelnut palate with some balancing acidity and discernable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (13.9% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Bernardus Winery Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Monterey County $21.00
    Light medium yellow color; savory, hazelnut, almond, nutmeg, sunflower seed nose; medium bodied, pear syrup palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2014 Acacia Barrel Select California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $22.00
    Light lemon yellow color; almond, papaya, lemon gelee nose; almond, lemon gelee, papaya palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2014 Talbott Chardonnay Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $21.00
    Light medium straw yellow color; apple, butter nose; ripe apple, pear palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 William Hill Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley [E&J Gallo] $21.00
    Light straw yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, vanilla, spice nose; apple, pear, vanilla palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2012 Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Vintage Wine Estates] $24.00
    Light straw yellow color; mango, butter, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, lemon butter, butter cream palate with some balancing acidity and residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Acacia Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Treasury Wine Estates] $20.00
    Light yellow color; apple, pear, vanilla nose; apple, pear, vanilla palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2011 Battaglini Estate Wines Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $21.00
    Light medium straw yellow color; savory, apple, oak nose; light-medium bodied, savory, apple, oak palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 JAQK Cellars Chardonnay High Roller California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $20.00
    Light yellow color; baked apple, pear compote, pineapple syrup nose; sweet, pear gelee, pineapple syrup palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (13.6% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2011 Ancient Oak Cellars Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $21.00
    Light medium yellow color; dried apricot, peach syrup, peach pie filling nose; peach syrup, dried apricot palate with low acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2012 Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $21.00
    Light straw yellow color; apple, pear, honey nose; one-note, pear, apple, honey cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Virginia Marie Lambrix Chardonnay Bewitched California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Truett-Hurst, Inc.] $21.00
    Light yellow color; pear syrup, peach syrup, canned pineapple nose; medium bodied, pear syrup, peach syrup palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2013 Judson Hale Chardonnay California $22.00
    Light medium yellow color; aromatic, honey, beeswax, sweet butter, nougat nose; medium bodied, oxidized, sweet butter, nougat palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol; second bottle, with similar notes) 84 points
  • 2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Carneros California, Carneros, Napa [Treasury Wine Estates] $20.00
    Light medium golden yellow color; savory, oxidative, butter nose; medium bodied, somewhat oxidized, butter palate with low acidity; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2012 Schug Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $20.00
    Light yellow color; apple, lemon drop, reduction nose; citrus, reduction palate with near medium acidity that tastes like an addition; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2014 Wild Horse Chardonnay Unbridled California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County [Constellation Brands] $20.00
    Light lemon yellow color; pineapple, guava, reduction nose; ripe peach, apple, guava palate with low acidity; short finish (14.5% alcohol) 82 points
  • 2014 St. Supéry Chardonnay Oak Free California, Napa Valley [Chanel, Inc.] $21.00
    Light straw yellow color; off putting reduction, gunpowder, guava nose; guava, papaya, reduction palate with low acidity; short finish (13.5% alcohol) 78 points

$26 to $29

  • 2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay California, Napa Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
    Light straw yellow color; appealing, pear brioche, baked apple, vanilla nose; medium bodied, tasty, tart pear, butter sauce, lemon butter palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2011 Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
    Light medium straw yellow color; savory, almond, butter, butter croissant nose; medium bodied, buttery, almond, butter poached pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay DCV10 California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [V2 Wine Group] $26.00
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe lemon, lemon cream, almond nose; rich, creamy textured, lemon cream, almond, vanilla pudding, ripe pear palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 85% malolactic fermentation; label now says DCV Estate Block 10) 89 points
  • 2012 Paul Hobbs Chardonnay CrossBarn Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $26.00
    Light yellow color; apple, baked pear nose; apple, baked pear palate; medium finish (14% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2012 Groth Chardonnay Hillview California, Napa Valley $27.00
    Light yellow color; baked pear, vanilla, oak, almond, nutmeg nose; savory, pear, vanilla, nutmeg palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2013 Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $27.00
    Light yellow color; savory, lemon cream, pear, lemon verbena nose; tasty, savory, lemon cream, mineral, lemon butter palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2013 Trefethen Chardonnay California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll $29.00
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple pie filling, pie spice nose; medium bodied, rich, ripe pear, apple pie filling, pie spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2013 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands [Wagner Family] $29.00
    Light medium yellow color; tart apricot, melted butter nose; rich, medium bodied, ripe pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.3% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia California, Napa Valley [Ste. Michelle Wine Estates] $29.00
    Light yellow color; tart apple, pie spice, pear, nutmeg, butter nose; pear, apple, pie spice palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2011 Gallo Family Vineyards / Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay Signature Series California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $29.00
    Medium yellow color; butter, vanilla, butterscotch nose; medium bodied, butter, poached pear, baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol; 87% Laguna Ranch, 13% Del Rio Vyd) 86 points
  • 2013 J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [E&J Gallo] $26.00
    Light straw yellow color; savory, oak, butter sauce, guava nose; medium bodied, baked pear, oak, sweet butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (14.3% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2013 Frog’s Leap Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $29.00
    Light yellow color; savory, butter sauce, sautéed onion, sauerkraut nose; very tart apple, lemon, sauerkraut palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.4% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2013 Orogeny Chardonnay California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Treasury Wine Estates] $26.00
    Light yellow color; baked pear, baked apple, light cinnamon nose; medium bodied, baked apple, baked pear palate with some residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 84 points
  • 2012 The Calling Chardonnay Dutton Ranch California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $26.00
    Light yellow color; butter, apple, mango, almond nose; mango, tart apple, almond palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.4% alcohol) 84 points

20151031_213245

$30 and Up

  • 2012 Qupé Chardonnay Reserve Bien Nacido Block Eleven California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley $30.00
    Light straw yellow color; aromatic, appealing, pear cream, butter, lemon cream nose; medium bodied, pear, pear cream, lemon cream palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $33.00
    Light yellow color; appealing, almond, lemon, green almond nose; tasty, juicy, focused, tart lemon, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (precision and balance reminiscent of a good Puligny-Montrachet; 13.7% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley $34.00
    Light yellow color; ripe pear, apple nose; rich but balanced, tart lemon, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (14.4% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2012 Fess Parker Chardonnay Ashley’s Vineyard California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills $30.00
    Light medium yellow color; tart pear, light cinnamon, ripe apple nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral, baking spice, apple pie filling palate; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2013 Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley $31.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, pear, white jasmine, orange blossom nose; medium bodied, lemon cream, orange blossom, lemon palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2013 Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $30.00
    Light straw yellow color; appealing, butter, brioche, pear pastry nose; medium bodied, poised, baked pear, almond, pear cream palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2012 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $31.00
    Light lemon yellow color; ripe pear, ginger nose; juicy, ripe pear, ginger, mineral, ripe lemon palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2012 Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate California, Sonoma County, Chalk Hill [Foley Food & Wine Society] $39.00
    Light yellow color; aromatic, savory, tart pear, buttery oak nose; tasty, tart pear, lemon cream, butter sauce palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2012 Migration (Duckhorn Vineyards) Chardonnay Russian River Valley California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley $30.00
    Light lemon yellow color; lemon pie filling, apple pie filling nose; tasty, rich, medium bodied, apple pie filling, lemon cream, light vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay The Cutrer California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley [Brown-Forman] $33.00
    Light straw yellow color; lifted, savory, baked lemon, preserved lemon, melted butter, almond nose; medium bodied, almond, baked lemon, baking spice palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2011 Grgich Hills Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $41.00
    Light straw yellow color; savory, almond, butter sauce, sauteed mushroom, nutmeg nose; savory, tasty, tart pear, almond, butter sauce, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2012 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros [Constellation Brands] $41.00
    Light lemon yellow color; almond, tart pear, light hazelnut nose; rich, tasty, almond, tart pear, light hazelnut palate; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90+ points
  • 2012 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District $30.00
    Light lemon yellow color; lemon gelee, vanilla, ripe pineapple, lemon cream, lemon honey nose; rich, creamy textured, lemon gelee, lemon honey, chamomile palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2011 Stonestreet Chardonnay Broken Road California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley [Jackson Family Wines] $33.00
    Light yellow color; lemon cream, pear cream, ripe apple nose; rich, creamy textured, apple, tart pear, tart pear cream palate with integrating oak; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Patz & Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast $34.00
    Light yellow color; baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, baked apple, pie spice, nutmeg palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Daou Vineyards Chardonnay California, Central Coast, Paso Robles $31.00
    Light medium yellow color; appealing, aromatic, lemon chiffon, lemon cream, honey butter nose; medium bodied, lush, lemon custard, pear nectar, honey butter palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.8% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2014 Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands $34.00
    Light yellow color; nutmeg, oak, mango nose; medium bodied, rich, sweet butter, lemon butter, nutmeg palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88
  • 2011 Bonneau Chardonnay Catherine’s California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $31.00
    Medium yellow color; butter rum, honey butter, almond cream nose; medium bodied, butter, almond cream palate with some balancing acidity and noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.5% alcohol; 10 months in French oak) 87 points
  • 2013 Flora Springs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented California, Napa Valley $31.00
    Light straw yellow color; pineapple, ripe lemon, ripe pear, lime nose; rich, ripe lemon, juicy, pineapple, baking spice palate with some residual sugar; medium finish (14.2% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 Flying Horse Chardonnay California, Napa Valley $34.00
    Light medium yellow color; butterscotch, vanilla, baked pear, nutmeg nose; medium bodied, pear cream, vanilla, butterscotch palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (15.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $36.00
    Light straw yellow color; butter, baked apple, pie spice nose; butter, baked apple, pie spice palate; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points
  • 2013 Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley California, Napa Valley $33.00
    Light yellow color; pear cream, vanilla, creme caramel nose; pear cream, vanilla palate with polish but low acidity; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 86 points
  • 2013 Vine Cliff Winery Chardonnay Carneros California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros $36.00
    Light yellow color; mango, butter sauce nose; medium bodied, mango, apple, pear syrup palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.8% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2012 ZD Wines Chardonnay California $36.00
    Light yellow color; butter, baked apple nose; butter, baked apple palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 85+ points
  • 2014 Sparrow Hawk Chardonnay Reserve California, Napa Valley $33.00
    Light medium yellow color; savory, baked lemon, reduction, oak, mango nose; medium bodied, mango, orange syrup, kumquat palate with noticeable residual sugar; medium finish (14.1% alcohol) 84 points

Grocery Store Chardonnay Alpha Listing

20151031_212746
14 Hands Chardonnay – Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86 points
A by Acacia–Unoaked Chardonnay 2014 $11.00 86+ points
A Crisp Cellars Chardonnay (Luna) 2013 $9.00 83 points
Acacia Barrel Select 2014 $22.00 86+ points
Acacia Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $20.00 85 points
Alexander Valley Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 88 points
Alma Rosa Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2014 $19.00 91+ points
Ancient Oak Cellars Chardonnay 2011 $21.00 84 points
Artesa Chardonnay Carneros 2012 $19.00 86 points
Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2013 $21.00 92 points
Au Contraire Chardonnay 2014 $17.00 86+ points
Avalon Chardonnay 2014 $11.00 86 points
Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay NV $6.00 80 points
Battaglini Estate Wines Chardonnay 2011 $21.00 85 points
Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Carneros 2012 $20.00 83 points
Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay Coastal Estates 2012 $9.00 85 points
Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 $9.00 80 points
Bennett Valley Cellars Chardonnay BIN 5757 2013 $19.00 84 points
Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 86 points
Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay 2014 $14.00 85+ points
Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $6.00 83 points
Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Founders’ Estate 2013 $9.00 83 points
Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Luminus 2013 $23.00 91 points
Bernardus Winery Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 86+ points
Black Stallion Estate Winery Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 90+ points
Blackstone Winery Chardonnay Winemaker’s Select 2013 $9.00 83 points
BNA Wine Group Chardonnay Butternut 2013 $16.00 84 points
Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay California 2013 $9.00 86 points
Bogle Vineyards Chardonnay Essential 2014 $13.00 82 points
Bonneau Chardonnay Catherine’s 2011 $31.00 87 points
Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86 points
Byron Chardonnay Nielson by Byron 2014 $17.00 87 points
Ca’ Momi Chardonnay 2014 $14.00 75 points
Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard 2013 $17.00 91 points
Cameron Hughes Chardonnay CAM Collection 2013 $14.00 84 points
Carmel Road Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 90 points
Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 83 points
Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate 2012 $39.00 91 points
Chalk Hill Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $20.00 89 points
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86 points
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Belle Terre Vineyard 2011 $24.00 90 points
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Bijou 2013 $11.00 84 points
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard 2011 $26.00 89 points
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 85+ points
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 87 points
Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Indian Wells 2013 $17.00 89 points
Cherry Pie (Hundred Acre) Chardonnay Cherry Tart 2013 $19.00 88 points
Chloe Wines Chardonnay Chloe 2012 $13.00 84 points
Clos du Bois Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 85 points
Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $23.00 91+ points
Clos LaChance Chardonnay 2014 $13.00 86+ points
Clos Pegase Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard 2012 $24.00 85+ points
Columbia Crest Chardonnay Grand Estates 2013 $10.00 85+ points
Columbia Winery Chardonnay 2012 $13.00 84 points
Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Selected Vineyards 2014 $10.00 77 points
Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 $10.00 85 points
Curious Beasts Wines Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 82 points
Daou Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $31.00 88 points
Dark Horse Wines Chardonnay The Original Dark Horse 2013 $9.00 85 points
De Loach Chardonnay Heritage Reserve 2014 $10.00 83 points
Dry Creek Vineyard Chardonnay DCV10 2012 $26.00 89 points
Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Decoy Sonoma County 2014 $17.00 86 points
Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013 $33.00 86 points
Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2013 $30.00 91 points
Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Central Coast 2013 $11.00 84 points
Estancia Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 85 points
Eye Chart Wines Chardonnay NV $19.00 85 points
Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2013 $23.00 90+ points
Fess Parker Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 86+ points
Fess Parker Chardonnay Ashley’s Vineyard 2012 $30.00 91+ points
Fetzer Chardonnay Sundial 2013 $7.00 84 points
Firefly Ridge Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 79 points
Flipflop Wines Chardonnay NV $6.00 79 points
Flora Springs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2013 $31.00 87 points
Flying Horse Chardonnay 2012 $34.00 87 points
Folie à Deux Chardonnay Ménage à Trois White 2012 $10.00 82 points
Folie à Deux Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $16.00 87 points
Forest Ville Chardonnay 2013 $6.00 85+ points
Four Vines Chardonnay Naked Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86 points
Foxglove Chardonnay Central Coast (Varner) 2013 $14.00 89 points
Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Diamond Collection Gold Label 2013 $13.00 85+ points
Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Rosso & Bianco 2012 $10.00 83 points
Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay Sofia 2013 $16.00 85 points
Franciscan Estate Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 86 points
Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Napa Valley 2012 $34.00 92 points
Freemark Abbey Chardonnay 2012 $24.00 91 points
Frei Brothers Chardonnay Reserve 2012 $17.00 87 points
Frog’s Leap Chardonnay 2013 $29.00 85 points
Gainey Chardonnay 2012 $21.00 90+ points
Gallo Family Vineyards / Gallo of Sonoma Chardonnay Signature Series 2011 $29.00 86 points
Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection 2012 $31.00 91 points
Ghost Pines Chardonnay Winemaker’s Blend 2013 $16.00 86+ points
Girard Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2012 $23.00 87 points
Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2012 $16.00 89 points
Gnarly Head Chardonnay 2013 $7.00 85 points
Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011 $41.00 90+ points
Groth Chardonnay Hillview 2012 $27.00 88 points
Guenoc Chardonnay 2014 $9.00 81 points
Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Estate Vineyard 2013 $21.00 91 points
Hahn Chardonnay Monterey County 2013 $12.00 85 points
Hahn Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $14.00 86 points
HandCraft Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 83 points
Hanna Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 90+ points
Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella 2013 $31.00 91+ points
Hogue Cellars Chardonnay 2014 $10.00 84+ points
Husch Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $16.00 90+ points
It’s a HeadSnapper Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
J Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Estate 2013 $26.00 85 points
J. Lohr Chardonnay Highland Bench 2012 $21.00 87 points
J. Lohr Chardonnay Riverstone 2014 $13.00 85+ points
J. Wilkes Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 87 points
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Chardonnay Light Horse 2013 $13.00 88 points
JAQK Cellars Chardonnay High Roller 2013 $20.00 84 points
Joel Gott Chardonnay Unoaked 2014 $14.00 84+ points
Jordan Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $33.00 92 points
Joseph Carr Chardonnay Josh Cellars 2014 $13.00 83 points
Joyce Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 86+ points
Judson Hale Chardonnay 2013 $22.00 84 points
Kali Hart Vineyard Chardonnay (Talbott) 2013 $17.00 86 points
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Avant 2013 $13.00 84 points
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Réserve 2012 $17.00 85+ points
Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Vintner’s Reserve 2013 $13.00 84 points
Kenwood Chardonnay Sonoma County 2014 $11.00 84 points
Kirkland Signature Chardonnay Signature Series Russian River Valley 2013 $13.00 87 points
Kunde Estate Chardonnay Sonoma Valley 2014 $16.00 85+ points
La Crema Chardonnay Monterey 2013 $19.00 86+ points
La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $19.00 85+ points
Landmark Chardonnay Overlook 2013 $23.00 91+ points
Lincourt Chardonnay Steel 2013 $17.00 86 points
Lucinda & Millie Chardonnay 2012 $11.00 86+ points
Luli Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 88 points
MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2013 $17.00 86 points
MacRostie Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 88 points
Magnolia Court Chardonnay 2013 $10.00 86 points
Mark West Chardonnay California 2013 $11.00 83 points
Markham Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 85 points
Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013 $21.00 89 points
Matchbook Chardonnay Old Head (Crew) 2013 $13.00 84 points
McBride Sisters Chardonnay Truvee 2013 $13.00 84 points
Meiomi Chardonnay 2013 $19.00 78 points
Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $29.00 87 points
Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver Unoaked 2012 $21.00 88+ points
Meridian Vineyards Chardonnay California 2014 $10.00 83 points
Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont 2012 $21.00 84 points
Migration (Duckhorn Vineyards) Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2012 $30.00 90+ points
Mirassou Vineyards Chardonnay 2012 $10.00 82 points
Morgan Chardonnay Highland Santa Lucia Highlands 2013 $24.00 87+ points
Murphy-Goode Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
Myka Cellars Chardonnay Mitzi 2014 $11.00 85 points
Napa Cellars Chardonnay 2013 $19.00 85+ points
Newton Chardonnay (Red Label) 2013 $21.00 88 points
Nine Points Chardonnay (Stags’ Leap) 2013 $18.50 84 points
Nottingham Cellars Chardonnay 2013 $24.00 90+ points
Once Upon a Vine Chardonnay The Fairest Chardonnay 2013 $11.00 85+ points
Orogeny Chardonnay 2013 $26.00 84 points
Parducci Chardonnay Small Lot Blend 2013 $11.00 84 points
Patz & Hall Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $34.00 89 points
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay CrossBarn Sonoma Coast 2012 $26.00 88 points
Picket Fence Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 85+ points
Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones 2013 $27.00 88 points
Pure Love Wines Chardonnay Layer Cake One Hundred Percent Pure 2013 $13.00 84+ points
Quail Oak Vineyards Chardonnay NV $3.00 78 points
Qupé Chardonnay Reserve Bien Nacido Block Eleven 2012 $30.00 92 points
Rancho Sisquoc Chardonnay Flood Family Vineyards 2012 $20.00 87 points
Ravenswood Chardonnay Vintners Blend 2013 $9.00 87 points
Raymond Vineyard & Cellar Chardonnay Reserve 2013 $19.00 86 points
Reata Chardonnay (Jamieson Ranch) 2012 $19.00 86 points
Rex Goliath Chardonnay Giant 47 Pound Rooster NV $6.00 83 points
Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Private Selection 2014 $10.00 83 points
Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve 2012 $41.00 90+ points
Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill 2013 $16.00 87 points
Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 $13.00 89 points
Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 $36.00 86+ points
Saintsbury Chardonnay 2012 $23.00 89 points
Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. Chardonnay Calling All Angels 2013 $10.00 84 points
Schug Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012 $20.00 82 points
Seaglass Chardonnay Unoaked 2012 $10.00 84 points
Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County 2013 $13.00 82 points
Seven Daughters Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 83 points
Simi Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 88+ points
Simple Life Winery Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 84 points
Slow Press Wines Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 83 points
Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2012 $30.00 90 points
Smoking Loon Chardonnay 2012 $9.00 82 points
Smoking Loon Chardonnay Steelbird 2013 $9.00 83 points
Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012 $24.00 88 points
Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay The Cutrer 2012 $33.00 90+ points
Sparrow Hawk Chardonnay Reserve 2014 $33.00 84 points
Spin The Bottle Cellars Chardonnay (Terravant) 2012 $6.00 76 points
St. Francis Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 87 points
St. Supéry Chardonnay Oak Free 2014 $21.00 78 points
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Chardonnay Karia 2013 $29.00 87 points
Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay 2013 $26.00 90+ points
Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Collection 2013 $10.00 84 points
Stonestreet Chardonnay Broken Road 2011 $33.00 89 points
Sutter Home Winery Chardonnay NV $4.00 82 points
Taken Wine Co. Chardonnay Complicated 2013 $17.00 87+ points
Talbott Chardonnay Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard 2014 $21.00 86 points
Talbott Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 $34.00 88 points
Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Arroyo Grande Valley 2012 $24.00 90 points
The Calling Chardonnay Dutton Ranch 2012 $26.00 84 points
The Great American Wine Company by Rosenblum Chardonnay 2012 $10.00 77 points
The Hess Collection Chardonnay 2013 $21.00 87 points
The Hess Collection Chardonnay Hess Select 2013 $11.00 84 points
The Naked Grape (US) Chardonnay NV $6.00 79 points
The Other Guys Chardonnay Leese-Fitch 2013 $10.00 82+ points
The Seeker Chardonnay 2011 $9.00 86 points
Three Thieves Chardonnay 2013 $9.00 85 points
Toad Hollow Chardonnay Francine’s Selection 2013 $13.00 86 points
Toasted Head Chardonnay Barrel Aged (R.H. Phillips) 2013 $11.00 85+ points
Tolosa Winery Chardonnay Edna Ranch 2013 $24.00 90 points
Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay 2013 $13.00 86+ points
Treana Chardonnay White (Hope Family) 2013 $19.00 84 points
Trefethen Chardonnay 2013 $29.00 88 points
Trefethen Chardonnay Double T 2013 $16.00 86 points
True Myth Chardonnay 2013 $14.00 81 points
True Myth Chardonnay Paragon Vineyard 2012 $14.00 87+ points
Turning Leaf Chardonnay NV $6.00 82 points
Valley of the Moon Chardonnay 2012 $16.00 86 points
Vine Cliff Winery Chardonnay Carneros 2013 $36.00 85+ points
Virginia Marie Lambrix Chardonnay Bewitched 2013 $21.00 84 points
Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Morning Fog Livermore Valley 2014 $13.00 86+ points
Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Riva Ranch 2014 $19.00 87+ points
Wild Horse Chardonnay 2013 $16.00 85+ points
Wild Horse Chardonnay Unbridled 2014 $20.00 82 points
William Hill Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013 $21.00 85+ points
William Hill Winery Chardonnay North Coast 2012 $14.00 86 points
Woodbridge Chardonnay 2014 $7.00 83+ points
Woodwork Wines Chardonnay Batch No. 12 2013 $11.00 83 points
ZD Wines Chardonnay 2012 $36.00 85+ points

Posted in California Wine, Chardonnay, Legal Issues, Observations, Wine Values | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Grocery Store Chardonnay Project

The Personal Pursuit of Balance

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This blog has been on a summer hiatus. After four years of devoting the bulk of my free time to this effort, I decided it was time to take stock of how much effort it requires, how little I am receiving monetarily from my writing and what else I could be profitably doing with that time.

I was also realizing I’m significantly heavier than I was when I started the blog, in much worse shape physically, and that I’d been spending precious little time in recent months with friends, or potential new friends, because I was so focused on getting to tastings, wine-related travel and meeting deadlines.

It’s also been clear to me for some time that I’m not really a blogger at heart. I don’t live to opine on the same things others in the wine blogging community are writing about. I like to write about things others aren’t exploring. I also like to take the time to be thoroughly conversant with my subject and get all my facts right.

This site has evolved in the four year since it started into more of a collection of long, reference quality pieces about producers, regions or varieties. Those pieces on a weekly basis have run from 5-12,000 words, are thoroughly researched and, usually, supported by extensive tasting notes. There’s no other wine blog that has had that kind of content, on a regular basis. I’ve started to see there’s a very good reason for that.

I’ve also been doing a condensed version of my weekly pieces here—less than 1,000 words—for the Huffington Post. That seemed like a great opportunity to reach a more general audience when it was first offered, and I am proud of the pieces I did for HuffPo.

HuffPo pays virtually none of their bloggers, me included, and after briefly highlighting wine related columns in their own Wine section, and promoting many of the pieces I wrote in their daily emails to subscribers, columns like mine eventually got relegated to the Taste section, where the main emphasis is on food, dieting and recipes. So my pieces have received significantly less traffic there than they did in the first year and a half or so on the site. And yet they require a lot of effort to condense, punch up for a general audience and completely reformat for HuffPo. I expect to still do some on occasion when I think it’s a particularly newsworthy topic for HuffPo, but not with my prior frequency.

Aside from the writing, tasting and research required as background for the writing, there’s been all the time required to set up and maintain a blog.

Initially I had to learn WordPress to get the site going. WordPress and its thousands of plug ins keep changing and expanding—which is a good thing, but also requires one to keep up.

When I was disappointed by my rankings on search engines after the first several months of writing for this site, I also had to learn about search engine optimization, which ultimately required weeks of re-doing my site, and its “metatags.”

Pictures are also vital to a successful blog, so I have spent a lot of time editing and uploading photos over the past four years too. Unfortunately, the site that had hosted my thousands of pictures for 10 years decided to go out of that business, so I lost the hundreds of photo links on my site overnight and had to spend weeks of time I could ill afford uploading my photos to a new site and rebuilding my photo links on Flickr, which I hope will be around for awhile.

In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed an unexpected opportunity that came to me as a result of my writing here: being invited on media press trips to wine regions in various parts of the world.

The invites started to come pretty regularly after pieces I did on trips to places like Rioja and Uruguay, and I had begun to set aside all my vacation time from work for those trips—trying to do one of these trips nearly every other month.

Two particularly arduous trips this year, however, made me rethink the wisdom of taking advantage of those opportunities.

RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors

RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors


The organizers typically overschedule us media types, and on my last couple trips, not only were we going at a breakneck pace, from early in the morning to very late at night, but also nearly half the time was spent on activities the organizers insisted we attend, even over protests, that were not something of interest to me or my readers. Traveling for an entire day each way, as was required to get to Israel or Cahors, in Southwest France, is also pretty arduous in itself. Between that and the non-stop pace when one gets there, I was feeling completely exhausted when I got back (after taking a week of “vacation” time).

Although I have particularly enjoyed and learned a lot on well organized trips to places like Rioja and Champagne, in the future I will mainly organize my own trips focused on the producers and topics that most interest me. I’m still open to a particularly interesting wine press trip, where I’m clear on the itinerary in advance (and said yes last week to an October trip to Tuscany that promises to be very well organized by the Chianti Consorzio), but will otherwise be turning down these opportunities in the future.

So what else have I learned in my several weeks off from the weekly grind of banging out pieces for this blog and HuffPo?

I am thrilled to have started to get in shape again. I’ve lost over 25 pounds so far, and am now working with a professional bodybuilder as my personal trainer to help me take off another 20 or so and to take advantage of all the new science of bodybuilding that seems to have developed since the last time I had a trainer.

working out, photo by James Hurst

working out, photo by James Hurst


I am going to fewer tastings, and being much more selective and strategic about what I attend. I continue to receive a lot of samples for tasting, many of which are quite excellent, and I’m trying to keep up with that flow and my reviews on CellarTracker without it negatively impacting my weight and health.

I’ve also begun to experiment with formats for reaching other and younger audiences with messages about wines of note. That means I’m now on Instagram and Tumblr, learning how to best take advantage of those apps. And I’m still trying to keep up a presence on Facebook and Twitter, which have helped drive traffic to my site and other writing efforts in the past.

Ironically, in this hiatus period, I’ve been interviewed/profiled by a couple of online wine websites. The first to appear was my responses to Jameson Fink’s very thoughtful questions for Grape Collective, where I also did a Top 10 list of wine and food destinations in the greater San Francisco Bay area. The second was Snooth.com, for which I wrote on assignment on a paid basis for about a year and a half, before they lost their budget for those assignments.

And I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family members, as well as making at least a couple nights a week “date night.” I’m thoroughly enjoying the time being social again.

So what’s ahead for me as a wine writer and this site, now that I’ve taken some time to think about it and put some balance back in my life?

I don’t plan to try to keep up with a weekly grind of pieces of the length and thoroughness that I was doing. It’s simply not sustainable, not if I want to continue to lead a balanced life, and I’m not sure there’s that much of an audience for them anyway.

Instead, I will be revamping this site from a blog into a wine reference website, with sections that highlight quick recommendations for some amazing, characterful and reasonably priced wines. That revamping will take several months to finish, including making my full database of tasting notes finally available on the site. I’m looking forward to the changes and creative process though.

I will also continue to work on longer pieces, but will do so with an eye to publishing them as eBooks on wine regions. I’ve got close to enough material on the wonderful Santa Barbara County wine region to make that my first eBook, to test out the format. I would probably follow that with an eBook on the terrific but still relatively low profile California wine region I happen to live in: the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

RJ getting a pump on at Gold's Gym, photo by James Hurst

RJ at Gold’s Gym in Santa Clara, photo by James Hurst

Now that I’m feeling much healthier again, I also want to explore wine as a part of a fit lifestyle—how to get the health benefits of wine without the negative consequences of overindulgence. And I will pitch stories to print and online publications on some of the regions and producers I’ve become expert on—something I’ve had little time to properly do while I was churning out my lengthy “blog” pieces.

I continue to be enthused about wine as a topic, and as one of the major delights of life. I also remain fascinated by the stories of artisanal winemakers and of wine regions and traditional types of wine. And I want to do a better job than I’ve done to date of highlighting excellent, reasonably priced wines that display exceptional character. By writing at such length here, I think I’ve buried the lead on occasion about some of those amazing wines. It’s time to shorten my coverage and punch it up, so those wines can hopefully benefit from greater attention.

I am thankful to my readers, wine writing colleagues, and the many whose work in wine continues to inspire me. Now that I’m feeling more fit, more balanced and clearer about how I can help get out the word about worthy wines, I look forward to doing a better job of that in the coming months.

Posted in Observations | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

The Singular Greatness of Champagne Salon

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Champagne is the hardest wine to make. To produce truly great Champagne requires top vineyard sources and the kind of ideal vintage conditions that used to occur only two or three times per decade. Of course you also need expertise and specialized equipment. And after you’ve made the wine, you must wait several years for it to age on the spent yeast cells from the secondary fermentation in the bottle before it’s ready to disgorge.

Wouldn’t it be totally outlandish, then, if someone decided to create such a truly great wine for only their own personal consumption? One would, of course, have to have both exceeding wealth and the connections necessary to access vineyard sources that are virtually unavailable. Even then, you would also have to possess tremendous patience.

Spending all that money and time to create the greatest anything in the world exclusively for one’s private enjoyment is virtually impossible to imagine. While it might serve as an unlikely premise for an elegant novel about the world’s most single minded epicure, it would hardly be believable as a true story.

Strangely enough, though, a man with such resources and widely acknowledged taste did pursue such a quest in the early years of the 20th century. He ultimately succeeded in producing—initially for his own enjoyment, then as a gift for friends with similarly refined tastes–what eventually became acknowledged as possibly the single greatest Champagne of its time.

Perhaps even more bizarrely, though, given modern demands of commerce and expectations for swift returns on capital, this rarefied bubbly continues to be made–in tiny amounts, in only excellent years–more than 100 years after this unlikely personal project began. What’s more, this unusual wine is still sourced from the identical vineyard sources originally selected by the legendary connoisseur who created it.

I’m talking about Champagne Salon, which began as the private and obsessive project of one Eugène-Aimé Salon.

Monsieur Salon was born in 1867 in the Champagne region village of Pocancy. As a boy, he assisted his brother-in-law, Marcel Guillaume, who was chef de caves for a small Champagne house that produced a single vineyard Champagne called Clos Tarin.

Salon went on to make his fortune in the Parisian fur trade at a firm called Chapel, where he started out as a messenger boy but eventually became its very successful head. He also had a political career.

In 1905, Salon acquired a one-hectare plot in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger—the great grand cru village in the Côtes des Blancs region where the best Chardonnay for Champagne is thought to be grown. His plan to make the greatest Champagne was to use only Chardonnay, only from this great grand cru village, and to produce the wine only in ideal vintages.


vineyards in the Côtes des Blancs region near Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

Up to that point, Champagnes were typically a blend of Chardonnay with Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay was thought to contribute acidity, minerality and elegance, but producers deemed Chardonnay too light on its own and felt Pinot was needed to round out the wine and enable them to produce the fruitier style of Champagne that was most popular through the first half of the last century. What is now called “Blanc de Blancs,” a white sparkling wine made exclusively from Chardonnay, was unheard of until Salon began to produce his ideal Champagne.

The first vintage Salon created was a 1905. This was followed by a 1911. The latter, disgorged after lengthy aging on its lees, became so popular with Salon’s friends that they encouraged him to produce it commercially.

The first commercial release was the 1921. The fruit came from Salon’s one-hectare plot and from 20 other smaller parcels in le Mesnil located above the church, where the ideal balance of ripeness and acidity was most likely to be achieved. One of those plots was Clos Tarin, sold by the Tarin family to Krug in the 1970s, now the source for Krug’s single vineyard Clos du Mesnil bottling. So the vineyard sources for Salon to this day remain the plot Salon purchased in 1905, known as Le Jardin de Salon (Salon’s “garden”), and 19 of the remaining 20 le Mesnil plots Salon originally selected.

Eugène-Aimé presided over the House of Salon until his death in 1943. He lived to see the 1928 vintage released to wide acclaim. He arranged for Salon to become the house Champagne of Maxim’s of Paris, the celebrated restaurant of its time, which was the only customer of Salon until 1957.

Today, Champagne Salon is owned by the Laurent Perrier Group, the holding company of the Nonancourt family, which also owns Delamotte and De Castellane. Only about 60,000 bottles of Salon are produced in vintages deemed worthy, of which 2008 was the last of the past several years. In other vintages, Delamotte gets right of first refusal on wines made from Salon’s vineyard sources.

Salon is currently made by Laurent-Perrier cellar master Michel Faurconnet. The head of both Champagne Salon and Delamotte for the past 17 years has been Didier Depond.

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Antonio Galloni and Didier Depond at Pebble Beach Food & Wine seminar

I was fortunate to attend the seminar at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine featuring a vertical of Salon at which Monsieur Depond presided. The seminar included the U.S. debut of Salon’s latest release, the 2002. Both it and the 1983 Salon poured at the seminar from magnum are among the greatest Champagnes I have ever tasted.

Depond explained that the decision whether wines from a particular year justify the production of a Salon vintage are made after tastings conducted the following February through April. He planned to decide whether there would be a 2013 vintage when he returned to France later in April. What they will be looking for—Salon’s guiding principles—are “freshness, cleanness, elegance and precision.”

The wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks, with the temperature kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure freshness and the development of very fine, tiny bubbles—the “prix de mousse.” Prior to the mid-1990s, neutral oak demi muids were used, but Depond indicated he was not a fan of oak for fine Champagne. Malolactic fermentation is also typically avoided.

The wines are kept on their lees for a minimum of 10 years. The 2002 was only disgorged in the Fall of 2013, in preparation for its Spring 2014 release. Depond also revealed that they disgorge in batches every six months for a two to three year period, holding back 10 to 15,000 bottles from the initial release.

The dosage—sugar addition—for Salon is typically quite low, around extra brut level: from five to seven grams. For London’s Sketch Restaurant, Salon bottled a special zero dosage version of the 2002, being offered by the glass for a limited period starting this month in special Salon-branded Zalto flutes alongside the 5.5 grams dosage regular bottling.

The 2002 is only the 38th vintage Salon has released since the house’s 1921 founding. The average price per bottle in the U.S. is $403—a staggering amount even for fine Champagne, but a relative bargain, I suppose, if you consider that top Bordeaux and Burgundies, made every year and not just in select vintages like Salon, now fetch upwards of $1,000 a bottle on release.

Typically only a small percentage of Salon’s production is released in magnum. We were privileged to sample the 1999, 1995 and 1983 from this format at the seminar. The 2008 will only be released in magnum—the ideal format as far as most Champagne aficionados are concerned.

For my tasting notes on the six vintages of Salon we sampled, see below. We also tasted three Champagnes from sister house Delamotte at the seminar, including the extraordinarily youthful 1970 from magnum.

While the vintage expressions of each of the Salon bottlings was different, all six are elegant, exhibiting precision, vibrant acidity and lengthy finishes. The 2002 and 1983 displayed the greatest complexity of all. I am quite confident Eugène-Aimé would be very proud of these bottlings. I also suspect, however, that even he would be amazed that, more than 70 years after his passing, those responsible for guiding the house he founded continue to adhere so closely to his original, obsessive criteria.

Tasting Notes from April 13, 2014, Pebble Beach Food & Wine Seminar

Salon vertical

2002 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; light lemon yellow color; very appealing, almond, autolytic, almond cream, light ginger, tart pear nose; rich, tasty, delicious, poised, pear cream, light ginger, tart pear, tart lemon very tart lemon drop, mineral, saline palate; long finish (one of the greatest Champagnes ever) 99 points

1999 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
From magnum – light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, dried mushroom, hazelnut, ginger nose; delicious, rich but focused, tart lemon, lemon curd, mineral, lemon drop palate with medium-plus acidity; long finish 95 points

1997 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
Light medium lemon yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, savory, autolytic, hazelnut, sauteed mushroom nose; rich, gorgeous, creamy textured, complex, autolytic, lemon peel, ginger, mineral, almond palate; long finish (disgorged in 2009) 98 points

1995 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
From magnum – light lemon yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, mature, lifted, hazelnut, dried shitake mushroom, porcini mushroom, butter nose; rich, poised, autolytic, tart lemon, dried mushroom, porcini, mineral palate; long finish (disgorged in 2007) 97 points

1988 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
Light medium golden yellow color with few, steady, tiny bubbles; mature, autolytic, oxidative, sauteed mushroom nose; rich, mature, creamy textured, tasty, savory, coriander, preserved lemon palate; long finish 96 points

1983 Salon Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
From magnum – light medium golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, savory, coriander, saffron, autolytic, almond sauteed mushroom nose; delicious, ethereal, weightless, lemon curd, mineral, light ginger, melted butter palate with medium acidity; very long finish 99 points

NV Delamotte Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Côte des Blancs
Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; tart lemon, light ginger, lightly yeasty nose; tasty, tart lemon, lemon drop, lemon curd, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (based on 2008 vintage) 93 points

2004 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
Light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, ginger, lemon zest, lemon cream, autolytic nose; delicious, complex, tart lemon, mineral, lemon zest palate with medium acidity; long finish 94 points

1970 Delamotte Champagne Blanc de Blancs Millésimé – France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger
From magnum – medium golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; mature, savory, nut butter, dried mushroom, honey butter nose; rich, mature, tasty, lemon peel, preserved lemon, mineral, coriander, kumquat, tart kumquat marmalade palate; long finish (no dosage; disgorged June 2012) 95+ points

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Pebble Beach: Nation’s Premier Food & Wine Event When it Comes to Wine

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Opening Night Reception at Pebble Beach Food & Wine (all photos courtesy PBFW)

The country’s greatest annual food and wine event with an emphasis on wine—featuring some of the world’s finest and most exclusive wines–ended this past Sunday in Pebble Beach, California.

This was the seventh edition of Pebble Beach Food & Wine (PBFW) based at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, but utilizing additional locations throughout the area.

When this annual event began in 2008, it followed in many ways in the footsteps of the legendary Masters of Food & Wine extravaganza that was likewise very much focused on the world’s most elite wines. That event had taken place in nearby Big Sur for two decades until 2007.

As far as other food events featuring the world’s top chefs, PBFW probably runs second only to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. That event, in late June, has been running for over 30 years. Its wine seminars, however, led mostly by celebrity somms, are easily outshown by those of PBFW.

The event is well supported by local residents, but I met many attendees who had flown in from the East Coast and elsewhere. Conrad Kenley is a longtime food and wine event veteran and prominent wine collector based in Washington, D.C. He told me he previously attended the Masters of Food & Wine and now regularly attends PBFW because of the wine seminars and presence of representatives from some of the world’s great estates. He credits the latter with a lot of what he’s learned about wine.

This year’s high end wine seminars included a vertical tasting back to 1990 of arguably the greatest, and certainly most innovative, of the Bordeaux First Growths: Château Latour, with Latour President Frédéric Engerer on hand.

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Château Latour’s Frédéric Engerer

Spain’s most famous wine was featured in a seminar on the wines of Vega Sicilia Unico with samples going back to 1983. Napa’s storied Mayacamas—which began in 1889 on Mt. Veeder–was the subject of another tasting seminar, with a panel that included internationally renowned wine critic Antonio Galloni and winemaker Andy Erickson. That tasting included wines representing five decades of Mayacamas.

Galloni himself was featured at four different wine seminars, including one devoted to top Barolos from the excellent 2008 vintage where some of the bottles tasted were from Galloni’s own cellar. Other wine experts and leading sommeliers on hand for wine seminars included renowned somm turned winemaker Raj Parr, wine book author Jordan McKay, Food & Wine’s executive wine editor Ray Isle, Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Somm film stars Ian Cauble, Dlynn Proctor, Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback.

For me, the single most memorable wine seminar this year was a vertical tasting of one of Champagne’s rarest and most sought after top cuvees, Salon. Champagne Salon head Didier Depond was on hand for this very unusual retrospective, which included magnums of this fabulous Champagne going back to 1983 and the first public showing of the soon-to-be-released and highly anticipated 2002 vintage.


Antonio Galloni and Didier Depond at Champagne Salon seminar

For a little perspective on the level of wines poured, I taste over 7,000 wines per year. Usually only one or two of those per month merit a rating of 96/97 points. At this event alone, I got to taste 13 wines I rated 96 points or higher–i.e., for me, essentially a year’s worth of very top wines–including two I rated 99 points (both of them Salon Champagnes).

Like other major food and wine events across the country, PBFW also includes grand tastings featuring hundreds of wines. PBFW actually hosts three such tastings that go for three hours each: a welcome event Thursday evening, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon grand tastings. The latter two took place in the 66,000 square foot Lexus Grand Tasting tent erected on the grounds of the Equestrian Center.

Big commercial brands are among the wines featured at these large scale tastings, but there were also many high quality, smaller production wineries represented. This year those included Archery Summit, Arietta, Blackbird Vineyards, Carlisle, Donelan, DuMol, Hestan, Jonata, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Pisoni, Ridge and Sandhi. I also enjoyed a very interesting lineup of Aussie wines thoughtfully selected by Wine Australia.

For these grand tastings, top chefs from restaurants around the country create specialty dishes for attendees to nosh on between sips of wine, cocktails or spirits.

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Guy Fieri cooking at Saturday Lexus Grand Tasting

Among the dozens of chefs creating dishes this year, many of whom also offered cooking demonstrations during the event, were the following San Francisco Bay area luminaries: SPQR’s Matthew Accarrino, Plumed Horse’s Peter Armellino, Tracy Des Jardins, Hubert Keller and Charles Phan. They were joined by other prominent national chefs like José Garces, Masaharu Morimoto and Nancy Silverton, as well as by TV celebs Guy Fieri, Tyler Florence and Andrew Zimmern.

The special lunches and dinners at this year’s PBFW included one in memory of Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter. Restaurant 1833, where I enjoyed a delicious meal on the Friday evening of the event, hosted a “4 Martini Lunch” featuring some of their signature cocktails alongside those of Las Vegas’s new club at The Cosmopolitan, Rose. Rabit. Lie. Stars of the Los Angeles food scene were featured at another dinner that included Ori Menashe of Bestia, Animal’s Jon Shook and Michael Voltaggio of ink.

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setting for Grand Finale Dinner

I attended the Grand Finale Dinner, which was held in the relatively intimate dining room of Pebble Beach’s The Beach & Tennis Club. The glassed walls there afford diners a glittering view of Carmel Bay. Chefs Masaharu Morimoto, Dean Fearing, José Garces, Ken Frank and Johnny Iuzzini each prepared a dish for this dinner, which included wines from Champagne Louis Roederer, Rochioli, Burgundy’s Domaine de Bellene and Napa’s Brand.

The event’s co-founders are Robert Weakley and David Alan Bernahl, II, and it is currently owned and run by Coastal Luxury Management. Major sponsors include Food & Wine Magazine and Lexus. Although passes for the entire weekend run about $5,000, tickets to individual events are priced as low as $100. PBFW has also raised over 1.5 million dollars for local charities since its inception.

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Profile of Antonio Galloni & VinousMedia.com

Antonio Galloni May 2011

Below is the profile of Antonio Galloni I wrote for epicure, the magazine/program of Pebble Beach Food & Wine, whose 2014 extravaganza (PBFW2014) ended today. Antonio led four seminar panels for the event, and I can confirm he did a terrific job as I attended three of them. I particularly appreciated the wealth of background he brought to the 2008 Barolo seminar, where some of the fabulous wines on hand were from his own cellar.

Pebble Beach Food & Wine is fortunate to have Antonio Galloni on hand for four of its wine events this year. Antonio has ascended to prominence as an internationally renowned wine critic faster than anyone since the meteoric rise of his former employer, Robert Parker, Jr., in the mid-1980s.

Some might say part of Antonio’s success was a matter of luck. Antonio launched the first English language publication on Piedmont wines at a time—2004—when there was something of a vacuum in English language coverage of this important region. Subscriptions grew faster than Antonio ever imagined. And he was fortunate to be introduced to Robert Parker through a professor at his business school.

Antonio was well poised for success, however, having grown up in his family’s wine business and being able to speak four languages, including his native Spanish, Italian and French. In my view, however, the real key to Antonio’s growing influence in the world of fine wine, besides his keen intelligence, is his tremendous work ethic. When asked about the latter, he attributes it to the example of his dad.

Antonio was born in Caracas, Venezuela, to an American citizen mother and Italian-born father. Antonio’s dad built up his own wholesale and import/export fish and seafood business, serving Latin America generally. By the time Antonio was 11, business conditions in Venezuela had become less favorable so his parents moved to Sarasota, Florida, where they had close friends.

Antonio’s parents opened a food and wine store there specializing in Italian wine and Bordeaux futures. Antonio worked at the store evenings and weekends during high school. He continued to work there on breaks after he went away to study music in Boston at the Berklee School.

Antonio became fascinated by wine as a result of this exposure. His mother’s father was a fine wine aficionado who introduced him to the great wines of Burgundy. For Antonio’s dad, though, the world’s greatest wines were Barolo and Champagne.

After graduating Berklee in 1992, Antonio played gigs with his rock band and waited tables. That’s when he became acquainted with the hot new California wineries that began to receive a lot of attention in the mid-1990s.

In 1997, his then girlfriend convinced him to get a “more serious job.” He applied for an entry level position with Putnam Investments, and moved quickly from there into the firm’s sales and marketing training program. From 2000 to 2003, he was posted to Putnam’s office in Milan, Italy.

In this position, Antonio wined and dined clients at some of Italy’s great restaurants. He spent many of his weekends visiting winemakers.

Ultimately, he decided it was time to get a formal business education. When he was accepted at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, it seemed only natural to return to Boston to reconnect with his network there.

While at Sloan Antonio started writing about wine for himself. Eventually he started sharing pieces with friends, who encouraged him to continue and to think about making his passion for wine into a business.

At that time, the only person writing regularly about Italian wines in English was James Suckling. Antonio thought there was room for another voice reporting on this important area, so by the end of 2004, he started an online publication called The Piedmont Report.

Much to Antonio’s surprise, within several short weeks he had picked up subscribers in over a dozen countries, and producers and retailers were starting to quote his ratings and tasting notes. Antonio’s Italian wife, Marzia Brumat Galloni, who had been born into one of Friuli’s top winemaking families, served as the publication’s editor.

A Sloan professor whose class Antonio audited referred him to a Sloan alum who was running Parker’s website. This introduction led to Antonio meeting Parker, who invited him to write for Parker’s publication, The Wine Advocate. Upon his graduation from business school in 2005, however, Antonio decided instead to take a job with Deutsche Bank in New York City.

After the birth of Antonio’s first child in 2006, he re-evaluated the demands of having a full-time job and running a newsletter business. He therefore accepted Parker’s offer and started reviewing Italian wines for Parker as a consultant beginning in September 2006.

In 2008, Antonio’s portfolio for TWA expanded to include Champagne. In early 2011, Parker stepped down from writing about California wine and turned that prestigious assignment over to Antonio, along with coverage of Burgundy. Antonio by then had left his bank job to write about wine full time.

Many presumed Parker planned to eventually put Antonio in charge of TWA. It was a major surprise, then, when Parker announced the publication’s sale to Singapore investors toward the end of 2012. Antonio subsequently announced he was leaving TWA and starting his own Internet publication.

Launched in May 2013, VinousMedia.com contains everything Antonio has published since beginning The Piedmont Report, including his TWA reviews in which Antonio had wisely retained copyright. It is also beautifully designed and a tremendous resource for those of us interested in the wines of Italy, Champagne, Burgundy and California.

Antonio and his team have built a platform aimed at making the experience of fine wine and food more immediate and accessible through updates a few times a week. The site employs a variety of tools, including video and interactive vineyard maps. Antonio writes in a welcoming, conversational style that readily conveys his enthusiasm for particular wines and fine wine in general. It is also the first major wine publication to be fully optimized for smart phones.

With his reputation as a wine writer and critic already firmly established, Antonio has set his sights on nothing less than raising the bar on wine media. Given the results so far, and knowing how hard Antonio works, following his father’s example, I have no doubt that Antonio will be a leading voice in the world of wine for decades to come.

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Antonio moderating 2014 Pebble Beach seminar on Salon Champagne, with Salon/Delamotte head Didier Depond

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Santa Barbara’s Happy Place for Bordeaux Varieties

view of Happy Canyon from northernmost vineyard at Star Lane

view of Happy Canyon from northernmost vineyard at Star Lane


Santa Barbara area grape growers nearly gave up on Bordeaux varieties planted here in the 1970s after they failed to ripen sufficiently to eliminate green flavors more vintages than not. There are exceptions, of course, and Jonata in Ballard Canyon proved there are warmer areas where Bordeaux varieties can do very well.

Santa Barbara’s hottest growing region, on the far eastern edge of Santa Ynez Valley, has also shown that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, can produce superlative results.

Some Cabernets and Bordeaux blends I’ve rated highly in the past year–93 points and higher–hail from this region. This includes Goodland Wines’ 2011 Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Red, and Star Lane’s 2007 Astral and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. In the works is the new Crown Point flagship wine, based on the 2013 vintage, being made by former Harlan assistant winemaker Adam Henkel. It is rumored to have a planned sales price in the $200 range. Our next stop then on our in-depth tour of Santa Barbara’s sub-AVAs is Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

Matt Dees and Ruben Solorzano of Goodland Wines

Matt Dees and Ruben Solorzano of Goodland Wines


This appellation sped along a fast track, going from vineyards first being planted in 1996 to approval by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), effective November 9, 2009. How did a fairly tiny area—with only about 500 total planted acres—accomplish this in barely 13 years?

It helps there are some very deep pockets amongst winery owners here. The group also enlisted the aid of Sta. Rita Hills’s successful TTB petition scribe—Wes Hagen. Foremost in its favor is the fact the area does have a real variety focus, and climate and soils that are readily distinguishable from those of their neighbors outside the appellation.

Bordeaux varieties planted here include Sauvignon Blanc, which has shown very good results. My favorites to date have been the 2012 Grassini Family (92+ points) and the 2012 Star Lane (91+ points). In addition, there are some acres of Rhone varieties here, primarily Syrah, but also Viognier, Grenache and Mourvèdre.

According to Wes Hagen, who extensively researched the area in compiling the petition for appellation status, the area’s name originated during the Prohibition era when it harbored the only still in Santa Barbara’s north county. According to an area realtor whose father told him what he’d heard from his own father, if you lived north of Santa Barbara and wanted some alcohol in those days, you had to “take a ride up Happy Canyon.”

The TTB initially objected to designating the area as Happy Canyon because there are 10 locations in a total of six states that have the same name, including a wine growing region in Oregon. The petitioners agreed to add “of Santa Barbara” to the name, figuring it would help not only identify the location for those outside the area but also link it to a region with growing cachet in the wine world.

The TTB, in its finding, indicated they were impressed with an unusual feature of the soils here, which is their Cation-Exchange Capacity (CEC). A cation is a positively charged ion (e.g., NH4+ or Ca2+). Since soil particles and organic matter have negative charges, minerals with positively charged ions can easily be asorbed by and stick with these soil particles. Soils in Happy Canyon, which have elevated levels of exchangeable magnesium, had CEC levels nearly three times those of Wes’s own vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.

Temperatures in Happy Canyon, due to north-south mountain ridges lying 12 miles east that block the Pacific coastal breezes, can run into the 90s during the summer, but are tempered by wind that typically arises at 4 pm, and low evening temperatures. Doug Margerum, who makes wine for Happy Canyon Vineyards and his own Margerum label, claims that what’s great and unusual about the combination of the varieties grown here and the climate is that “the grapes become physiologically mature and ripe before they get a tremendous amount of sugar.”

It should be noted that many of the landowners in this area have traditionally been in the thoroughbred horse raising business. These wealthy landowners and horse fanciers don’t appreciate tourists, so none of the wineries here—and there are only three brick and mortar wineries so far located in the appellation—are permitted to have tasting rooms.

The first vineyards planted here outside of a very small planting dating to the mid-1970s were the McGinley Vineyard, originally called Westerly, and Happy Canyon Vineyards, both started in 1996.

McGinley was planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Roussane, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This vineyard is now owned by Roger Bower, a Texan who made millions producing fire-fighting foam. Bower also recently purchased the former Cimarone Vineyard here, renaming it Crown Point. The Westerly label is being used by Bower for wines both from Happy Canyon and the Sta. Rita Hills. Former Harlan assistant winemaker Adam Henkel is winemaker for both the Crown Point and Westerly labels.

Happy Canyon Vineyards is planted to Bordeaux varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc and some Cabernet Sauvignon plantings on their own roots. Doug Margerum serves as winemaker. The two top wines here are Brand and Ten-Goal, together with two other Bordeaux blends, Piocho and Chukker.

The next two major vineyards in the area, both planted beginning in 1998, are Star Lane and Vogelzgang.

Star Lane represents half the planted acreage in Happy Canyon, with about 250 acres of vines. It’s the furthest north and east of the area’s vineyards, and includes several clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, some of which are planted at the top of the vineyard at an elevation of 1500 feet on a 25 degree slope. There are also multiple clones of Cabernet Franc and Merlot planted, along with about 25 acres of Sauvignon Blanc that start on the lowest part of the vineyard, just as you enter the gate. It is 2.4 miles from this gate to the northern tip of the vineyard, which is fortunate to have access to water from 42 springs on the property. I visited here about a year ago and was very impressed by the quality of the plantings, as well as the Cab Franc and Merlot I sampled from barrel.

rotunda entrance to extensive barrel rooms at Star Lane

rotunda entrance to extensive barrel rooms at Star Lane


Star Lane is owned by Jim and Mary Dierberg, bankers who got their start in wine by owning the Hermannhof Winery in Hermann, Missouri, since 1974. They purchased the Star Lane property in 1996, and built a magnificent winemaking complex here, complete with hand excavated caves. This showcase facility is unfortunately not open to the public because of the area’s ban on tasting rooms. The Dierbergs also own a similar amount of acreage in Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley appellations, from which they produce wines for their Dierberg label.

The new winemaker for both Dierberg and Star Lane is the talented and articulate Tyler Thomas, who was formerly winemaker at Donelan in Sonoma. Tyler started here last summer. I got to visit with him briefly at Star Lane at the end of last year, tasting some terrific barrel samples with him. I look forward to the new Star Lane and Dierberg wines he will produce over the next few years.

Star Lane & Dierberg Director of Winemaking Tyler Thomas

Star Lane & Dierberg Director of Winemaking Tyler Thomas


Vogelzgang was founded in 1998 and now has 77 producing acres of vineyards, planted to both Bordeaux and Rhone varieties. Winemaker Robbie Meyer, formerly assistant winemaker at Peter Michael, is working on estate wines for Vogelzgang, which first produced a Sauvignon Blanc from the 2005 vintage. Most of their grapes are currently sold to area wineries, including Foxen, Dragonette, Gainey and Ojai.

Grassini Family is among the newest arrivals, having started planting vineyards in 2002. They completed their winery in 2010. The vineyard includes 15 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, and I think that’s the best thing they make, by far, at this point.

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Grassini CEO Katie Grassini

Two other small vineyards in this area, for which I can find little info, are Three Creek Vineyard and Tommy Town. The former grows Bordeaux varieties as well as Syrah and Sangiovese. The latter produces a small amount of estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Kirby Anderson is the winemaker.

With all that’s going on in this area, I predict you will be hearing a lot more about Happy Canyon wines in the coming years.

Since there are no tasting rooms here, you should plan to visit Grassini and Vogelzgang’s tasting rooms in the City of Santa Barbara. Star Lane’s tasting room at 1280 Drum Canyon Road in Lompoc is open daily.

For my tasting notes on 23 wines from this appellation, see below.

Anacapa

  • 2011 Anacapa Vintners Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Bright, light lemon yellow color; fresh, ripe grapefruit, tart peach nose; fresh, tart peach, ripe lemon, ripe grapefruit juice palate; medium finish (14.5% alcohol) 86+ points

Dragonette

  • 2012 Dragonette Cellars Rosé Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light pink color; appealing, ripe peach, ripe pear nose; tasty, juicy, refreshing, tart pear, ripe pear, mineral, light pink grapefruit palate; medium finish (75% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah; 2 hour skin contact, neutral barrels; age on lees for 5-6 months) 91 points
  • 2012 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light yellow color; tart peach, lemon grass nose; ripe peach, fleshy palate; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol; 75% neutral oak, 25% stainless steel) 90 points
  • 2011 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Vogelzang Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light yellow color; pungent, fresh grapefruit, mint nose; tasty, poised, ripe grapefruit, mint palate with tangy acidity; medium-plus finish (11 months on lees; after barrel selection, blended and held another 6 months in 25% new oak) 91+ points

Foxen

  • 2011 Foxen Cabernet Sauvignon 7200 Grassini Family Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Very dark ruby color; lifted, ripe cassis, cherry, VA nose; ripe cassis, ripe cherry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (15.2% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2011 Foxen Range 30 West Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Medium dark ruby color; appealing, ripe red currant, light olive nose: tasty, juicy, light-medium bodied bright, ripe red currant, cassis, cherry palate with firm, sweet tannins; good now but could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc) 91+ points

Goodland

  • 2011 Goodland Wines Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light yellow color; appealing, ripe pear, tart peach, tart yellow apple nose; tasty, medium bodied, focused, tart peach, tart pear, mineral palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (reminiscent of a Sancerre, with that level of acidity, but w/o the smoke; no malolactic fermentation; Musque clone and clone 1; all stainless steel and very neutral barrels; 3.3 pH) 91 points
  • 2011 Goodland Wines Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Red
    Opaque purple red violet color; wonderful, loamy, tart black currant, cedar nose; rich but very poised, elegant, ripe black currant, loam palate with a sense of salinity and good acidity; could use 1-plus year in bottle; medium-plus finish (100% Cabernet Sauvignon clone 4 grown at about 1600 feet; 14.7% alcohol; twice used barrels; like a throwback to traditional California Cabs of the 1960s and ’70s with good acidity) 94 points

Grassini Family

  • 2012 Grassini Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light lemon yellow color; appealing, smoky, lime, tart green fruit nose; tasty, medium bodied, tart green fruit, lime, mineral, lightly smoky palate with rich mouth feel and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; clone 1 planted in 2001) 92+ points
  • 2011 Grassini Family Vineyards Articondo Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Very dark maroon color; appealing, black currant, mulberry, tobacco nose; plush, ripe black currant, ripe berry, blackberry, light tobacco palate, lacking structure; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot; 15.5% alcohol; 25% new oak) 89 points
  • 2010 Grassini Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Almost opaque maroon color; stewed black fruit, baked black fruit, tart berry nose; medium-plus bodied, baked black fruit, baked berry palate with sweet oak and lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot; 15.4% alcohol; 75% new oak) 87+ points

Happy Canyon Vineyards

  • 2010 Happy Canyon Vineyards Merlot Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Very dark red violet color; stewed black fruit, plum jam, blackberry jam nose; tasty, ripe blackberry jam, ripe black fruit palate; medium finish (good value at about $20; 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot; 14.1% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2010 Happy Canyon Vineyards Merlot Barrack Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Dark ruby color; aromatic, black currant, black raspberry, light menthol nose; rich, medium bodied, tight, tart black currant, black raspberry palate with firm, sweet tannins; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (55% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec; 14.1% alcohol; pH 3.65, TA 6.5) 92 points

Kunin

  • 2012 Kunin Sauvignon Blanc McGinley Vineyard Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Slightly hazy, very light yellow color; smoky, tart grapefruit, lemon grass nose; tasty, medium bodied, smoky, tart grapefruit, lemon grass, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points

Liquid Farm

  • 2012 Liquid Farm Mourvèdre Rosé Vogelzang Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light orange pink color; appealing, Tavel-like, tart cranberry, tart pink grapefruit nose; tasty, poised, tart pink grapefruit, tart currant, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Mourvèdre, 5% Grenache) 92+ points

Margerum
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  • 2012 Margerum Sauvignon Blanc Sybarite Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Pale green-tinged yellow color; tart green apple, lime, light smoke nose; tasty, bright, clean, light-medium bodied, tart lime, bright citrus, mineral, tart green fruit palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.1% alcohol; pH 3.4, TA 6.5; 9% neutral oak; clone 1 picked at different stages, early and late; battonage every two weeks) 91 points
  • 2010 Margerum Merlot Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Very dark red violet color; stewed black fruit, plum jam, blackberry jam nose; tasty, ripe blackberry, blackberry jam, ripe black fruit palate; medium finish (75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot; 14.1% alcohol; good value at $14) 90 points

Star Lane
Star Lane bottlings

  • 2012 Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light straw yellow color; tart gooseberry, smoke, tart green apple nose; tasty, medium bodied, ripe gooseberry, smoke, reduction, lime mid-palate, mineral palate with lime acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2009 Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Opaque black red violet color; ripe black currant, deep berry, pencil lead, bittersweet chocolate nose; bittersweet chocolate, tart black currant, ripe berry palate with firm, fine, chalky tannins; could use 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot; 15.1% alcohol) 93 points
  • 2007 Star Lane Vineyard Astral Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, pencil lead, cassis, tart black currant, mocha, dark chocolate nose; rich, ripe black currant, mocha, violets palate with sweet tannins; good now and should go for years; long finish (15.2% alcohol; blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) 93 points
  • 2005 Star Lane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez
    Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, black currant, blackberry, boysenberry nose; rich, delicious, tart black currant, berry syrup, dark chocolate palate with sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (15.1% alcohol) 94 points

Westerley

  • 2012 Westerly Vineyards Fletcher’s White Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Light yellow color; smoky, lime, lemon grass nose; smoky, lime, lemon grass palate; medium finish 89 points
  • 2010 Westerly Vineyards Syrah Côte Blonde Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
    Dark ruby color; roasted black fruit, pepper, tar nose; roasted black fruit, pepper, tar palate; medium-plus finish (93% Syrah, 7% Viognier) 91+ points
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Bubbles Rising: Sparkling Trend in Santa Barbara?

L to R: Riverbank's Clarissa Nagy; Don Schroeder of Sea Smoke; Dave Potter, Municipal Winemakers; Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz; Brewer-Clifton's Greg Brewer; Blakeney Sanford

L to R: Riverbank’s Clarissa Nagy; Don Schroeder of Sea Smoke; Dave Potter, Municipal Winemakers; Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz; Brewer-Clifton’s Greg Brewer; Blakeney Sanford

One thing I’ve learned from several trips to Santa Barbara County over the past year is that there’s tremendous potential for making sparkling wines here. The exciting news is that an increasing number of excellent Santa Barbara area producers are trying their hand at creating delicious sparkling wines.

Like the great sparkling wine region of Champagne in France, Santa Barbara is blessed not only with a high proportion of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings—the primary grapes used to make Champagne, along with Pinot Meunier—but also with cool climate sub-regions like Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley that have long, cool growing seasons, producing grapes that reach ripeness while retaining high levels of acidity.

There is, of course, a tremendous amount of extra work and time involved in making sparkling wine in a traditional style, with secondary fermentation in the bottle, as practiced in Champagne. This significantly raises the costs of making this kind of wine, which is also subject to three times the tax levied on still wines, with no tax credit for small producers as there is for still wine. It’s therefore tough to sell these wines for less than about $40 and even begin to break even.

Until recent years, it wasn’t clear there was much of a market for these kinds of wines. Most of what has been made to date has therefore been made in tiny quantities by winemakers who love Champagne and other sparkling wines so much that they were willing to put in the work simply to have some of these wines available for their own consumption.

Market research has shown, however, that the demand for sparkling wines in this country in recent years–both domestic and imported—-has been growing even faster than for still wines.

I had noticed a few Santa Barbara based producers–Flying Goat, Riverbench and Sea Smoke– were making increasing quantities of sparkling wine. As I continued to ask around about this phenomenon, I learned that even more producers had made small quantities, or were on the verge of doing so.

I therefore asked Santa Barbara-based wine publicist extraordinaire Sao Anash if she might organize a comparative tasting of Santa Barbara sparkling wines for me. I wanted to find out both what was motivating winemakers there to try making these wines, and to learn what techniques they were using.

So this past Friday, I braved California’s first massive rainfall in many months to zip down to Santa Barbara for a comparative tasting of Santa Barbara sparkling wines hosted by Sonja Magdevski at her Casa Dumetz tasting room in Los Alamos. My deep thanks to Sao, Sonja and the other winemakers who convened there for what proved to be a very enlightening tasting. On hand were Brewer-Clifton’s Greg Brewer, Sea Smoke’s Don Schroeder, Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench, Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers, and Blakeney Sanford, representing her father, Richard Sanford, of Alma Rosa and formerly of Sanford.

Casa Dumetz

Before summarizing the brief history of Santa Barbara sparkling winemaking to date, it should be noted that sparkling wine has been made nearby this region since the early 1980s.

Maison Deutz was launched in 1982 in Arroyo Grande, 12 miles north of Santa Barbara wine country, as Champagne Deutz’s California venture, in partnership with Beringer Wine Estates and a San Luis Obispo landowner. The first sparkling wine from this project was released in 1986.

Christian Roguenant, previously assistant winemaker at Champagne Deutz, became Maison Deutz’s winemaker. In 1997, however, Deutz and Beringer decided to unload their interest to Jean-Claude Tardivat, who renamed the estate after his daughter Laetitia. Shortly thereafter, he resold the enterprise. It is now owned by Selim Zilkha and his daughter Nadia Wellisz. Laetitia’s focus these days is non-sparkling Pinot Noir, although they still make about 7,000 cases of sparkling wine per year.

The first to make sparkling wine commercially from Santa Barbara fruit, as best I can tell from my research, was Byron, with a 1992 Brut Reserve, and non-vintage sparklers after that. Richard Sanford then made a 1994 Brut Rosé, with Sanford & Benedict Mount Eden clone Pinot Noir, with help from Deutz’s Roguenant.

We tasted this 1994 Sanford bottling that Blakeney brought with her last Friday. Blakeney told us it was the only sparkling wine Richard Sanford ever made. It was mature, with wonderful buttery texture, good acidity and a long finish. Blakeney reported that Alma Rosa–Richard Sanford’s current winery, where Blakeney has begun working with her father—has started to make sparkling wines, both from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 2013 will be the first vintage for these sparkling offerings.

As best I can tell, Fess Parker’s two vintages of Blanc de Blancs from Marcella’s Vineyard, made in 1996 and 1997, are the next historical Santa Barbara sparkling wines. When I met with Tim and Ashley Parker-Snider later that weekend, they explained those Blanc de Blancs had been created for millennium celebrations in 2000. They also told me their team is thinking about doing sparkling wine again—a Blanc de Noirs using the Sta. Rita Hills vineyard Rio Vista as the fruit source.

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Fess Parker’s Ashley Parker-Snider and Tim Snider

Kalyra then made a 1999 Blanc de Noir, and has continued to make a non vintage Brut. Cottonwood Canyon made a 2000 Blanc de Blancs, a 2001 sparkling rosé, and has also produced non vintage bottlings. Lucas & Lewellen also started making sparkling wines in 2000. They were followed by both Mandolina and Mosby in 2004.

Oreana commenced making sparkling wine in 2005 and Norm Yost at Flying Goat produced that label’s first sparkling rosé in 2005, followed by a Blanc de Blancs in 2008.

Clos Pepe began making small amounts of Brut Rosé with the 2007 vintage, in conjunction with the sparkling wines Norm Yost was making from Clos Pepe fruit. Evans Ranch also produced a 2007 Brut.

I had a chance to sample the latest bubbly Clos Pepe, a 2011 Brut Rosé, when I visited Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe last December. It was quite good—one of the best Santa Barbara sparklers I’ve tasted to date. Since it’s made in very small quantities, however, it’s mainly for Pepe family consumption, with perhaps a few bottles for wine club members.

Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers (and one of four partners in Goodland Wines), is a talented and resourceful winemaker who got his degree in oenology and viticulture in Australia, where he also spent several years working at Henschke and Fosters. On his return to the U.S., he was associate winemaker at Fess Parker for six years.

Inspired by some of the ageworthy sparkling Shirazes he sampled in Australia, Dave has made several vintages of sparkling Shiraz, which he calls “Fizz,” starting in 2007. He shared a bottle from that vintage with us last Friday that was complex and impressive, definitely reminding me of the better, aged, sparkling Australian Shirazes I’ve tried. He also shared with us a sample of his 2012 Municipal Winemakers Blanc de Blancs, which will be disgorged this summer for a fall release.

The fruit source for this wine was the Mormann Vineyard in northern Sta. Rita Hills. Dave picked at 20.2 brix and inhibited malolactic. He has a total of two barrels, so will make about 50 cases. This is a delicious, focused sparkler with exceptional precision and a long finish. Dave used a fino style sherry he had made to supply the dosage, and he does all the work on his sparklings in house, using a riddling rack he obtained from Laetitia. He expects to sell the 2012 Blanc de Blancs for between $40 and $50. Based on these two samples, here’s hoping Dave continues to make sparkling wines for many years to come.

In 2008, Sea Smoke made their first sparkling wine, a Blanc de Noirs from Pinot Noir, called Sea Spray. At our gathering last Friday, Don Schroeder explained that Victor Gallegos, who became Sea Smoke’s Director of Winemaking in 2008, after being with Sea Smoke as VP and General Manager since its 2002 launch, wanted to try a sparkling. Way back in his career, in the 1980s, he had worked as a cellar rat for Carneros sparkling producer Domaine Chandon.

Don told us he and Victor were inspired by grower Champagnes. For the 2008, they picked between 18.5 and 19 brix. They made the base wine at Sea Smoke, with complete malolactic fermentation, and it was then finished at Rack & Riddle Custom Crush in Hopland, aging 16 months on the spent yeast cells from the secondary fermentation in the bottle, a period known as “en tirage.” A dosage of 11 grams was added before bottling. They followed a similar process in 2011 and 2012, but only completing 25-30% malolactic fermentation in 2012. They made about 1,000 cases both years.

I have sampled the 2011, which was disgorged in August 2013, on a couple of occasions. It is elegant, with a sense of minerality and chalk. I also think it would benefit from another couple years of bottle age.

For the 2013, Don told us all the work, including riddling and disgorgement, is being done in house at Sea Smoke. For that vintage too, the wine spent nine months in barrel and will be 24 months en tirage. They are also adding no dosage for 2013.

Riverbench, with vineyards in Santa Maria Valley, got into the sparkling wine business in 2008 as a project of their general manager, Laura Mohseni. They made their first vintage, a Blanc de Blancs, at Fess Parker. In 2010 they made a Blanc de Noirs, with a whopping production of 350 cases.

Riverbench winemaker Clarissa Nagy, who arrived there at the end of 2011, reports they are making about 900 cases of sparkling wines, including a demi-sec, from the 2013 vintage. They currently make the base wine and then send it to sparkling wine expert Gerald Ployez in Lake County for finishing. I’m looking forward to trying the 2013s, but the 2010 Blanc de Noirs was quite good, with complexity and a saline note.

Both Fiddlehead Cellars and Saarloos & Sons made sparkling wines in 2009. While in Santa Barbara’s Funk Town district over the weekend, I also sampled a very good 2009 sparkler from Carr, a Blanc de Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills Kessler-Haak Vineyard. I’m told that Kessler-Haak also recently made their own sparkling wine, but I don’t have any further details as yet.

Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton, who drink a lot of Champagne and sparkling wine according to Greg, made their first sparkling wine—a Blanc de Blancs, inspired by “linear, Chardonnay-based Champagnes”—in 2010. Of the 150 cases they made that year, that set aside 50 for release in five or six years as a late disgorged offering.

They produced 220 cases of Blanc de Blancs in 2011, and hope to grow production to 300 cases in future vintages. They do all the work—hand riddling, hand corking, hand cranking the cage, hand disgorging—in house.

We sampled both the 2011 and one of the bottles of 2010 that is awaiting future disgorgement that Greg opened for us last Friday (an appropriate kickoff to celebrations for Greg’s birthday, which happened to be that day).

celebrating Greg Brewer's  birthday with an impromptu birthday cookie

celebrating Greg Brewer’s birthday with an impromptu birthday cookie


The 2010 was hugely impressive—definitely the best Santa Barbara sparkler I have tried to date, and one of the greatest domestic sparkling wines I’ve ever sampled. In 2011, they used 50% clone 76 and 50% Hyde clone from their 3-D Vineyard. Greg explained that they picked the fruit from the more sun exposed western cane of the vine’s two canes, bringing in the grapes at 21.5 to 21.8 brix. They did a cold ferment in neutral barrels, inhibiting malolactic, and used Montrachet yeast. They added no dosage, and don’t think dosage is necessary or desirable for making sparkling wines from Santa Barbara fruit, given the sugar levels achieved there with good acidity.

I’m very much looking forward to the disgorgement of the rest of those 2010 bottles some years from now.

The final sparkler we got to try at last Friday’s comparative tasting was the 2012 edition of the Casa Dumetz Sonja’s Suds, a sparkling Syrah rosé from Santa Ynez Valley fruit grown at Tierra Alta Vineyard. Sonja Magdevski created the original version of this wine with the 2010 vintage, after having received Syrah picked at 21 brix and figuring she’d be best off turning it into rosé.

At the suggestion of Tessa Marie Parker, who has been making a sparkling Vermentino under her Tessa Marie label since 2010, Sonja called Dave Potter for advice on how to make a sparkling wine from her Syrah rosé. Dave suggested using encapsulated yeast, available from Scott Laboratories, for a fast, efficient ferment in bottle. The double encapsulated yeast designed for sparkling wine secondary ferments is contained in alginate beads, made from a natural polysaccharide extracted from seaweed.

checking out the encapsulated yeast beads in Sonja's Suds

checking out the encapsulated yeast beads in Sonja’s Suds


With the first vintage, Sonja disgorged the wine, to remove the beads after the fermentation. She no longer goes to that trouble, however, explaining to customers who buy the wines through Casa Dumetz’s tasting room to simply leave the beads alone to settle at the bottom of the bottle. The result is a creamy textured, tart red currant flavored sparkler with abundant bubbles that Sonja is able to sell for only $35.

Other red sparkling wines reportedly produced from non-traditional sparkling varieties in Santa Barbara to date include Blair Fox’s “Foxy Bubbles,” made from Grenache; Cass’s 2010 Grenache Brut; and Palmina’s sparkling Nebbiolo.

A final, exciting source of traditionally made sparkling wines from this region that I happened onto at the end of my trip is The Ojai Vineyard. When I met with Adam Tolmach and assistant winemaker Fabien Castel this week, I found out that they’ve been making a small amount of sparkling wine since 2006. Adam says he expects the 2006, of which there will only be 15 to 20 cases, to finally be disgorged in the next year or so. From the 2013 vintage, they have the potential of making 200 cases. Like Brewer-Clifton and Municipal Winemakers, Adam and Fabien are doing all the work on their sparkling wines in house. Also like Brewer-Clifton, Adam believes Santa Barbara fruit can be made into good sparklers with either no or very low dosage.

Since I am a big fan of other wines from this producer, I can’t wait to have the opportunity to taste The Ojai Vineyard’s first, long aged sparkling wine.

Because most of the wines mentioned above are made in such small quantities, there is, unfortunately, relatively little on the market at the moment. Nonetheless, Brewer-Clifton’s 2011 edition is available from the winery for $68. Riverbench’s 2010 Blanc de Noirs can be purchased from the winery for $45, and can be sampled at Riverbench’s tasting room in Santa Barbara’s downtown Funk Zone.

Flying Goat’s Goat Bubbles are available from the winery and several outlets that specialize in Santa Barbara area wines for $40 or less. Palmina’s sparkling Nebbiolo, called Lumina, is available from the winery for $48. Lucas & Lewellyn is offering their 2011 Brut for $30. Sierra Madre Vineyard has a 2010 sparkling wine available on their website for $29. The 2012 Tessa Marie sparkling Vermentino is available from the winery for $38. And a number of outlets around the country are offering Sea Smoke’s 2011 Sea Spray at an average price of $94.

Since Santa Barbara has the grapes, acidity and talent to make terrific sparkling wines, I hope we’ll continue to see more bubbles from this region in the coming years.

For tasting notes on the sparkling wines from Santa Barbara that I’ve sampled to date, see below:

Brewer-Clifton
Brewer Clifton

  • 2010 Brewer-Clifton Blanc de Blancs 3-D Vineyard – Sta. Rita Hills

    Light lemon yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, tart apple, dried white fig nose; rich, tasty, almond, mineral, tart apple, tart pear, almond pasty palate with scintillating acidity; long finish (this bottle disgorged 2/28/14 for the occasion, from a batch being held for a late disgorgement release in 3 years or so) 92+ points

  • 2011 Brewer-Clifton Blanc de Blancs 3-D Vineyard – Sta. Rita Hills
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, saline, light honey, sesame seed nose, that changes after 20 minutes in the glass, to add floral and apricot aromas; tight, tangy, rich, tart apple, lightly oxidative, tart lemon, tart lemon drop, light honey palate; could use 2-3 years; long finish (all Chardonnay–50% clone 76 and 50% Hyde; no dosage; 13% alcohol; picked at 21.5-21.8 brix) 91+ points

Carr
Carr

  • 2009 Carr Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir Kessler-Haak – Sta. Rita Hills

    Light pink yellow color with abundant, speedy, very tiny bubbles; lightly yeasty, almond, tart apple nose; tasty, tart apple, mineral palate with sprightly acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; aged 1 year in bottle, hand riddled; 1st vintage, 52 cases) 90+ points

Casa Dumetz
Sonja

  • 2012 Casa Dumetz Syrah Sonja’s Suds Santa Ynez Valley

    Medium dark pink color with pale meniscus and abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; reduction, tart plum, dried blood orange nose; creamy textured, tart red currant palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish 86+ points

Clos Pepe

  • 2011 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir Brut Rosé – Sta. Rita Hills

    Very light salmon color with steady, very tiny bubbles and some large speedy bubbles; tart pear, chalk, unripe strawberry, light brown sugar, grapefruit peel, kirsch nose; delicious, poised, juicy, tart strawberry, tart pear, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir, fermented with sparkling wine yeast UC1118) 91+ points

Flying Goat

  • 2010 Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Blanc Crémant Goat Bubbles Sierra Madre – Santa Maria Valley

    Light yellow color with few, medium-sized bubbles; tart apple, yeasty nose; tart green apple, lime, chalk palate; medium-plus finish 89 points

Municipal Winemakers
Municipal

  • 2012 Municipal Winemakers Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs – Sta. Rita Hills

    Pre-release (to be disgorged in summer for fall 2014 release) – light lemon yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; yeasty, chalk, tart baked pear nose; tasty, focused, precise, mineral, tart pear, lightly saline palate with medium acidity; long finish (clone 76 Chardonnay from sandy sites at Moorman Vineyard; free run juice only; picked at 20.2 brix, inhibited malo) 91+ points

  • 2007 Municipal Winemakers Shiraz Fizz – Santa Barbara County

    Medium dark ruby color with initial abundant mousse; aromatic, tart black cherry cotton candy, tart berry, black raspberry, black cherry leather, baked plum nose; tasty, creamy textured, tart black cherry, black raspberry, baked black plum, reminiscent of some of the better sparkling Aussie Shirazes with age on them that I’ve sampled; long finish (disgorged in 2009 and kept under crown cap; 13.5% alcohol) 89 points

Riverbench
Riverbench1

  • 2008 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay Cork Jumper Blanc de Blancs – Santa Maria Valley

    Light yellow color with few, tiny bubbles; almond, safflower oil, honey, chalk nose; rich, almond, tart apple, mineral, safflower honey palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 88+ points

  • 2010 Riverbench Vineyard & Winery Cork Jumper Rosé Blanc de Noirs – Santa Maria Valley

    Light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; appealing, lifted, almond, tart red raspberry, light saline, golden raspberry nose; tasty, amond, mineral, saline, golden raspberry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points

Sanford
Sanford sparkling

  • 1994 Sanford Sanford & Benedict Vineyard – Santa Ynez Valley

    Light medium peach yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, oxidative, melted butter, almond butter, nutty nose; mature, oxidative, buttery textured, tart lemon, lemon cream, mineral palate with near medium acidity; long finish (made from Mount Eden clone Pinot Noir; 12.5% alcohol) 90+ points

Sea Smoke
Sea Smoke Sea Spray

  • 2011 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Sea Spray – Sta. Rita Hills

    Light pink yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; chalk, tart golden raspberry, very tart strawberry, light honey nose; tasty, tight, chalk, almond, mineral palate with firm, chalky tannins and medium acidity; could use 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol; 100% malolactic, 6 months in barrel, 16 months en tirage) 91+ points

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