Chardonnays have gotten a bad rap. Chard hating runs rampant, with Web sites and blogs devoted to chard bashing and new wine clubs called Anything But Chardonnay. And until recently, I secretly carried a membership card. The pervasiveness of crappy, boring Chardonnays has been undeniable, and with so many offerings that pretty much taste the same, why choose any?
But times they are a' changin'. California winemakers (the Australians and, of course, the French have been clued in for a while) no longer feel the pressure to butter their wine like toast, and their wines deliver the one-two oak punch. Like, oh my God, I can taste the Chardonnay fruit for the first time in years. After tasting so many Chardonnays that I don't want to smell another for a while, I've assembled a motley crew of wines worth trying ... again.
Domaine Louis Moreau 2003 Chablis Not the jug wine you'll find mislabeled from California, this is the real French Chardonnay Chablis. Complex with streams of well-balanced flavors that woo you, like toffee, orange and cloves. Sophisticated and classy with a touch of acidity. Sweetness = 2. $21. Rating: **** 1/2
Hangtime 2003 Chardonnay Edna Valley (California) Exceptionally tasty juice from the Southern California region. Fragrant pear and sweet red apple, with soft, creamy and perfectly balanced vanilla. Oh so good! Sw = 4. $16. Rating: **** 1/2
Morgan 2004 Chardonnay Double L Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Silky and elegant, with loads of flavors coming at you: sweet honeysuckle, vanilla, walnuts sautéed in butter, cinnamon and honey. The delicious finish lasts forever. Sw = 3. $35. Rating: ****
Trevor Jones 2004 Virgin Chardonnay (Australia) Lively, crisp and fun, like a talkative friend. Not a buttery, oaky flavor anywhere. Layers of fresh melon, sweet pineapple, ripe Golden Delicious apple and tart lemon convince you that Australia is making some amazing Chardonnays. Sw = 2. $16. Rating: ****
Bearboat 2003 Chardonnay Russian River Valley (California) Full-bodied, acidic and exuberant. It nips you with lemon-lime and grapefruit, but also tropical stuff like kiwi. Very cool wine. Sw = 2. $14. Rating: ****
Monkey Bay 2004 Chardonnay (New Zealand) Flowery with tangy citrus and sweet sugar cookie-dough flavors. Acidic enough to complement food. Great price for a wine of this quality. Sw = 2. $10. Rating: *** 1/2
Joseph Drouhin 2003 Pouilly Fuissé (France) Delicious, tastes like apricots dipped in yogurt. Creamy and dreamy with a refreshing, steely aftertaste. Sw = 2. $22. Rating: *** 1/2
Simi 2003 Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley (California) OK and buttery with elegant butterscotch and bell pepper mixing together (nicely, I might add). Smooth and easy to drink. Sw = 3. $25. Rating: *** 1/2
Blackstone 2004 Chardonnay Monterey (California) I rag on these guys all the time since their marketing is so damn intrusive that people feel forced to buy them. I still don't like their merlot, but this chardonnay is pretty good. It tastes like sweet Welch's grape juice with a squirt of grapefruit and tangerine. Sw = 3. $11. Rating: ***
Guenoc 2003 Chardonnay (California) Graceful with ripe pear, peach and creamy vanilla pudding. It doesn't have a huge follow-through on the finish, but I still enjoyed this one. Sw = 2. $12. Rating: ***
Smashed Grapes 2004 Chardonnay (California) A simple wine, loaded with tangy lemon and lime, with enough sharp acids to complement food. Sw = 2. $10. Rating: ** 1/2
Kendall Jackson 2004 Chardonnay Vintner's Reserve (California) An unfortunate lackluster attempt from the ubiquitous KJ brand. Has some fruity lemon-lime, but it's overwhelmed by a watery, unripe green apple flavor. Sw = 3. $12. Rating: **