California’s abundant sunshine and warm weather make it an ideal home for many grapes. And while the Golden State is home to a wide array of exceptional wines, Chardonnay has emerged as one of its superstars.
This white grape has a long history in the state. In the 1976 Judgement of Paris, the wine world was shocked when a Chardonnay from California’s Chateau Montelena Winery beat the competition in a blind tasting, and bested its French competitors.
What temperature should Chardonnay be?
The best temperature range to serve Chardonnay is 50–55°F
Today, despite a vocal minority of the “Anything But Chardonnay” (ABC) crowd, this grape still remains the state’s most planted white variety and one of the best-selling wines in the United States. Here are some of our top picks for California Chardonnays that are easy to drink and won’t cost you more than $25.
California Chardonnay to look for
Diora 2017 La Splendeur du Soleil Chardonnay (Monterey); $22, 93 points. Bright aromas of lemon candy, sea spray and lime balm meets with a touch of pastry on the nose. Richer flavors of white peach and sea salt ride a light and bright texture on the palate, which grows more oaky toward the finish. Editors’ Choice. —Matt Kettmann
Matchbook 2017 The Arsonist Chardonnay (Dunnigan Hills); $22, 93 points. This indulgent, full-bodied wine goes all out on richness. Aromas of malted milk, vanilla and cream lead to layered hazelnut, crème brûlée and poached pear flavors, while the viscous texture carries through for a lingering finish. Editors’ Choice. —Jim Gordon
Black Stallion 2017 Chardonnay (Napa Valley); $19, 92 points. This is a full-bodied and richly layered white that dazzles in aromas of apple blossom and matchstick. The midpalate is creamy in feel, with strong flavors of pear and fig. Editors’ Choice. —Virginie Boone
Castoro Cellars 2017 Estate Grown Chardonnay (Paso Robles); $20, 91 points. Bright and billowy aromas of gardenia and plumeria meet with a touch of peach on the tactfully precise nose of this wine. The palate sizzles with acidic energy that cuts through the ripe flavors of apple blossom, white peach and Key lime pie. —M.K.
De Loach 2016 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $23, 91 points. This is a well-made, well-integrated showcase of the appellation, with crisp flavors of apple, ginger and Asian pear. Hearty in texture and style, it has a lasting bite of anise on the full-bodied finish. —V.B.
Rodney Strong 2017 Chardonnay (Sonoma County); $17, 91 points. Brimming in aromas of peach and vanilla, this wine is complex and layered. Bright acidity boosts the rich elements of fruit and oak on the palate. Editors’ Choice. —V.B.
Timbre 2016 Opening Act Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley); $24, 91 points. Salty peach and freshly zested lemon meet with a handful of roasted nuts on the nose of this bottling from Bien Nacido Vineyard. The palate is tightly wound and briskly clean yet also expressive with white-flower flavors of honeysuckle and gardenia. —M.K.
Carson Ridge 2017 Chardonnay (Central Coast); $10, 90 points. There’s an impressive complexity to this affordably priced bottling, starting with aromas of light lemon glaze, nectarine, Asian pear and wet stone on the nose. The palate is taut, bright and fresh with honeysuckle, Meyer lemon pith and wet chalk flavors. Best Buy. —M.K.
Kunde 2016 Estate Grown Chardonnay (Sonoma Valley); $18, 90 points. Oaky and a touch reduced, this wine offers a grip of texture and rich, round concentration. Baked apple and pear flavors are seasoned in tones of vanilla and butterscotch. —V.B.
LifeVine 2017 Chardonnay (California); $15, 90 points. This is a pretty, medium-bodied and well-balanced wine that blends crisp fruit flavors, light spices and a touch of butter, all in good harmony. It has vivid green-apple, lemon and floral aromas followed by Anjou pear and lime on the palate. Best Buy. —J.G.