California Chardonnay has gone through a transformation over the years. It was the Judgement of Paris in 1976 that put it on the map as a serious wine that could rival Burgundy producers who’d been making wine for centuries.
But during the 1990’s, a lot of experimentation in the California wine market took place. The ideologies wanted to reflect American culture and aimed to create a bigger more flavorful wine.
Three major changes happened: 1) Winemakers started using a heavy hand in techniques like full Malolactic fermentation. This process changed the tart malic acid to a silky / buttery lactic acid. 2) They also let the grapes hang longer to create more sugars. 3) Lastly, they barrel fermented the wine for lengthy periods of time to create dominant baking spice flavors.
These wines began to take on a playful cocktail shape for social occasions rather than serious artistic statements for dinners. Whereas French Burgundy Chardonnay wines have focused on subtle fruit, rocky minerality and vibrant acidity that bring out the savoriness in food.
In last 6 years, the old school style of Chard’s has come full circle. This happened for 2 reasons: 1) In 2010 and 2011, record low temperatures forced winemakers to return to the old style of more acidity and structure.
2.) Coincidentally, a younger generation of winemakers started making food friendly Napa Valley Wines, as they grew tired of the one dimensionality of the commercial Chardonnays made during the last two decades.
I find Chardonnay to be truly delightful when made well. Here are 5 really delicious Napa Valley Chardonnay Napa Valley Wines that approximate the complexity of Burgundy; grown right here in our own backyard:
Saracina Chardonnay 2015, “unoaked”, Estate, Mendocino -$14.99 retail
Blended with 4% Viognier for flowery aromatics, all the fruit for this wine is made from a 30-year-old certified organic vineyard on John Fetzer’s Sundial Ranch. http://www.saracina.com
Keenan Chard 2013, Estate, Spring Mountain. Napa Valley – $32.99 retail
Barrel fermented with no Malolactic (this process changes the tart malic acid to a silky / buttery lactic acid) this minimalist intervention wine comes from a vineyard that sits on picturesque Spring Mountain overlooking Napa Valley. http://www.keenanwinery.com
Stomping Girl Chardonnay 2013, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros – $40 retail
Situated a few miles from the San Pablo Bay makes all the difference when the fog from the bay and cool nights swoop in to brighten up the acidity of these grapes. https://www.stompinggirlwines.com
2013 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast – $40.99 retail
Winemaker Jeff Pisoni, son of California wine rock star Gary Pisoni, has recently joined the Fort Ross team, so I’m confident the winemaking is in good hands. http://www.fortrossvineyard.com
Stony Hill Chardonnay 2008, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley – $41.99 retail
Fred McRea purchased the property in 1945 becoming one of Napa’s first bonded wineries. Their first vintage was in 1952, and I don’t think the style of winemaking has changed one bit! Not that it’s a bad thing – these wines are as unique as any in California. http://www.stonyhillvineyard.com
Make sure you try of few of these pairings and leave me a comment or question below. I’d like to know what’s been your experience of Chardonnay. Are you a fan or are you someone that won’t drink Napa Valley wines because you assume that they’re all too oaky and buttery? If that’s the case, did any of these wines change your mind?