58 Chardonnays Reviewed and Graded By Our Retailer Wine Panel

For this round of reviews, we asked members of the Beverage Dynamics National Retailer Wine Panel to taste and rate chardonnays.

As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which varies from store to store and market to market). If you’re a retail beverage professional who would like to learn about participating in our panel, please contact associate editor Kyle Swartz at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or 203-855-8499 x2225.

Five Stars

(98) J.Lohr Vineyards and Wines J.Lohr Arroyo Vista 2014 (Monterey, CA). Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel continues the fine-tuning on Lohr’s ultimate version of the great white Burgundys of France. Classic techniques abound, from early-morning handpicking/sorting and stirring of the lees to extended barrel aging (14 months). Great mouth feel, very viscous, rich flavors, and a long, lingering finish. A true Monterey classic that should have the French looking over their shoulders. ($29.99)

(98) Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard Summum Chardonnay 2013 (Willamette Valley, OR). As far as I am concerned, this is the best white wine made in America. Their efforts to create a Grand Cru the likes of white Burgundy have been realized. The most precise American Chardonnay I have ever tasted, this wine dances on the palate on the way to a long, satisfying finish. The epitome of balance and elegance, no Chardonnay you try will be able to match. ($89.99)

(97) Davis Bynum River West Vineyard 2013 (Russian River Valley, CA). Single vineyard. French oak barrel-fermentation and aging. 100% malolactic fermentation. Aged sur lie. The result? Rich, buttery, toasty, classic Russian River Chardonnay! A bouquet of baked fruits and spices leads to a creamy texture that coats the palate with flavors of apple, pear and apricot, with a hint of vanilla/butterscotch. There is still a crisp acidity on the finish that adds great length. ($25)


(97) Duckhorn Vineyards 2013. (Napa, CA). This, only their second release for a Chardonnay, confirms that Duckhorn and Renee Ary are on the right path. Rich, vibrant fruit highlights the best fruit sourced from 11 prime valley sites. Peach and melon notes balance the touches of citrus fruits. Very detailed barrel fermentation program includes hand stirring of the lees. ($39.99)

(95) Beaucanon Estate 2012 (Napa Valley). This lovely Chardonnay definitely has a French flair. The grapes are 100% organic. Understated tropical fruit aromas and flavors with slightly toasted oak undertones. A rich, honey-like texture. The balance of fruit, oak and acidity is perfect. A lovely hint of minerality lingers on the finish. All components harmonize and gently coat the palate and stay. It is reminiscent of a good Meursault in style. The 2012 vintage is now peaking beautifully. Ideal for seafood. ($25)

(95) Heron 2013 (California). The owner, Laely Heron, is an innovator. She contracts with growers from premier California AVAs for her wines. The grapes are sourced from Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley from 22-25-year-old vines. She incorporates whole-cluster pressing with barrel aging of up to five months with no malolactic fermentation. The wine is lively and refreshing with lush flavors of peach, mango and citrus. It’s long, crisp and zesty on the finish with lip-smacking acidity: an ideal aperitif, or will pair beautifully with milder Oriental cuisine. ($15)

(95) Saracina 2014 (Mendocino County, CA). This is an interesting blend of 96% Chardonnay and 4% Viognier from organic grapes, unoaked. The small percentage of Viognier is noticeable, lending a bit of mouthfeel to the wine. Aromas and flavors of ripe apple, pear and other fruits. There are hints of lemon/orange on the finish, with a hint of spiciness despite the lack of oak aging. This is an intriguing, unusual and delicious style of Chardonnay that will pair well with a cornucopia of cuisine. ($20)

(95) Mt. Beautiful 2014  (North Canterbury, New Zealand). This will draw attention to the lovely Chardonnays produced in New Zealand that haven’t received accolades they deserve. From certified-sustainable vineyards, this is a rather New World/Old World style. It has nuances of wildflowers, mineral and under-ripe fruit on the nose. These nuances continue on the palate, but then fruit flavors become lush and mouth filling. The finish is long and lively with racy sweet/tart acidity and a hint of lemon/grapefruit. Pair this with pork or fowl with a fruit glaze, or enjoy it as an aperitif. ($19)

(94) Migration 2013 (Russian River, CA). Only their fifth release, winemaker Bo Felton is hitting his stride as Duckhorn expands from their Napa base and utilizes 14 of the best vineyard sites in the cool-climate Russian River. Rich layers of complex tropical fruit on the nose lead to a rich balanced mouth feel, with rich vanilla and butterscotch on the finish. ($34.99)

(94) Evening Land Seven Springs Chardonnay 2013 (Willamette Valley, OR). A more affordable offering from one of the U.S’s best producers. Eleven months of French Oak-aging is hard to comprehend when tasting how balanced this wine is. Classic fruit flavors of apple, pear and tropical fruits highlight this Burgundian style. The only way to top this is to jump up to their highest end offering of the single block “Summum” Chardonnay. This wine is much more readily available and will turn into the everyday Chardonnay of whoever takes the leap. ($45.99)

(94) Goldschmidt Singing Tree Russian River Chardonnay 2014 (California). This is an absolutely gorgeous Chardonnay from start to finish. The subtle buttery notes are quickly complimented with soft tropical fruit and hints of Granny Smith apple, and all is surrounded by perfectly balanced acidity. ($17.99)

(94) Maison Ambroise 2014 (Bourgogne Aligoté, France). A great entry into the world of Burgundy’s white wines. Crisp, apple and lemon fruit with a lean, light mouthfeel. Balanced and firm on the finish, with lively acidity underneath. ($13.99)

(93) Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2012 (Marlbourough, New Zealand). New Zealand is not always the first place you think of when someone says “great Chardonnay,” but with wines like the 2012 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay, it should be in the conversation. Intensely fruity, showing more citrus than most Chardonnay, Cloudy Bay makes a well-balanced, Chardonnay-lovers dream at a value that is hard to match. One of the world’s premier Sauvignon Blanc producers is throwing its name in the hat for Chardonnay of the highest quality — and is on point. ($35.99)

(93) Matthiasson, Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 (Napa, CA). Killer Cali chard with a Burgundian temperament. Incredible balance is this wine’s hallmark. Fresh pear, yellow apple and almond paste are all present with great depth. Vibrant acidy provides the framework for the pure fruit and mineral expressions. ($27.49)

(93) Miner Family Winery 2011 (Napa Valley, CA). From their Chardonnay series, this is the “wild yeast offering.” The Miner family sources from three of the top Napa sites, and then utilizes native yeasts. For the fermentation process, 16 months in oak with 100% malolactic and barrel fermentation yield a rich, opulent wine, ripe with tropical fruit notes. This one can only improve with light cellaring, if you’re patient enough.  ($54.99)

(92) Yalumba Unwooded Chardonnay 2014 (South Australia). A good wine at a good price. The non-toasty flavor profile is refreshingly crisp, speckled with peach and pineapple notes throughout. A zippy finish with sleek texture. ($10.99)

(92) Jean-Marc Brocard Sainte Claire 2014 (Chablis, France). This wine begins with a flinty aroma that leads the way into pure green apples and lemons on the palate. The mid-palate has fine richness that finishes with vibrant acidity. Drink this now; great when paired with seafood or a white sauce pasta dish. ($22.99)

(92) Flora Springs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2013 (Napa Valley, CA). Bright, crisp aromas and flavors of pear and golden delicious apples, balanced beautifully by toasty oak and crisp acidity. The finish is long and refreshing. ($35)

(92) Maison Roche de Bellene 2011, (Bourgogne Blanc, Vieilles Vignes, France). As good as it gets for white Burgundy anywhere close to this price point. A high-energy Chard that exhibits Meyer lemon, tart apple, allspice and honeysuckle. Nervy and persistent acidity keep the flavors nicely focused. ($21.49)

(92) Domaine Lafage Novellum Chardonnay (Roussilon, France). The best value in Chardonnay you can find. Aging on Viognier lees gives this wine body without the use of oak, so it meets the well-balanced look that touches every side of Chardonnay drinkers. It is near impossible to find value in Chardonnay that is not one-noted, and Novellum Chardonnay’s complex fruit and mineral tinged flavors keep it away from that. To boot, you are drinking Chardonnay from Roussillon, France, which is an anomaly in its own right. This wine delivers each vintage and the 2014 is no slouch. ($12.99)


Four Stars

(91) Sean Minor Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, California). Another reputable producer heads out to the Sonoma Coast — but Sean Minor is making their Chardonnay at a price the consumer can actually get on board with. Whole-cluster pressed with natural malolactic fermentation occurring, the wine has enough acidity to still present itself as balanced as possible. This is a big feat considered it was aged for 10 months in French Oak Barrels. A toast to a more classic California Chardonnay with pear and tropical fruit notes, and a background of vanilla and baked apples. ($19.99).

(91) Merino ‘Limestone Hill’ Chardonnay 2012 (Limari Valley, Chile). A beautiful Chilean Chard with no malo! Aromas of orange peel, lemon and clove lead to flavors of green apple, more spice and some chalky minerality. Lots of class to this one. ($29.99)

(91) Qupé “Y” Block 2013 (Santa Barbara County, CA). A big, rich chardonnay, overflowing with ripe mango and apricot flavors. Crisp acidity with layers of fruit that build to an attractive finish. Perfect when served with a creamy cheese like Camembert, and walnuts. ($19.99)

(91) Paradise Ridge Chardonnay 2014 (Russian River, CA). Very clean, golden light color, vibrant notes of apples, a hint of citrus and toasty creaminess, full mouthfeel, white flowers, a hint of magnolia blossoms, generous lushness balanced with clean refreshing acidity. An excellent example of a Russian River Chardonnay. ($22.99-27.99)

(91) Eden’s Eve Chardonnay 2014 (Russian River Valley, CA). A rich, ripe chardonnay, medium body, with delicate flavors of pear, green apple. The wine builds intensity and ends with an oak-influenced vanilla finish. ($29)

(91) Rock View Chardonnay 2014  (Mendocino, CA). Elegant with a layered creamy roundness on the palate that complements the acidity. Rich notes of pear, apple and citrus provide a great initial flavor that carries over to the finish. ($27)

(91) River Road Chardonnay Unoaked 2015 (California). Crisp, pure flavors of white peach, nectarin and rich melon are not impeded by any oak influence. There is a great mouthfeel with savory notes from the bright acidity and moderate alcohol. ($17)

(91) Old Cannery Row 2013 (Santa Lucia Highlands, CA). A concentrated, full-bodied chardonnay that has expressive aromas and flavors of toasty oak, vanilla and tropical fruits. The bold, rich mouthfeel provides a finish that is smooth and expansive. ($24)

(91) Old Cannery Row Raymond Ranch 2013 (Monterey, CA). A complex chardonnay that manages to combine both elegance and power in its savory flavors of pear, pineapple, vanilla and butterscotch. The supple smooth mouthfeel and a balancing core of acidity provide a well-structured, lengthy finish. ($24)

(91) J.Lohr Vineyards and Wines J.Lohr Riverstone 2014 (Monterey, CA). Still our favorite “house” Chardonnay after probably 16 consecutive releases. Now utilizing nine different clones, Winemaker Jeff Meier continues to fine-tune their foundation white wine. Fresh and crisp, never cloying with excess fruit or oak. Well balanced. ($11.99)

Three Stars

(90) J.Lohr Vineyards and Wines October Night 2014 (Monterey, CA). Part of Lohr’s expanding vineyard series. Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel shows a deft touch with this wine sourced from the Block 9 planting, primarily using the Musque clone. Coupled with a very regimented fermentation and barrel program, the result is a powerful, aromatic, floral wine of great complexity. Beautiful tropical fruit and touches of vanilla, and butterscotch. ($24.99)

(90) Dutton Goldfield, Dutton Ranch 2013 (Russian River Valley, CA). Light gold in color with an aroma of honeysuckle and assorted citrus fruits. Opens up to a pleasing mix of green apple and pear fruit. The finish is more intense with a combination of citrus, ginger and lemongrass. Bright and tangy.  ($36.99)

(90) Domaine Talmard Macon Chardonnay, Noble Wines (Burgundy, France). Totally natural, this wine uses no added yeast, no MLF, and no oak. Just the natural, delicious Chardonnay juice. A Recoltant wine, it is actually produced in the 1000-year old village of Chardonnay. ($16)

(90) Schug Chardonnay Carneros Stacole. A classy wine, rich and powerful, yet soft and gracious at the same time. The texture is silky, with overtones of pear and citrus. A perfect match for creamy pasta and lobster. ($25)

(90) Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay 2013 (Russian River Ranches, CA). Golden color with nice clear bright legs, nose with hints of toast and apples, medium-to-semi-full mouth feel, beautiful clean acidity balanced, elegant and creamy notes, ripe, and finishes long. Very generous. ($17.99-21.99)

(90) DeWetshof “Limestone Hill” Chardonnay 2015 (Robertson Valley, South Africa). This unoaked venture will really shock you. Starting with that most drinkers have yet to get into Chardonnay from South Africa, and finishing with this wine drinking like twice of what you are paying for it. Dewetshof over-delivers again with their 2015 Chardonnay. Refreshing and pure fruit flavors of apple, pear and citrus on the palate, this wine finishes as clean as can be. ($14.99)

(90) Monticello Chardonnay Estate 2014 (Oak Knoll, OR). A full-bodied chardonnay whose upfront citrus and green apple notes are held together with a firm-structured yet subtle oak creaminess. The bold texture is complimented by a bright acidity that makes for a memorable chardonnay. ($35)

(90) Seven Rings Chardonnay 2014 (Monterey, CA). A bold full-bodied Chardonnay with big tropical notes of pineapple, melon and a hint of guava. The oak imparts some butterscotch, but mostly supplies structure. ($19)

(90) Truth and Valor Chardonnay 2014 (Paso Robles, CA). Elegant and well-expressed notes of nectarine, pineapple and green apple dominate the palate and nose. Oak is evident yet conservatively used and provides more of a structure for the fruit rather than being a flavor driver. ($19)

(90) California Square Chardonnay 2014 (Russian River Valley, CA). A Chardonnay that gains richness with air. Possesses flavors of tropical fruit and pears, along with vanilla and butter, from the oak influence. Powerful fruit skillfully blended with judicious use of oak provides balance. ($19)

(90) Emily Chardonnay 2013 (Lodi, CA). Elegant and balanced Chardonnay with flavors of lemon zest, bartlett-pear and a hint of piecrust. Medium bodied yet rich in flavor, the savory acidity and roundness of the fruit are very complementary. ($34)

(90) Cruz Alta Chardonnay Reserve 2015 (Mendoza, CA). A lively chardonnay that delivers expressive aromas and flavors of green apple, pear, melon and light notes and roundness of vanilla. This wine delivers refreshing acidity good structure and rich fruit. ($17)

(90) Smart Cookie Chardonnay 2013 (Central Coast, CA). Juicy peach, pear and green apple fruits, plus vanilla, and a touch of oak, emerge from this smooth Chardonnay. It finishes with bright, fruit-driven, savory notes, providing added nuance. ($12)

(90) First & Local Chardonnay 2014 (California). An edge of oak adds complexity to the fruit flavors of Bartlett pear, green apple and lemon zest. A well-structured mouthfeel and bright acidity are woven together in the savory finish. ($14)

(90) Banshee Chardonnay 2014 (Sonoma Coast, CA). Smooth and flavorful with just the right balance of fruit and oak at a nice price. ($20)

(90) Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay 2014  (California). A wonderful combination of elegance and energy. The savory tendency of this wine is quickly controlled by the brightness of a fruity mid-palate. A great wine to pair with your favorite pasta. ($17.99)

(90) Alexana Winery 2013 (Willamette Valley, Oregon). This is their terroir-selection offering. A balance of oak and stainless steel contribute to this classic Oregon new-world interpretation of Chardonnay. Lynn Penner-Ash as a winemaker definitely adds to this wine’s pedigree. ($42.99)

(89) Altitude Chardonnay (Nevada). Nice light-to-medium golden color, nose with hints of tropical fruits, pineapple and perhaps a hint of mango, medium-to-light mouthfeel, nice lemony acidity but balanced with a touch of buttery creaminess. Somewhat long finish ending with a refreshing feel. ($9.99-12.99)

(89) Joullian Vineyards 2013 (Monterey, CA). Working from parcels planted in the early ‘80s, winemaker Ridge Watson proudly offers his 27th release. Consistency shines from fruit sourced from some of the oldest vineyards in Monterey. Very Burgundian in style, with several yeasts used for fermentation, 100% barrel/malolactic program, then aged nine months on the lees. Citrus notes complement rich apple flavors with crisp minerality. ($24.99)

(89) Duckhorn Wine Company Decoy 2014 (Sonoma, CA). A great vintage year and sourcing from 14 vineyards gave winemaker Dana Eperson a rich palate to work from in creating a wine that showcases the best of Sonoma. Primarily done in stainless steel, with just a touch of oak leads to a youthful, crisp wine with pear, apple and citrus notes. ($29.99)

(88) Bread and Butter, Opici Wines, (Napa, CA). For all those folks who love oak and butter, here’s a bargain that has all the bells and whistles for a modest price. No gold medals, but a solid palate pleaser. ($14)

(88) The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2014  (California). This fun and light Chardonnay offers the traditional flavor and aromas of the classic California style while still giving a depth of flavor that separates it out from the price point. Great entertaining wine, or the perfect patio dinner. ($13.99)

(88) Indigo Eyes 2014 (California). What a pleasant surprise to discover this gem. This wine over-delivers for its modest price. Very rich, with peach tones and a hint of spice on the finish. Lightly scented, but not floral. Not sure who, what and where they’re sourcing the grapes, but I hope they make more of this great value wine. ($8.99)

(88) Rob Murray Vineyards Force of Nature 2013 (Santa Barbara, CA). Grower Rob Murray sources from his Murmur Ranch vineyards in the Santa Maria valley, then lets winemaker Bob Henson work his magic. 50/50 oak/stainless barrel program yields clean crisp fruit, great minerality, floral notes and rich citrus and stone fruit flavors. ($18.99)

(86) Calera 2013 (Central Coast, CA). Josh Jensen demonstrates his fine eye for sourcing fruit in this, his value offering. Nine different sites contribute to this surprisingly complex wine for the price. Fruit and oak are given a very light, balanced touch. Classic “Cali” Chard. ($21.99)

(85) Maison l’ Envoye 2012 (Bourgogne, France). Classic Old World Chardonnay. Rich minerality in a lighter style. A standalone wine, but great with lighter fare. Very few do it this well, especially at this price. The perfect “P” wine (pool, porch or patio) as the weather warms up. A great alternative to the overly oaked fruit bombs in the market. Excellent example of what the Maconnais offers for value. ($21.99)

(85) Vinaceous Shakre 2014 (Margaret River, Australia). One from the new young guns of Australia, highlighting the rich fruit for the western region. Predominately done in stainless steel with just a kiss of oak, resulting in clean crisp fruit, a touch of minerality and great aromatics. Eye-catching label on the shelf. ($18.99)

(85) Mantra Wines Mobius 2013 (California). Mike Kumelis expands his range for the Mobius line with this California sourcing, with a heavy dose of prime Sonoma fruit. This second release confirms his handcrafted style. His young son Niko evidently found some great “grape juice” to let his dad use. Crisp, clean and very balanced. ($14.99)




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