No longer maligned, Chardonnay is making a comeback. Not that it ever left for some of us.
One of the first toys I bought for my Golden Retriever puppy was a plush wine bottle bearing a label, “Ruff Day Chardonnay.”
I could relate to the sentiment. Chardonnay is one of my go-to wines, not only when I’ve had “a day,” but also when I just want some reliable comfort in a glass.
The category has gone through a few rollercoasters of popularity. An “ABC” movement (“Anything But Chardonnay”) pulled it down, fueled in part by a generation of young sommeliers advocating for lesser-known varieties and rejecting what Chardonnay had become: a heavy, oaky, buttery wine that their parents drank. It was also driven by just that: In some regions, it was produced as an old-fashioned, over-manipulated style that no longer reflected consumer tastes.
But, Chardonnay remains one of the world’s noble grapes—and one of the most popular, despite the naysayers. And those producers who never gave up on the variety are winning, with new consumer attention paid to their efforts. Now it’s easy to find quality Chardonnay in a range of styles—from fresh and unoaked to Burgundian to a more opulent expression. Here are a few memorable bottles that will help you forget your “ruff” day.
Cuvaison Kite Tail Chardonnay 2019, Napa. Estate-grown grapes, this is a full-bodied orchard-fruit bomb. The oak aspect mellowed after the bottle had been open a couple of days, but it’s still a heavier style of Chard in a hefty bottle.
Diatom Chardonnay 2021, Santa Barbara County. Full and waxy, a little Chenin-like. Tropical fruits hit the palate first then lemon compote layered with some buttery tones. Rich mouthfeel, similar to wines coming produced from fossil-rich, limestone parcels. At 14.5%, the alcohol is a little evident, but mitigated with a pasta and mushroom cream sauce dish.
Domaine Roy et Fils Chardonnay Iron Filbert Vineyard, 2020 Dundee Hills, Ore., Graceful and generous with a clean, pure fruit character. Pretty wood spices, and harkening to its name, some hazelnut. A lighter style with Burgundian echoes.
Early Mountain Chardonnay, 2019, Virginia. An elegant wine that lets its pristine fruit character shine: green apple and lemon curd. On the savory side with bright and elevated herbal notes. The back label features pictograms showing the topography and viticultural practices.
Far Niente 2021, Napa Valley. From an illustrious producer, this lighter style of Chardonnay uses grapes from multi parcels in the Coombsville sub appellation, a slightly cooler, but well protected climate zone. The resulting wine expresses a more tropical interpretation of Chardonnay, with pineapple, guava and melon and keeps that high tone on the palate. There was no malolactic fermentation, keeping this on the tingly-zesty side of things, but the complexity for which Far Niente is known is unmistakable.
FEL Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, 2020. A gentle and subtle interpretation—all elegance with clean-tasting green and yellow fruits. Unencumbered by oak or manipulations, this is a juicy, sprightly wine with good tension on the palate that leans more toward fresh fruit than savory tones. Named for the winemaker’s mother.
Gary Farrell 2019, Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley Sonoma. From a vineyard planted in 1975 with the famous Wente clone (one of the most planted Chard clones in the world from a fifth-generation Livermore wine family), this RRV Chard is creamy and full bodied without being opulent and heavy. Baked orchard fruit and lemon compote—this is the quintessential comfort food wine that will partner with soups and light stews, chicken pot pie and roasted white meats.
Ram’s Gate 2018, Sonoma. A slick medium-bodied expression that’s not too heavy on wood or ripeness. Shows its pear and Meyer lemon tones well, some light hazelnut, caramel and spice notes.
Red Thumb Unoaked Chardonnay 2021 Navarro Blanco, Spain. Lemon and lime blossom play starting roles along with a nice streak of acidity in this sustainably farmed wine from organic grapes. Very serviceable and punches way above its price point weight of less than $20, Kudos for the transparent labeling and light bottle.
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards Chardonnay 2018, Alexander Valley, Sonoma. The grapes come from blocks grown at 400-1800 feet above sea level. The prevalent oak tones mellowed after a day, letting the pretty lemon tones and white orchard fruits shine. Anise notes, creamy and lactic, a pleasant and not overdone interpretation of Sonoma Chard.