California chardonnay has the potential to be among the most rewarding, overtly delicious wines around. Unfortunately, it still suffers from the reputation it earned a decade or more ago as an often over-oaked, flaccid option for unadventurous drinkers.
But here’s the thing: That’s just not the case anymore. There are more world-class chardonnays coming out of California now than any time in recent memory, and from steely and austere to fleshier bottlings, there are excellent options out there no matter what you gravitate toward.
My recommendation is to head to the store immediately and pick up the single-vineyard bottlings from La Follette. Even at close to $40 they represent great deals, express the land they come from with clarity and honesty, and, perhaps most importantly, they’re seriously delicious.
La Follette Chardonnay 2010, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
An almost Burgundian nose speaking of smoke, minerals, lemon verbena, scorched earth, and Kaffir lime are a prelude to flavors of warm pastry, apricot brioche, walnuts and hazelnuts, lemon creme, and crunchy green apple. It’s fresh and vibrant with an almost salty finish that rolls on for a long time. Drink now - 2022. (And for a great education, taste a bottle of the Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, from the Russian River Valley. It’s a buttery, riper wine, perfumed with hints of vanilla and grilled pineapple. Also beautiful, but in a totally different way.)