Chardonnay can make a wonderful value wine. While many Chardonnays are expensive, an array of New World winemakers are creating exciting and affordable examples of the varietal. If you have a budget of $15 or less, you can find a very good bottle of Chardonnay.
This ubiquitous white grape creates one of the world's favorite white wines. Chardonnay can range in character depending on the terroir and style of the winemaker. One of the chief characteristics of Chardonnay is a toasty oaky quality, coming from aging in oak barrels. Along with toast, this imparts deep vanilla flavors to the wine. In recent years, many winemakers have also been experimenting with unoaked Chardonnay with varying degrees of success. While oaked Chardonnay is buttery and toasty, unoaked Chardonnay can often be crisp and fruity. Both types pair well with many foods, especially white meat poultry, white-fleshed fish, shellfish, and cream-based dishes.
Defining the Best
The term "best" is, of course, quite subjective. Personal taste has a lot to do with what one considers the best. Given that, best here is defined as a wine that drinks well and that many agree is a good quality wine. You may find many others in this range that you really enjoy, as well. The list is by no means comprehensive.
Ready to find great values in Chardonnay? Try the following:
- A to Z Wineworks Chardonnay from Oregon is another consistently good value. At $15 a bottle, you can buy this wine by the case and drink it throughout the year. Enjoy the flavors of peach, pear and mango with a subtle hint of minerality.
- Angove Red Belly Black Chardonnay from Australia costs about $13 per bottle and tastes of melons, peaches, and toasty oak.
- Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay is another Washington State wine. The winery makes consistently good value wines, including one of Wine Spectator's top wines of the year in 2009. The Grand Estates Chardonnay costs about $12 per bottle, and the 2009 vintage earned 88 points from Wine Spectator. It has flavors of caramel apples, pears, and cream.
- Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay from California is consistently good and costs around $13 per bottle. The 2009 version received an 89 point rating from Robert Parker, and it is America's number one selling Chardonnay. It has flavors of tropical fruits and citrus.
- Fat Bastard Chardonnay from France sources grapes from multiple wine region's vineyards. At under $10 per bottle, the wine is redolent with floral notes and a fat, toasty flavor.
- Four Vines Naked Chardonnay from Santa Barbara is a crisp, concentrated unoaked Chardonnay that costs just under $15 per bottle.
- Charles Shaw Chardonnay from California can't be called a terrific wine, but at about $2 per bottle, it is surprisingly drinkable. It has even won a few wine competitions. The wine can be found exclusively at Trader Joe's supermarkets, and for about $25 a case, you can use it as cooking wine if you don't drink it.
- Toad Hollow Mendocino County Chardonnay from California is another unoaked Chardonnay. Retailing for around $13 per bottle, the Chardonnay is crisp and fruity with a hint of mineral.
Choosing and Enjoying Chardonnay
One of the nice things about Chardonnay is the range of styles. Wine drinkers can find an array of styles that please their palates. If you prefer the toasty vanilla flavors, choose an oaked Chardonnay. These wines drink well three to five years after purchase (some last longer). The wines that have the ability to age longer typically have more complexity. If you prefer a crisper, fruitier style, then try an unoaked Chardonnay. If you're looking for surefire bottles, then check out wine ratings from sources like Robert Parker, Wine & Spirits, or Wine Spectator. You can also seek recommendations from your local wine proprietor.
Drinking Good Chardonnay
Ultimately, "the best" Chardonnay is one that you enjoy that fits your budget. While critics can give you guidance, the ultimate guide is your palate. The best way to find good wines in your price range is to taste them. Visit wine shop tastings and wineries to discover the wines that you most enjoy.