Shining a Spotlight on Oregon Chardonnay

Whether rich and buttery or elegant and mineral-forward, Oregon is one of the few regions able to have it both ways when it comes to Chardonnay. Find out why.
Getty

Sometimes dissed as white wine with training wheels, Chardonnay still remains a favorite among consumers due to its wide availability on the market and generally good quality. But beyond just good, truly great Chardonnay is elusive. Historically, there are two main camps: the New World, heavily oaked, buttery and rich Chardonnays; and the elegant, detailed, mineral-­driven Old World styles.

Oregon’s vintners can emulate the best of both worlds, while producing distinctive, place-specific wines. Look to pioneering wineries such as Adelsheim, Eyrie and Ponzi for an overview of techniques.

Jason Lett at Eyrie favors old-vine wines from Draper and Wente clones that were brought up from University of California–­Davis in the mid-1960s. These wines are lean, subtle and especially ageworthy. Luisa Ponzi is incorporating some new oak into her vineyard designates, and exploring the impact of new clones and wild yeasts. Adelsheim, a leader in the introduction of the French Dijon clones, marries them to traditional Burgundian techniques such as barrel fermentation and stirring of the lees.

The Old Vines of Oregon Wine

For those seeking rich Oregon Chardonnay bottlings—think high-end California wines but with distinct and fresh acidity—look to Domaine Serene. The winery produces a half dozen single-vineyard and reserve bottlings, notable for their concentrated, sappy fruit and generous, yet judicious, application of new French oak.

Top quality from any region comes down to the usual triumvirate: the age of the vines, location of the vineyard and skill of the winemaker. When they are all in harmony, brilliant wines emerge, and in Oregon, they’re typically at prices well below the iconic Chardonnays of California and Burgundy.

Oregon’s best Chardonnays are complex—at times delicate—yet always balanced by natural, fresh acidity. Wines from cooler sites and vintages display green and yellow fruits, while warmer years bring ripe tree fruits and even tropical flavors. Drink up!

Oregon Chardonnay: 10 Recommended Wines

Domaine Serene 2015 Clos de Lune Vineyard Chardonnay (Dundee Hills); $75, 96 points. This wine’s lip-smacking peach and apricot flavors are slathered with buttery toast notes, yet kept lively by vibrant acidity. Despite the almost decadent flavors, it maintains its precision through a stunningly long finish and gets even better with aeration. Drink now through 2028. Cellar Selection.

Lingua Franca 2015 Avni Chardonnay (Willamette Valley); $40, 94 points. Lingua Franca, a Larry Stone/Dominique Lafon project, offers a challenging, absorbing lineup of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The Avni bottling is tangy and tight, with white peach and melon fruit and hints of toasted nuts and butter. The finish extends gracefully, keeping you riveted. Editors’ Choice.

Winderlea 2015 Chardonnay (Willamette Valley); $38, 93 points. The grapes for this excellent wine were sourced from the Carabella, Hyland and Thistle Vineyards. It’s supple and tangy, with orange, grapefruit, lemon pith, apple and gooseberry flavors, all framed by a gentle touch of oak. This is a classy, sophisticated and impressive wine. Editors’ Choice.

Shea 2015 Chardonnay (Willamette Valley); $35, 92 points. Smooth and rich, this young wine has exceptional texture and mouthfeel. It’s a seamless mix of ripe stone fruit, with a touch of vanilla and a hint of butter. Editors’ Choice.

Carabella 2015 Eve’s Garden Chardonnay (Chehalem Mountains); $45, 91 points. This is the winery’s reserve-level Chardonnay, and just three barrels were produced. It offers extra concentration and a silky mix of apple and pear fruit, with a touch of minerality. The finish, which is long and balanced, is enwrapped in almond flavor.

Lenné Estate 2016 Chardonnay; $40, 91 points. This creamy and smooth wine tastes of mashed apple, papaya and pear. Almost half was aged in new oak, which contributes to that silky mouthfeel and to its butterscotch-laced finish. A hint of minerality infuses the acidity. Though young, this first-time effort is delicious and ready for immediate enjoyment.

Saffron Fields Vineyard 2015 Estate Chardonnay; $44, 91 points. Not much Chardonnay is produced at this winery, which is a shame. This spicy, toasty, well-rounded effort is clean and fresh. It mixes grapefruit, green apple and white peach flavors with zippy acidity. Drink now through 2025.

Keeler 2015 Chardonnay (Eola-Amity Hills); $28, 90 points. This wine’s well-ripened yellow and green fruit flavors come with fruit skin and herb notes. It’s a sleek, stylish and medium bodied, showing a light touch of toast from aging in a mix of new and one-year-old French oak.

Stave & Stone 2016 Chardonnay (Columbia Gorge (OR)); $28, 90 points. Creamy and textured, this lively wine shows a tasty mix of lime, peach and tropical fruit highlights, along with a light touch of vanilla. It was aged on the lees for seven months in 17% new French oak.

Marshall Davis 2016 Marshall Davis Vineyard Chardonnay; $36, 90 points. This is a chewy, nutty, punchy wine with a solid core of apple and melon fruit. Its acidity lends a generous citrus tang, and the flavors smooth out nicely through the finish, with a burst of caramel.

Published on January 19, 2018
Topics: Place-Specific Wines
About the Author
Paul Gregutt
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Oregon and Canada.

Paul Gregutt is a Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, a founding member of the magazine’s Tasting Panel, and reviews the wines of Oregon and Canada. The author of the critically-acclaimed Washington Wines & Wineries—The Essential Guide, he consulted on the Pacific Northwest entries in current versions of The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Email: paulgwine@me.com.




SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories