With hundreds of options to choose from, it can be difficult to pick out the best California Chardonnay wines. And while the term "best" is subjective, you can find top California Chardonnays by checking ratings from wine critics and reviews from customers.
1. Marcassin Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay
Winemaker Helen Turley is a giant in the winemaking industry, and her artistry with her craft shows up in the wines from Marcassin, which have reached cult status. The Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay is the best of the best. Critic Robert Parker awarded the 2012 vintage of Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay a perfect 100 point rating, and previous and later vintages receive similar sky-high ratings. Of course, perfection doesn't come cheap. You'll pay for the privilege of drinking a wine from Marcassin; the 2012 Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay costs around $375, but it's a wine that will hold through about 2022 to 2027. It's a powerful example of California Chardonnay at its finest.
2. Aubert East Side Russian River Chardonnay
You'll find plenty of powerful and delicious Chardonnays from Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, but the Aubert East Side Russian River Chardonnay is one of the best. Critics love this wine; it frequently receives ratings above 92 points, and sometimes even achieves perfect 100 point ratings. It's not an inexpensive wine - release price is often around $150 per bottle. However, what you'll find in the bottle is a high quality Chardonnay with complex flavors and good aging potential. Try also the Aubert Chardonnay Carneros Larry Hyde & Sons; the 2016 vintage was Wine Spectator's #6 wine on their Top 100 list for 2018.
3. Calera Central Coast Chardonnay
Fortunately, there are many great Chardonnays from California that don't cost hundreds of dollars, and the Calera Central Coast Chardonnay is a good example of this. From vintage-to-vintage, it receives excellent ratings from critics, and the 2017 vintage received a 96-point rating from Wine Enthusiast, topping their list of best California Chardonnays. You'll find the wine for about $50 per bottle, making it a great value.
4. Peter Michael Point Rouge Chardonnay
This is a consistently good Chardonnay from the estate-grown mountain vineyards of Peter Michael Winery. The Peter Michael Point Rouge Chardonnay receives an aggregate rating across vintages and critics of 95 points. It's not an inexpensive wine; you'll pay $150 and up for a bottle, but inside you'll find a powerful and complex Chardonnay that critics and consumers love; Wine Spectator rated the 2012 vintage 97 points.
5. Jarvis Estate Finch Hollow Chardonnay
Vivino chose the 2014 Jarvis Finch Hollow Estate Chardonnay as their top Chardonnay from Napa in their 2018 Wine Style Awards. Unfortunately, it's hard to find the 2014 vintage on the market currently, although some does come up at auction. That doesn't mean you can't try this Chardonnay from other vintages. The wine is consistently highly rated, and you can buy it direct from the winery or from other retailers. It costs around $150 per bottle.
6. Ramey Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Coming in at #9 on Wine Enthusiast's top 100 for 2018 is the 2015 vintage of Ramey Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. It's the top rated Chardonnay for the year according to Wine Enthusiast, and the publication says it has "richness and delicacy". It's an affordable Chardonnay from California, costing around $42 per bottle. Wines from other vintages are consistently highly rated as well.
7. Best Budget Option California Chardonnay: Kendall-Jackson
Kendall-Jackson's Chardonnay comes from a mass-market wine maker, and it may lack the subtlety and complexity of estate-grown Chardonnays from big-name producers, but it's still a very good budget-friendly Chardonnay for people who enjoy a nice wine that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Wine Enthusiast awarded the 2016 vintage 91 points, and it costs less than $10. That's a real bargain for an enjoyable Chardonnay.
Chardonnays From California Wine Country
Since the middle of the 1800s, northern California has been famous for its ability to grow world-class grapes for winemaking. The climate and soil of areas like Napa Valley and Sonoma County are ideally suited to winemaking, and since the 1940s and 1950s, this region has been producing some excellent Chardonnays.
America's Most Popular Wine
Chardonnay, a clean-tasting, dry white wine, is the most popular wine in America. This versatile beverage goes well with a variety of dishes, from seafood to pasta, and it's on the menu in most restaurants. Most of America's Chardonnay wines come from California. In fact, industry experts say California-grown Chardonnay accounts for a third of the wine purchased in the United States.
Finding a Great California Chardonnay
Whatever its price or popularity, a good bottle of California Chardonnay is versatile and sure to please most wine consumers. As you try different California-grown Chardonnays, look for a bottle with the following characteristics:
- An oaky flavor that is not too overwhelming
- A good acid balance that brings out the full flavor of the grape without overpowering it
- A light, fresh taste with fruity or floral undertones, sometimes complemented by creamy or buttery flavors
Also, look for the following on the Chardonnay wine label:
- The term estate means that the wine was made from grapes grown on the vineyard, rather than purchased grapes grown in various conditions.
- The name of a specific county or region, rather than just "California," may indicate the wine is higher-quality.
- Bottles that are labeled with the vineyard's name also often indicate a higher-quality choice.
Enjoying California Chardonnay
California Chardonnay is an institution in the United States and around the world. You'll find spectacular examples of Chardonnay from California's many wine regions, with the top Chardonnays coming from Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Regardless of your budget, there's a top California Chardonnay to suit your tastes.