According to Wine Institute, California’s wine trade organization, Chardonnay is easily the most popular wine variety in the U.S. with national sales approaching 25 per cent of all wines sold in grocery stores.
One reason for its popularity is most Chardonnay is fruity enough to make a refreshing aperitif yet has the depth and flavor range to go with a wide variety of foods. Chardonnay is also very responsive to where it is grown and how it is treated in the winery. Descriptions of Chardonnay range from green apple to citrus but with oak treatment is can turn toasty with vanilla and buttery overtones.
Let’s have a taste of three California Chardonnays, all from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, prime Chardonnay territory.
The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Estate Block Chardonnay ($30) is, the first time the winery has produced this particular bottling. The vineyard is in the eastern reaches of Russian River Valley. Dry Creek has been upgrading the quality of the wine for several years—and it was damn good to begin with. The wine was barrel fermented in French oak, which gives it a warm, buttery base overlaid with pear and apple tones. The wine would go well with salmon, a Mediterranean style fish stew, grilled chicken, among other dishes. And be sure to save a glass for the English Cheddar cheese after dinner.
Kosta Browne 2011 Russian River Valley One Sixteen Chardonnay ($58) is from the cool Green Valley, a sub-appellation in the Russian River Valley appellation. The name, by the way, comes from state highway 116. If you follow 116 you will find some damn fine wine along the way. This wine has good acidity, bright uplifted flavors grounded in ripe citrus leading to a lush wraparound finish. The wine could work as an aperitif but try it also with milder Asian or Latin American dishes as it has the balance and acidity to deal with a few chilies.
Marimar Estate 2011 Acero Chardonnay, Don Miguel Vineyard Green Valley, Russian River Valley> ($29) Here is that rare Chardonnay that has never been introduced to oak. Acero is the Spanish word for steel and this wine was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks, which means you are getting the pure—and in this case lovely— Chardonnay fruit. The vineyard is only ten miles from the Pacific Ocean and planted with a high density of 2000 vines per acre. This style of planting lowers the yield but creates more intense fruit in the wine. In the glass, this wine is elegant with bright lively lemon and white peach tones with a pinch of ginger. The finish is long and dry. Owner Marimar Torres recommends serving it with light tapas. I would be happy to have a glass with a root veg soup—-parsnip, anyone?—or a creamy goat cheese.
—Larry Walker, the Wine Chap, with an assist from The Chef, Ann Walker.