No matter how hard I try, I still don’t understand the disdain that some people have for Chardonnay. In fact, with the increased prevalence of unoaked Chards, I thought that the “Anything But Chardonnay” crowd had finally faded away into oblivion. Just the other day, however, one of my wife’s coworkers is headed out to wine country and asked for a few suggestions of where she and her husband might visit.
Since I get this question all the time, I have a rather rehearsed set of questions that I ask to narrow down the numerous possibilities. The first of which is: “What kind of wine do they like?”
You know what came next.
“Anything But Chardonnay.”
There it was again. I thought for a moment that it was my responsibility to either educate the couple or at least flog them, since, at least in my opinion, Chardonnay is perhaps the most versatile white grape in the world. It runs the gamut from an unoaked, acid driven, bright tropical fruit refresher to an oaky, viscous creamcicle dripping with butter. It is perhaps the most blended white across the globe since it serves as one of the primary varieties used in champagne and other sparkling wines. Heck, I have even tried a late harvest chardonnay that was wonderfully sweet.
You can find good Chardonnay at every price point as well. I have had wonderful wines from Chile that go for $10 a bottle and I have hade sublime wines from Burgundy, the best of which often go for 500 times that (that’s $5000/bottle for those of you keeping score at home).
In the end, there was no educating nor any flogging. I just sent them a list of places to go, some of which had a Chardonnay–and I encouraged them to try it.
Had they been going to Oregon, I certainly would have steered them to one of the several holdings of the NW Wine Company.
NW Wine Company has built a rather impressive array of labels in the last dozen years: Soléna, Hyland, Domaine Loubejac, and Kudos. All labels from Oregon, and all labels that make at least one Pinot Noir and one Chardonnay. I was lucky enough to receive a sampling of the Chardonnays offered by the group, and over the course of the summer, I made my way through them.
NW Wine Company offers a range of options, starting with their inexpensive, yet impressive Kudos brand all the way up to the stellar Hyland and Soléna labels.
2014 Kudos Chardonnay Willamette Valley: Retail $15. Bright lemon and melon aromas lead to zesty acidity, citrus fruit, and a hint of butter on the finish. While this will not fool you into thinking it is a Chassagne-Montrachet, it is a solid drinker for every day (and with a price tag of at least 20% of that of a white Burgundy, you will not feel guilty about drinking it on a daily basis). As this wine warmed a bit in the glass, the flavors and depth were enhanced. I would not hesitate to put this on my table (or in my cellar for a year or two). Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2014 Domaine Loubejac Chardonnay Willamette Valley: Retail $16. Some stone fruit and honey predominate on the nose, with nice acidity, some lemon, and a bit of flinty chalkiness on the finish. A nice mid-level iteration of Chardonnay without a heavy oak hand. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2013 Wildewood Wine Company Chardonnay Willamette Valley: Retail $18. A faint nose with some banana and acacia flower eventually coming through. On the palate, this is a perfectly pleasant unoaked style Chardonnay with vibrant acidity (it did not go through malolactic fermentation). This is a solid wine for the Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) crowd to try–and it won’t break the bank. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2013 Soléna Chardonnay Willamette Valley: Retail $30. Luscious nose of citrus, almond, and yes, oak, this wine immediately alerts you of its serious intentions. On the palate, it is quite nice with both delicate flavors and firm acidity. There is oak here as well, but restrained—more of a back drop than a foreground. The finish stops just a bit short, but this is a very well made wine, one to enjoy over the next five years or so. Outstanding 89-91 Points.
2013 Hyland Estates Chardonnay: Retail $45. An inviting nose of tropical fruit–guava and pineapple with a touch of buttered toast. On the palate, very nicely balanced and while there is a creaminess and a hint of oak, it is by no means over-blown. In fact, the fruit and the acidity are really the stars of the show here, and it is a wonderful production. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Soléna Domaine Danielle Laurent Chardonnay Willamette Valley: Retail $50. Subtle nose of white flowers with a bit of melon and a hint of clove. Over the lips this is much more Chablis than Chassagne (i.e., it emphasizes brightness over creaminess). Clean and lean with lemon and verve. This likely would benefit from a bit of cellar time. Right now? Outstanding. 90-92 Points, but that could increase in a couple of years.