Chardonnay

Balletto Vineyards, 2013 Chardonnay, Teresa’s Estate, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

As you might expect from an unoaked Chardonnay, the Teresa’s Estate lets its bright floral and tropical fruit characteristics propagate like Carmen Miranda’s hat. What you might not expect to find from this neck of the woods is the Chablis-like chalkiness apparent in the nose. The palate displays surprising richness and a silky texture that carries flavors of ripe red apples that evolve into pineapple and nectarine. $20. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Benovia Winery, 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

If you’d like some wine with your oak you’ll love Benovia’s barrel fermented and aged Russian River Chardonnay. Forward aromas of toasty oak and baking spices waft from the glass, followed by a full-bodied, richly layered wine with subtle ripe citrus, nectarine and pear flavors, followed by notes of butterscotch in the finish. $34. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Hartford Court, 2012 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

This affordable Chardonnay is as bold and showy as a Jersey girl’s tramp stamp and has probably seen just as much wood. This is a big wine with impressively concentrated aromas and flavors and a rich, creamy texture. Loads of ripe tropical fruit flavors mingle with subtle hazelnut and vanilla characteristics. A terrific value. $30. Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Hoopla, 2012 Chardonnay, North Coast

This un-oaked wine spends time in contact with the lees, or dead yeast cells, which sounds a lot like a M. Night Shyamalan movie. The lees contact imparts rich yeast aromas and a full, silky mouth feel. Clean minerality is also apparent in the nose, while the palate delivers rich apple flavors $32 – $40. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Keller Estate, 2010 Chardonnay, Oro de Plata, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma

Keller ages Oro de Plata Chardonnay in neutral oak barrels. No, that doesn’t mean the barrels are from Switzerland, it means they have been used so many times that they’ve lost their ability to affect change, much like congress. Speaking of congress, this Chardonnay is as white, rich and creamy as a three-term Republican senator. It features unique flavors of ultra-ripe red apples, cherries and white peach. $33. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Keller Estate, 2010 Chardonnay, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma

The Keller La Cruz Vineyard Chardonnay has the same rich oaky quality that the Keller’s Oro de Plata Chardonnay doesn’t. It’s silky and elegant, yet powerful and concentrated. The nose is redolent of crème brûlée and ripe pears, while the palate features ripe red apple flavors tossed with vanilla and baking Graham crackers. $38. Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Kosta Browne Winery, 2012 Chardonnay, One Sixteen, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

This Chardonnay features the same floral, lavender-like nuances found in baby powder. In fact it glides over your palate with the silky refreshment of talcum powder applied to a bad heat rash. Put it between your cheeks you’ll see it’s an impeccably balanced white with crisp acidity and full-body, abundant fruit flavors of ripe apples and subtle pineapple with pretty honeysuckle notes in the finish. $58. Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma

I detected the telltale yeasty aromatics and round mouth feel of sur lie aging in this Chardonnay. Wine maker Heidi Bridenhagen confirmed my observations and also reported that in addition to keeping the wine in contact with the dead yeast cells, she also incorporates 100% barrel fermentation, utilizing 25% new French oak barrels in the aging process. New oak imparts stronger oak flavor and has greater influence on the final outcome, much like the voters in Ohio. This is a full-bodied white with ripe fruit and toasty oak doled out in equal measure. $38. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Martinelli Winery, 2009 Chardonnay, ‘Bella Vigna’, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Martinelli has been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1887 and accordingly, Julianna Martinelli’s business card lists her title as “Farmer’s Daughter.” So if you visit the winery I recommend you don’t tell her father you’re a travelling salesman. This is an elegant, silky and full-bodied Chardonnay that features ripe pear and caramelized custard flavors and faint traces of yeasty, toasted brioche. $43. Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Patz & Hall, 2012 Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

In a world filled with overripe, over extracted and over oaked Chardonnay it was refreshing to taste the understated and exquisitely balanced wines from Patz & Hall. Sure this wine is ripe and packed with flavor but it keeps it all in check and never becomes flamboyant. Aromas and flavors of flowers, peaches, orange marmalade and slightly toasted oak come together in harmony. Crisp acidity lends structure and asserts that this Chardonnay should accompany your meal and not be your meal. $42. Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Rombauer Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Carneros, CA

I found this wine impossible to keep on the retail shelves because it’s like crack to a certain unnamed demographic. This barrel-fermented white undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation that converts tart lactic acid into creamy malic acids) which results in subtle aromas and flavors of butter and butterscotch. I also picked up aromas of ripe apricot, lemon meringue and pineapple. This is a rich, creamy style of Chardonnay yet it maintains good balancing acidity. In the palate the fruit characteristics found in the nose are joined by hints of banana. It’s not for everyone but then neither is crack. $35. Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Rombauer Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Proprietors Selection Reserve, Carneros, CA

Once again Rombauer is keeping the best wine to sell exclusively at the winery. Their reserve Chardonnay is only produced in exceptional vintages and in the 33-year history of the winery they have only made it 6 times. It shares many traits with the Carneros Chardonnay but it’s as refined and sophisticated as a John Coltrane sax solo. The ripe fruits and butterscotch aromatics are laid back and accompanied by subtle smoky, yeast-like characteristics. Full-bodied and very silky on the palate with terrific balance between the tropical fruits, vanilla and butterscotch notes. This is an elegant white and not nearly as showy as the Carneros bottling. $65. Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

Thomas George Estate, 2011 Chardonnay, Estate, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Formerly known as the Davis Bynum winery (the first to label a wine with the Russian River designation), Thomas George Estate is now owned by the Baker family. The estate Chardonnay is a medium-bodied white with a pleasing round mouth feel and subdued stone fruit aromas and flavors. White peach, lemon meringue and clean minerality combine to make this a well-balanced, food-friendly white. $34. Rating: 3 Stars (3 / 5)

Van Dyk Family Wines, 2011 Chardonnay, “Respect” Russian River Valley, Sonoma

This is the inaugural release from Van Dyk Family and presently the wine is only available directly from the winery. It features captivating aromas of lemon custard, subtle butterscotch, peach cobbler, and crème brûlée. The full-bodied palate displays flavors of lemon, tangerine and restrained white peach surrounded by subtle nuances of butterscotch. Crisp acidity lends balance to this multi-faceted white, while the lengthy finish reveals notes of hazelnut and vanilla pudding. Profits are donated to Alzheimers and other senior care organizations. $40.

Rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)*

*In the name of full disclosure, I am friends with the Van Dyk family and I originally wrote these tasting notes for their web site.