By Robert Parker
A small group of California wineries produce scrumptious cuvées. Chardonnay at its finest can yield majestically rich, buttery, honeyed wines with layers of flavor reminiscent of pineapples, tangerines, apples, peaches, and even buttered popcorn. But because the wine is so popular, a lot of indifferent output finds its way to market. In California, renowned for chardonnay, only about 50 out of more than 800 producers make interesting wines from the grapes. Here are some of my favorite chardonnay producers. Many of their wines will last 5 to 10 years, but most will drink just fine right now. Availability varies state by state, and some of these wines are best ordered directly from the winery.
Grown in cool Russian River and Sonoma Coast areas, these have great minerality and intensity, like those from Burgundy. The finest cuvées, at $125 and up, come from the Lauren, Quarry, Reuling, and Ritchie vineyards. Aubertwines.com, 707 963-4569
A mega-winery can make worthy products, as Beringer shows. Top chardonnays include the Private Reserve ($35) and the Sbragia-Limited Release ($40), both from Napa. Napa Valley Chardonnay, at $16, is a bargain. Beringer.com, 707 963-7115
This winery pursues Burgundian-style winemaking. Owners Kerry J. Murphy and Michael Verlander and winemaker Andy Smith hit pay dirt with their 2005s, in the $50-$70 range: Russian River Valley, Chloe, Clare, and Isobel. Dumol.com, 925 254-8922
Chardonnays from the Russian River and Sonoma Coast are vibrant, with terrific acidity and amazing length. Look for Durell, Dutton Ranch, Hirsch, Hudson, Hyde, Kistler, McCrea, Vine Hill, and Stone Flat cuvées. Kistlerwine.com, 707 823-5603
This isolated, high-altitude Santa Cruz Mountain winery's estate-bottled chardonnay needs two to four years of aging after bottling. Some vintages have continued to evolve for more than 20 years. Mounteden.com, 888 865-9463
The winery fashions an unfiltered chardonnay that possesses loads of hazelnut and buttery popcorn notes backed up with superb minerality and acidity. It is one of the longest-lived chardonnays from the Napa Valley. Newtonvineyard.com, 707 963-9000
Sir Peter Michael built a stellar reputation using French winemakers to craft complex chardonnays with French names. The finest include Belle Côte, La Carrière, Cuvée Indigène, Ma Belle-Fille, Mon Plaisir, and Point Rouge. Petermichaelwinery.com, 800 354-4459
David Ramey's Carneros District ($38) chardonnay is splendid stuff and usually a good value. His cuvées from the Hudson ($60), Hyde ($60), and Ritchie ($65) vineyards will make believers out of skeptical anti-chardonnay consumers. Rameywine.com, 707 833-2535
The Arroyo Grande Valley winery makes brilliant chardonnays with honeyed citrus and crisp minerality. The Estate cuvée is tops ($26), and the Rosemary's, Rincon, and Oliver's single-vineyard wines are outstanding. Talleyvineyards.com, 805 489-0446
Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit www.eRobertParker.com to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.