In 1976, the tasting known as the Judgment of Paris put California on the world wine map. Chardonnay and cabernet from the Golden State more than held their own against some of the top guns from France. We did our own mini-Judgment, pitting four California chardonnays against four from France. I'm a self-confessed lover of white burgundy, but again, California proved worthy, taking three of the top four spots:
2010 La Cote Blanche Macon-Villages Chardonnay, $13.99
Fermented in stainless steel, this no-oak wine has gone through malolactic fermentation, adding a definite richness to the nose, while taming the acidity. You get floral aromas of honeyed citrus and fig. Round and ripe in the mouth, this wine's lime and melon flavors are bright and lively. This was the sole French entry to make the cut.
2011 Morgan Metallico Un-oaked Chardonnay, $20
Hailing from Monterey, Calif., this wine sees no oak and no malolactic fermentation. The result is pure chardonnay with lively citrus and pear aromas, colored by touches of tarragon, white pepper and lavender. Sweet citrus and peach flavors are nicely balanced by food-friendly acidity.
2010 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, $21
A California classic from the Russian River region, this wine is partially barrel fermented then aged in oak for nine months, which results in a well-integrated wood influence. The nose is filled with floral fruit backed by mineral, herb and butter with a hint of caramel. Crisp acidity balances creamy peach, apple and lime with a hint of spice on the finish.
2010 Starry Night Chardonnay, $17.99
This wine is another barrel-fermented Russian River entry. You definitely get toasty oak notes on the nose, along with pear, peach and quince. The oak colors the palate as well, adding touches of smoke and vanilla to the tropical fruit flavors. A bit of minerality comes through on the finish and lingers nicely.