Consider this your crash course.

By Jonathan Cristaldi
February 15, 2019
chris van dolleweerd/Getty Images

Chardonnay is the world's most popular white wine, and with good reason. From its regal perches in Burgundy, where Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards turn out powerful, richly layered wines capable of aging long stretches in the bottle, to the coasts of California, Washington, and Oregon where styles range from cheap and cheerful to pricey and profound—it’s one fascinating grape. But, with such a large spectrum of bottles to choose from, getting familiar with Chardonnay's many facets can be quite the undertaking. That's why we rounded up 25 essential Chardonnays from around the world, representing the best of what this ultra-versatile grape has to offer. 

1. 2016 Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, California $27

The 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.

2. 2017 The Calling Chardonnay Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California $30

Sonoma’s Russian River Valley is home to some of California’s best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and old-vine Zinfandel bottlings. Because of the region’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, a thick blanket of fog rolls in most afternoons, shielding vines from the hot Sonoma sun, so grapes are able to ripen slowly while maintaining a distinct freshness. The Calling reveals a deliciously fresh wine, bursting with lemon curd aromas and a hint of butterscotch. It’s fleshy and round with crisp lemon citrus, flamed lemon peel and ripe pineapple, finishing with sweet baking spices and oak kissed by wild fresh herbs. 

3. 2016 Three Sticks Winery Durell Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, California $55

Certain vineyards are considered special because they’ve proven year after year that, no matter the winemaker, the wine produced is exceptionally good. Durrell Vineyard is one, which falls into three AVAs (or, American Viticultural Areas): Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley, and Carneros. It is a rocky, windy, varied site, planted by Ed Durell in 1979, and today supplies a bevy of great producers with grapes. Three Sticks’ Bob Cabral turned out this exceptional wine, which offers wonderful lemon oil and lime peel aromas mingling with jasmine florals. Rich and creamy but balanced by bracing acidity, packed with layered apple and pear notes, finishing with ginger spice and a slightly salty minerality. 

4. 2015 Ramey Hyde Vineyard Napa-Carneros, California $65

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.    

5. 2016 Qupe Chardonnay Y Block Santa Barbara County, California $18

The “Y Block” is a famous set of vines within the Bien Nacido Vineyard, easily one of Santa Barbara County’s absolute best vineyards. Freshly churned cream, flamed lemon peel, and white honeyed floral notes give way to toasted brioche, baking spices, lemon bar sweetness cut by zippy acid, and a hint of butterscotch on the finish.

6. 2016 Domaine Anderson Chardonnay Anderson Valley, California $29 

In 1982, Louis Roederer, a French Champagne producer, made waves by purchasing land in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, a couple hours north of San Francisco—it provided the kind of publicity boost needed to turn more eyes on the valley. Vineyards lie between California Redwoods and Douglas Firs, and it’s 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. 

7. 2015 Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand $19

When it comes to white wine from New Zealand, most people think of Sauvignon Blanc. But Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern shores of the North Island, is a hotbed of Chardonnay activity, and a great source of value wines. This one is a real deal given it’s an under-$20 single-vineyard bottle. Medium-bodied with nice citrus and baked apple notes kissed by toasted almonds.    

8. 2016 DAOU Vineyards Chardonnay Paso Robles, California $18

From their perch on DAOU Mountain, a 212-acre estate in the Adelaida District AVA, Georges and Daniel Daou are practically synonymous with Paso Robles wine country. Legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff once described their property as “a jewel of ecological elements.” This Chardonnay is from their entry-level “Paso Robles Collection,” and it’s a showstopper—rich and round, with ripe tropical fruit, Asian pear, and lemon cream, gathering momentum with terrific baking spices, hints of ginger, vanilla, and honeysuckle.   

9. 2016 Center of Effort Chardonnay Edna Valley, California $24

Just south of Paso Robles, the Edna Valley is part of “SLO” wine country in San Luis Obispo County. There, vineyards are planted just a few miles from the Pacific, in rugged mountain terrain rich with calcareous limestone soils, making it an ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This one takes estate-grown grapes aged in French oak, Acacia wood, and concrete, and blends them together revealing lemon and lime citrus, sweet lemon cream, oak spice, and a smoky seashell minerality.

10. 2016 B.R. Cohn Silver Label Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, California $17

With this one bottle, you’ll be an expert in four key winemaking techniques for producing fresh, creamy Chardonnay. Just-harvested grapes undergo a cold-soak and are then fermented at low temperatures, with the goal of extracting flavors and preserving fresh aromas. Then, the wine is put through both battonage (stirring of the yeast “lees”) and malolactic fermentation, two winemaking processes that promote a rich, creamy mouthfeel in Chardonnay.  

11. 2017 A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay, Oregon $15

Oregon is considered an extremely cool climate, which makes it well-suited for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Similar to Burgundy, weather can have a big impact on vintages, and knowing just how one producer fared over another is half the battle in picking a good bottle. 2017 started off cool but ended with a heat wave, and this A to Z offers a complete snapshot, brimming with grapefruit zesty freshness and verve from cooler weather, balanced by the riper pear and tropical fruit, courtesy of the heat.  

12. 2017 Tamarack Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Valley, Washington $18

The Columbia Valley is an AVA in Washington State covering some 11 million acres and encompassing many sub-AVAs like Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, and Red Mountain. Chardonnay is one of the region's prime grapes, and Tamarack’s is a crisp, apricot-infused, apple-pear-and-baking-spice-laden wine, with good weight from barrel-fermentation in used French oak.   

13. 2016 Maison Louis Latour Mâcon-Villages Chameroy Burgundy, France $16

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.   

14. 2016 Bouchard Père & Fils Pouilly-Fuissé, France $26

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 don’t bear the hefty price tags of its northern Côte d’Or neighbors. Just be sure not to confuse this with Pouilly-Fumé, which is how Loire Valley producers refer to their Sauvignon Blanc wines. White florals mingle with citrus, wet stone, and a subtle honeysuckle finish. 

15. 2015 Joseph Drouhin Rully Blanc, Côte Chalonnaise, France $25

As you leave the famous town of Beaune in the Côte de Beaune, it’s about a 40-minute drive to Rully, which is in the north of the Côte Chalonnaise, sandwiched 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. 2015 was an outstanding vintage and this shows bright, fresh character with preserved lemon and hints of almonds.    

16. 2016 Louis Jadot Puligny-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, France $79

Jadot was founded in 1859 by Belgian emigree 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. 

17. 2016 Albert Bichot Domaine Long Depaquit Chablis $28

To the northwest of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or lies the region of Chablis, where winemakers turn out exquisite mineral-driven Chardonnays that just beg for oysters. The reason is there’s a kind of high-toned sea-spray, oyster-shell mineral quality that is classic to Chablis. Wonderfully distinct white floral aromas mingle with lemon peel, hinting at flinty minerality and oyster shell notes, while baked apple gives way to toasted almond notes.

18. 2015 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Atalayas Vineyard Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, Chile $20

More and more boutique producers are on the rise in Chile’s Casablanca Valley, which is a very cool region, impacted by the Pacific Ocean’s icy Humboldt Current. This is one of the rare winegrowing regions where you can find a single-vineyard Chardonnay like this for around $20. Fresh, complex, and teeming with white floral notes—along with a combination of orchard and tropical fruit notes—atop a rich, creamy texture. 

19. 2017 Tormaresca Chardonnay Puglia IGT, Italy $12

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 isn’t masked by oak aging. 

20. 2016 Fowles Wine 'Farm to Table' Chardonnay, Victoria, Australia $15

Roughly sharing the same latitudinal coordinates as Napa and Sonoma, Victoria is a very cool region in southeast Australia. This wine comes from an area known as the Strathbogie Ranges, which is laden with million-year-old granitic rocks. The Chardonnays from here are delicate, and smack of cooler climate qualities—more Chablisien in nature—like this, which shows lemon-lime citrus peel, white flowers, stone fruits, and lime cream. 

21. 2016 Vasse Felix 'Filius' Chardonnay, Margaret River, Australia $22

Critics are beginning to voice their opinions that 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. 

22. 2017 Rustenberg Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa $19

If there’s any region to watch, it might be Stellenbosch, which, although known mostly in the U.S. for Cabernet Sauvignon, is seeing a bevy of up-and-comers making excellent Chardonnay. Rustenberg is a classic producer from the region, situated on an estate that dates back to 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 twice as much. Just bursting with baking spices, candied apricots, citrus peel, and richly layered with a hint of almond sponge cake. 

23. 2016 Novellum Chardonnay, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $14

From importer Eric Solomon, this is a killer wine for the price from one of France’s top Chardonnay regions. Uniquely aged on the expired yeast lees of Viognier grapes, along with some oak aging, lends this wine a richly layered texture rounded out by stone fruits, like peach and apricot, along with baking spice and toasty brioche notes.

24. 2016 Catena Chardonnay Mendoza, Argentina $18

From a pioneering family of grape growers in the high mountains of Mendoza, four vineyards planted between 3,000 and above 4,500 feet supply the grapes for this light-bodied, salty mineral-streaked, lemon-driven Chardonnay tinged with peach pit and apple notes.

25. 2016 The Eyrie Vineyards Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, Oregon $27

Rising to over 1,000 feet above lower elevation vineyards in the Willamette Valley, the Dundee Hills is a hotbed of activity, where vines are rooted in red volcanic Jory soils. David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the area in 1965 at The Eyrie Vineyard. Today, his son Jason Lett is at the helm producing lovely wines. Creamy and mouth-filling with lively citrus, pretty white florals, honeysuckle, and zippy acidity.

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