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Wine

Best Chardonnay

Made from a flavorful green grape that packs a punch, Chardonnay is one of the world's favorite white wines. Chardonnay grapes are grown all over the world, though they were first cultivated in the Burgundy region of France. Though they reached the peak of their popularity at the end of the 20th century, there are still more acres devoted to this Chardonnay than any other white wine grape. Though its popularity has made it unchic in some circles, there are so many ways to style Chardonnay that most people who claim to dislike it would probably appreciate at least one of its incarnations.

Since it's a relatively hardy varietal, Chardonnay can be grown in many different regions. Depending on the weather and the quality of the soil, wine made from these grapes can show flavors of apple, pineapple, ripe fruit, or vanilla. There are a number of ways to style Chardonnay wines. These wines can be aged in oak and finished with a malolactic fermentation, resulting in the big oak and butter flavors frequently seen in California chardonnays. Alternatively, they can be aged in steel, a fermentation technique that allows the green apple tartness of the grapes to shine through. In Champagne, France, Chardonnay grapes are also the only grape that can be used to make blanc de blanc Champagnes.

Husch Vineyards Chardonnay '12

Husch Vineyards Chardonnay '12

An incredible wine carefully blended from grapes grown in a number of different climates, Husch Vineyards Chardonnay '12 is our top choice for Chardonnays under $20. It has aromas of white fruit and lime on the nose, which are well-balanced by flavors of tropical fruit and vanilla. The mouthfeel is smooth and buttery, and the finish long and luxurious. This wine has won numerous awards and rates in the high 80s and low 90s with wine critics. The only downside is that Husch doesn't produce quite the quantity of many other Northern California vintners, so you'll want to be sure to grab a bottle before they run out until next year.

Cupcake Chardonnay '12

Cupcake Chardonnay '12

Over the past few years, Cupcake Vineyards has gained popularity with casual wine drinkers. Though the cute name may turn off some serious wine drinkers, Cupcake Chardonnay '12 is not a wine to dismiss. On the contrary, this wine has a complex flavor profile with notes of spice, oak, vanilla, cream, and citrus. The malolactic fermentation gives this wine a smooth, buttery mouthfeel, and a lingering finish. Well-balanced and full-bodied, this Chardonnay is excellent now but will hold up for a couple of years in the cellar. The 2012, which is the current vintage, is also one of the best recent years, thanks to mild weather that made it possible to leave the grapes on the vines for an extra few weeks.

La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast '12

La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast '12

In order to craft a wine with the rich oaky notes most Chardonnay drinkers crave, as well as the fresh fruit flavors inherent to the grape, La Crema Chardonnay Sonoma Coast '12 is aged partially in French oak barrels and partially in stainless steel tanks. These two wines are then blended to create a richly complex Chardonnay with lots of crisp apple and citrus, as well as candied fruit, toasted oak, and butterscotch. It has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel, and a long finish that remains perfectly smooth without an acidic bite. The flavor and bouquet of this wine remains largely unchanged from year to year and bottle to bottle, making this a great choice for a daily favorite.

Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Chardonnay '11

Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Chardonnay '11

A winner at a number of wine competitions, Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Chardonnay '11 is one of the best Chardonnays for under $20. With plenty of tropical fruit flavor and a deliciously smooth mouthfeel, this wine embodies the best qualities of New World style Chardonnays. It has notes of melon, pear, and apple, as well as creme brulee, butter, and oak, making it a luscious, fruit forward wine that pairs well with seafood and spicy dishes such as Thai curry. The grapes are sourced from the Monterey coast, which is ideal for these grapes because it allows them to grow to maturity in cool weather, where they are able to fully develop their flavors without producing a great deal of excess sugar.

Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay '11

Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay '11

Though the growing season in Monterey County, California in 2011 started late, decreasing yields slightly, it ended on such a high note that '11 wines are some of the best around. Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay '11 is one of our Best Picks when it comes to Chardonnay for less than $20. A popular wine that's readily available at grocery stores and restaurants, this is nonetheless an excellent wine make in the oaky, buttery style preferred by most New World drinkers. It shows off aromas of citrus peel and slight sweetness, and rich flavors of vanilla, tropical fruit, and cinnamon. The finish is incredibly long and smooth, thanks to the malolactic fermentation.

Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay '12

Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay '12

An incredible wine that wowed the judges at numerous competitions, Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay '12 is our favorite Chardonnay. The wine is aged half and half in oak and half in steel, making it incredibly balanced. Indeed, neither the boldness of the oak nor the tartness produced in the steel tanks dominates in this wine, giving it the ability to reach Chardonnay drinkers who like oaky wines as well as those who prefer crisp, Sauvignon Blanc style wines. The nose features stone, oyster shell, and lime, and the mouthfeel is smooth and soft thanks to the malolactic fermentation. Flavors of pear and lemon predominate, giving this wine both an acidic edge and enough fruit to balance it out. This wine really does offer the best of both worlds and is ready to drink now, without any additional time in the wine cellar.

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay '11

Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay '11

2011 was a great year at Kongsgaard, and the Kongsgaard Napa Valley Chardonnay '11 is one of the best chardonnays on the market. The grapes enjoyed a cool summer and were able to remain on the vines for an extra few weeks, giving them time to develop to their full potential. Aged in oak barrels for two full years, this wine has aromas of wood, toast, and fresh dough. Since it's undergone a malolactic fermentation, it's also smooth and buttery on the palate. In addition to the incredible nose and mouthfeel, this wine also features flavors of honey, peach, citrus, and stone. It's a complex wine that will pair well with rich foods. It will also benefit from two or three years of additional cellaring. When the 2012 vintage comes out, this is also primed to be an excellent Chardonnay.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay '12

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay '12

Though this wine enjoyed 8 months of aging in oak barrels, Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay '12 features plenty of the crisp, clean flavors that are often overshadowed by barrel fermented chardonnays. 2012 was a good year in South Africa, and these grapes enjoyed a mild, dry season that allowed flavors to concentrate in the grapes. This wine has plenty of pear and lime flavors that are perfectly complimented by aromas of oak and stone. It's an intense, incredibly flavorful wine and one that will hold up to a few years in the cellar. In fact, this wine is not expected to reach its peak until 2017 though it's so good now that it'll be difficult to leave alone for that long.

Willamette Valley Chardonnay '12

Willamette Valley Chardonnay '12

Made from vines cloned from French Chardonnay originally from the Dijon Appellation, Willamette Valley Chardonnay '12 is an incredible wine that shows off a great deal of complexity. The vines are 25 years old, and with that age has come a natural complexity that vintners working with younger vines attempt to replicate by aging their wines in oak. Though Willamette Valley Chardonnay is aged in oak, most of the flavor comes from the grape itself, not the oak it's aged in. This wine is a favorite among wine enthusiasts and critics because of its aromas of brown sugar, honeysuckle, and lemongrass and complex flavor that includes notes of caramel apple and butterscotch. It has undergone malolactic fermentation, so the mouthfeel is rich and buttery.

Carneros Chardonnay '12

Carneros Chardonnay '12

Though it's delicious right now, Carneros Chardonnay '12 is a wine that will only get better with age. It's been aged in oak barrels for 10 months, giving it a rich, fully developed flavor. It's also been finished with malolactic fermentation that gives it a luscious, buttery quality prized in Chardonnays. This wine has flavors of tropical fruit and vanilla, aromas of grapefruit and lime, and an incredibly long, smooth finish. As it ages, it will also develop notes of sweeter fruit, including fig and apricot, making this wine one that you'll want to try to resist cracking open, at least until 2015 or 2016.

Crystal Beran
Crystal Beran has spent the past 10 years immersed in the exciting and delicious world of food and drink. She has honed her cooking skills as a baker, a caterer, and a personal chef, and currently spends a good deal of her time training the next generation of young chefs. Her work as a wine steward has helped her to develop a discerning palate and a love of excellent wines from all over the world. Over the years, she has had the good fortune to visit wineries in Northern California, Tanzania, France, and Italy. In her spare time, she brews beer and invents delectable dishes to share with friends, family, and students.
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