Chardonnay is planted throughout the world's wine regions and produces well in a broad range of climates. It's America's favorite white wine, varying widely in style according to location and the influence the winemaker exerts on the variety--from lean, flinty, high acid Chablis, to the fat and oily, big oak California model, plus everything in between. We tasted some higher-end Chards, all from American soil. Different personal preferences are well represented on our panel, but never has there been so much disparity in voting. Each of the top three wines earned at least one first-place vote, countered by at least one last place. Read the tasting notes carefully to determine if a wine suits your personal taste. Here are the top picks:
2004 D.R. Stephens, Carneros, Hudson Vineyard, $42
Ample oak on the nose showing candied apple and fragrant fruit cake aromas along with hints of lemon and grass. Sweet pear and peach flavors are backed by vanilla custard, smooth oak and just the slightest touch of citrus that comes through on the finish. This is a big, rich California offering that would work best sipped on its own. Sure to be a big hit with the many lovers of this opulent style.
2005 Domaine Drouhin Arthur, Oregon, $24
A marriage of Burgundian wine philosophy and the Oregon micro-climate. It offers light and lovely green apple, pineapple, kiwi and subtle herb aromas. Crisp apple flavors are backed by elegant oak and bracing acidity. For me this wine has everything I want from a Chardonnay: complexity and balance in aroma and flavor, remarkable persistence across the palate, the true expression of terroir throughout, and the cleansing acidity that goes well with food.
2005 Frank Family Vineyards, Napa, $26
Big, but not overwhelmingly toasty, oak on the nose, balanced by aromas of gooseberry, honeyed fig and grilled pineapple. The flavors run toward sweet citrus with a nice hit of lemon zest, very light acidity and the ever-prevalent rich oak and velvety vanilla. Finishes soft and round with still more oak and candied apple. The quintessential big-shouldered California Chardonnay. :
This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Kyle Mahler, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay