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Chardonnays I Swooned Over in 2010

2008 Alysian Cresta Ridge Vineyard Taurin Block Russian River Chardonnay 14.1% alc., 378 cases, $38. Light straw clear color in the glass. Fresh aromas of white stone fruits, butterscotch and buttered toast. Delicious and persistent moderately rich mix of flavors including pear, white peach, green apple, biscuit and maple syrup framed by lively acidity with a subtle note of oak in the background. Uncommon tenacity of flavor for a Chardonnay. Everything is singing in harmony and this wine is just my style.

2007 Brewer-Clifton Sweeney Canyon Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 15.2% alc., 120 cases, $70. Light straw color in the glass. Distinctive aromatic profile of dried herbs, candle wax and cut flowers. Lovely flavors of peaches and nectarines with a faint note of oak in the background. Slightly creamy and more demure than the Mount Carmel and Rancho Santa Rosa bottlings with a better fruit and acid balance. No sign of alcohol.

2007 Buena Vista Carneros Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Carneros Pinot Noir 14.2% alc.,, 3,807 cases, $32, screw cap. Aromas of lemons pears, buttered toast and roasted nuts. Very tasty essence of lemon curd, white peach, pear and a touch of allspice. Beautifully composed with a welcoming snap of acidity on the finish. A “go to” California Chardonnay that has all the spunk you can ask for.

2008 Fess Parker Ashley’s Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 14.3% alc., $22. Straw color in the glass. Nicely appointed nose featuring scents of green apple, cinnamon spice, and a hint of toasty oak. Very tasty essence of white stone fruits in a seamless style with a well-proportioned acid backbone. Very clean on the finish, drawing the drinker to take another sip. California Chardonnay at its finest. Because of the name, wine geeks may not take the winery seriously, but I am here to tell you that this is a label worth exploring for all its varietals.

2008 Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 13.5% alc., 800 cases, $55. Light straw color and clear in the glass. Demure scents of spiced apples and white peaches. The apple, peach, citrus and pear flavors flood with mouth with flavor, but the wine has an appealing modesty. Slightly viscous in texture, there is no oak intrusion, and bright acidity brings the fruit into focus. A very classy Chardonnay with modest alcohol that adds to the appeal.

2008 Freestone Vineyards Pastorale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 13.5% alc., 50 cases, $100. Light golden straw color in the glass. Needs some coaxing to open in the glass, but over time offers an alluring perfume of apple pan dowdy, Asian pear and buttered toast. Similar in flavor profile to the Sonoma Coast bottling, but with added notes of roasted nuts, minerals and lemon zest. A sneaky wine that picks up intensity and interest with swirling in the glass and provides a full-on explosion of flavor after 30 minutes. A subtle creaminess and hi-tone acidity add to the appeal. Worth the tab for serious Chardonnay aficionados and in the same class as other top producers of California Chardonnay such as Peter Michael, Littorai, Kistler, Hanzell and Ramey.

2007 Hanzell Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 14.3% alc., 2,777 cases $70. One-third fermented in French oak and two-thirds in stainless steel. Pale straw color in the glass. Delicate, yet complex aromatic profile that picks up intensity with time in the glass to reveal scents of white peaches, crushed stones, toasted brioche and lemon tart. This high-collared wine strikes a perfect balance between welcoming finesse and impressive finishing strength and persistence. Smoothly textured with a well proportioned grip of acidity and a very appealing underlying minerality. Flavors of golden apple, white stone fruits and subtle toast develop strength and brilliance with air time. If you must open a bottle now, decant. A very classy wine that will hold its own against many Grand Crus white Burgundies.

2007 LIOCO Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley Chardonnay 13.8% alc., 225 cases, $35. Fermented in stainless steel (no oak). Terrific aromatics flashing ripe pears, green apples, warm cookies and graham. The flavors are reminiscent of a warm apple tart, with hints of apricot and toast. Smooth and creamy with a lively citric acid lift on the back end. Fresh and very bright. I drank at least a case of this last year.

2007 Morlet Family Vineyards “Ma Douce” Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 360 cases, $70. Moderately deep straw yellow color in the glass. Piercing aromas of lemon curd, yeast, roasted nuts and smoky oak. Plush and luxurious on the palate, yet vibrant with acidity and minerality. Enticing flavors of white peach and buttered brioche linger on the refreshing finish. A very impressive wine that will still pumping out bright flavor three days later from an opened and re-corked bottle. Decant this wine if you pop the cork now. One of the greatest California Chardonnays to cross my lips.

2007 Peirson-Meyer Charles Heintz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 14.4% alc., 450 cases, $55. Moderately deep straw color in the glass. The aromas really come at you over time in the glass showing lemon curd, creme brulee, vanilla wafer and wet stones. Flat-out delicious flavors of golden apple, pear, melon and freshly buttered brioche that are palate staining and hang around on the finish for what seems like a minute. Very smoothly textured with perfect integration of oak. This wine would make any Frenchman green with envy. One of my favorite California Chardonnays, and the one I buy by the case and magnum when my wife isn’t looking over my shoulder.

2007 Pfendler Vineyards Estate Grown Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 14.1% alc., $38. A marvelous wine style perfectly to my preferences. Complex nose of buttered popcorn, honey, lemon zest, honeydew and spiced apple. Delicious flavors of pear tart and baking spices. A demure wine that is beautifully proportioned with a lasting and aromatic finish.

Additional excellent California Chardonnay priced right:

2007 Bjørnstad Sonoma County Chardonnay ($25)

2007 Bonterra Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay ($28)

2009 Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay ($28)

2008 Fogdog (by Freestone Vineyards) Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($35)

2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28)

2007 Lucas & Lewellen Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($16)

2007 LIOCO Sonoma County Chardonnay ($19)

2007 Melville Estate Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay ($20)

2007 Sebella (by Hanzell) Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($36)

Other California producers of Chardonnay worth pursuing: Benovia Winery, Clos Pepe Vineyard, The Ojai Vineyard, Sea Smoke, Au Bon Climat, Ambullneo, Paul Lato, Rhys Vineyards, Windy Oaks, Mount Eden, Rivers-Marie, Aubert, Ramey, Peter Michael, Kongsgaard, Marcassin, Kistler, duMOL, Littorai, LaFollette, Hirsch, Williams Selyem.

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