Good Buys in Chardonnay

We consume a lot of Chardonnay in the Hartman house: it is the usual drink in the late afternoon prior to the evening meal (whether dining in or dining out) and often right through the meal as well. Ever since the California vintners, in the early 70s, amazed the world with what they could do with the white grape of Burgundy (the Pinot Chardonnay) I have preferred the heavy, oaky, vanilla-laced varieties which have come from California and the wineries in Australia which follow similar production techniques. Having tried so many types over the years, I have a few suggestions.

If price is no object, there are many Chardonnays which will glorify your palate. I think of the several types of Kistler, Far Niente, Ferrari Carrano Reserve, among many selections. However, if you are also guided by price, I think you will appreciate these choices:

The regular Chardonnay bottling from Rombauer Vineyards (Rom-bough-er), in the Carneros region of Northern California, sells for $26.99 and is, in my opinion, the equal of most upper tier Chardonnays selling for much more.

But what if you want to pay less?

Hartman's Chardonnay Choices by Price:

At $17.00 - Cambria Winery - "Katherine's Vineyard"
At $15.00 - Liberty School (regular bottling)
At $13.00 - J. Lohr (regular bottling)
At $11.00 - Kendell Jackson ("Reserve")
At $8.00 - Angeline (Russian River Valley)
At $ 7.00 - Butterfield Station (regular bottling)
At $5.50 - Berringer (regular bottling)

This is also the ranking I would give them on the basis of relative quality. If it were not so, these chardonnays would not sustain their offering price.

The Liberty School Chardonnay from California's Central Coast region is not as powerful as the Rombauer, but those who appreciate this grape variety will be pleased with the character of this offering, which retails at $14.99 (discounted). If the price drifts upward, discard it in favor of the excellent J. Lohr, which can be had in some locations at $10 a bottle. (J. Lohr also makes an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon for a dollar more.)

The Kendall Jackson "Proprieter's Reserve" (the regular bottling from K-J is always described as a "reserve" - drawing to a close the use of this phrase to mean a cultivation from a special vineyard) and is something of a "gold standard" since so many restaurants and wine bars carry it. That makes it a wine upon which you can compare some other as either "better" or "not as good". Some regard the K-J chard as "too sweet". You decide. I have decided, and I rarely order or buy this wine. But it's function as a "yardstick" wine is pretty secure.

At the lowest price for quality chardonnay is Berringer, their regular bottling. We go through a lot of cases here. For an alternate choice we are off to Australia for Yellowtail. Discount stores have it in the Magnum size (2 bottle size of 1500ml) for $10.95 - which is $5.50 a bottle. It has good staying power over 3 to 4 days after the larger bottle is opened: it keeps its initial flavor much better than the equally priced magnum-sized offerings from Mondavi and other California producers.

Finally, there are bargain basement chardonnays at $3. These seem characterless, and held to the light, are paler than any chardonnay mentioned above. Have they been thinned with water? It is illegal, but who would know?

(I have no commercial arrangement with any of the mentioned names.)