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Chardonnay’s New Groove

A once-maligned grape finds new light thanks to a growing group of domestic vintners.


For decades domestic Chardonnays have often been disregarded as nothing more than oak-flavored butter-bombs, but times are changing. Thanks to a growing number of winemakers throughout Oregon, Washington and California, U.S.-grown Chardonnays are once again finding favor with light to no oak, so there’s no better time to get reacquainted with this wine. Together with writer Sarah Karnasiewicz we’ve pulled together 10 great options.


 

Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay 2011

Fermented entirely in stainless steel and bottled without undergoing a second malolactic fermentation (the process that converts tart malic acid into buttery lacid acid), this nimble, hand-harvested offering from New York state’s Long Island AVA exudes notes of tart apple and pear, fresh citrus and flinty minerality on the finish. $18, channingdaughters.com

 

Chehalem Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay 2009

Released just this past January, this barrel-fermented Oregon reserve finds a fresh-flavored middle ground on the spectrum of oaked American Chardonnays with notes of fresh flowers, lemon curd and ripe peaches. Bright acid balanced by a splash of residual sugar on the finish makes it a good match for heartier dishes and spicy foods. $33, chehalemwines.com

 

Davis Family Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010

Winemaker Guy Davis crafts this balanced, medium-bodied Chardonnay from biodynamic fruit and with attention to both New World technique and Old World tradition. At harvest, grapes are hand-picked and cluster-pressed and the juices divided for aging in 70 percent French oak and 30 percent stainless steel. The magic happens in the blending, resulting in a wine with some soft funk and the round curves that come with malolactic fermentation and oak—but tempered by a green apple bite and refreshing minerality. $36, daviswines.com

 

Dusted Valley Vintners Boomtown Chardonnay 2010

Part of the wallet-friendly Boomtown portfolio from Walla Walla, Washington’s Dusted Valley Vintners, this all-stainless, slightly effervescent Chardonnay is crisp and lemony and has a leanness that reflects its high-altitude roots. $17, dustedvalley.com

 

Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010

A classic Chardonnay for the holiday table, this cool climate-grown California Chardonnay balances subtle oak aging with fresh fruit flavors, and a bright, food-friendly acidity. Pair with a Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings. $29, jordanwinery.com


Melville Estate Chardonnay Clone 76 Inox 2011

Another impressive project from winemaker Greg Brewer, this delicate yet precise Chardonnay is built on ripe fruit grown on a carefully selected small parcel of sandy soil on the west side of the Melville Vineyards in California’s Santa Rita Hills. Slow, chilled fermentation in petite stainless tanks and later, cold storage to block malolactic fermentation, result in a crystalline wine with alluring notes of camellia and apricot on the nose and a peppery finish. $36, melvillevineyards.com

 

Pellegrini Unoaked Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2009

Gleaming and gently golden, this Sonoma County Chardonnay is fermented entirely in stainless steel and has the bright, clean profile to prove it. Juicy with green apple flavors and slightly herbal, it has light, palate-cleansing effervescence that makes it an especially great match for food. $18, pellegrinisonoma.com

 

Simi Sonoma County Chardonnay 2010

Combining grapes harvested from some of Sonoma County’s top appellations—think Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Carneros—this barrel-fermented Chard offers flavors ranging from lush tropical fruits to Meyer lemon to almonds. $18, simiwinery.com

 

Sleight of Hand The Enchantress Chardonnay 2010

Since launching in 2007, Walla Walla’s Sleight of Hand Cellars has established itself as one of the most exciting up-and-coming wineries in Washington State. This Chardonnay is made from well-established vines in the Yakima Valley, aged in neutral French oak and rested on the lees for nearly a year. Lively and lean, with a soft note of lemon curd and a spicy edge, it more than lives up to its name. $28, sofhcellars.com

 

Williams Selyem Unoaked Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2010

This pale, pretty Chard is the product of a cool season and aging in 100 percent stainless steel without malolactic fermentation. Ethereal without being simple, it gives off a whiff of peaches, a pleasantly zesty note of lime and a clean, almost piney, finish. $37, williamsselyem.com

 

 

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