“Versatile and popular there is a reason Chardonnay is the most planted white-wine grape in the world” –Paul Ebeling
To be an expert, you need to know the difference between a “Maison” and “Domaine” bottled Chardonnay. The word “Domaine” on a label will tell you that the grapes were grown by the winery, while “Maison” refers to Negociant-made wines from purchased grapes. Louis Latour happens to be both, a grower and a Negociant. From the Mâconnais, a rocky region in southern Burgundy, comes this yellow apple, citrus-kissed white with just a hint of jasmine and freshly baked bread on the finish.
In the south of Burgundy is an area called the Mâconnais, and within this region is the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation, a veritable gold mine of Chardonnay wines that do not bear the hefty price tags of its northern Côte d’Or neighbors. White florals mingle with citrus, wet stone, and a subtle honeysuckle finish to the taste.
Jadot was founded in Y 1859 by Belgian emigre Louis Henry Denis Jadot. Today, it is an icon of Burgundy, producing entry-level wines up through more expensive Premier Cru and Grand Cru bottles. This Chardonnay comes from the town of Puligny-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune and possesses the depth and elegance Puligny is known for, balancing lemon-lime zest with yellow apple, vanilla, and pear. Puligny-Montrachet is my favorite.
As you leave Beaune in the Côte de Beaune and motor North to the Côte Chalonnaise between the Mâconnais and the Côte d’Or. Mostly white wine is produced in Rully, even some sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne. Drouhin’s bottling offers a trove of Chardonnay lessons: this is a massale selection, meaning specific vines were chosen, in this case directly from Drouhin’s own vine nursery, and planted. Y 2015 was an outstanding vintage and this shows bright, fresh character with preserved lemon and hints of almonds.
California’s Sonoma Coast is an area that overlaps with the Russian River and Carneros appellations. Vineyards are planted on high ridges and rolling plains and are subject to extremely cool Pacific Ocean breezes. Gundlach Bundschu is one of the oldest growers in the area, and this wine is a classic, cool-climate Chardonnay bursting with lemon zest, minerality, and a zippy, fresh, clean mouthfeel, courtesy of the cool growing conditions of the area.
Larry Hyde’s eponymous vineyard is often referred to as a “California Grand Cru,” likening it to the kind of top-quality vineyards that exist in Burgundy. The site lies in Carneros, a cool region south and west of Napa and has supplied grapes to big names like Aubert, Patz & Hall, Kistler, and David Ramey. This rendition by Ramey is worth the money, as it’s a shining example of a Hyde Chardonnay rich lemony notes and lovey ginger spices come together in a rich, decadent wine, tinged with crushed wild rosemary, and subtle almond and toffee flavors on the finish.
In Y 1982, Louis Roederer the French Champagne producer, made headlines by purchasing land in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley north of San Francisco. Its vineyards lie between California Redwoods and Douglas Firs, and it is quite cool, which is perfect for growing Chardonnay. Frederic Rouzaud, the son of Roederer’s founder, is at the helm of Domaine Anderson. Granny Smith apple, pear, and honeysuckle notes mingle with citrus zest and baking spices.
Piero Antinori is a name synonymous with some of Italy’s greatest wines, including Tignanello, and Guado al Tasso, not to mention his American brand Antica Napa Valley. This Chardonnay is Antinori’s estate in Southern Italy, and is aged in stainless steel, which means it is super fresh, pure, and loaded with bright fruit that is not masked by oak aging, I do not like over oaked Chardonnay.
If there is a region to watch, it might be Stellenbosch, which, although known mostly in the US for Cabernet Sauvignon, is seeing up-and-comers making excellent Chardonnay. Rustenberg is a classic producer from the region, situated on an estate that dates back to Y 1682 The grapes for this Chardonnay were hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed, barrel-fermented with wild, native yeasts, and aged in partial new French oak. Had this been given that kind of regimen in California or France, it would cost 2X as much. Just bursting with baking spices, candied apricots, citrus peel, and richly layered with a hint of almond cake.
Australia’s Margaret River region is an epicenter for Top ranking Chardonnays that can compete with the best from Sonoma and Burgundy. Vasse Felix is one of the region’s top producers. Ocean breezes constantly blow through their vines, creating smaller clusters of tiny berries with thicker skins meaning great textural mouthfeel and fruity richness. Lemon curd, pineapple core, and grapefruit meet a hint of ginger atop juicy acidity.
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