California is the center of winemaking in the United States, and has come to be known for rich, big and bold Cabernet Sauvignon. But the most widely planted grape in the state is Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is a dream for winemakers, owing to how adaptable the grape can be. It can offer citrus notes and mineral purity, but also takes to both oak aging and stainless steel. The 10 bottles below are all high-scoring examples, showing why California Chardonnay is worth the hype.
Hartford Court 2017 Stone Cote Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast); $65, 97 points. This is from an estate block within the original Durell Vineyard, 100% barrel fermented and aged, only 27% of the French oak new. Complex and exotic in baked pear, nuts, tangerine and crushed rock, it offers a fulsome richness balanced by mineral-laden tension and lasting acidity. —Virginie Boone
Massican 2019 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay (Napa Valley); $50, 97 points. This is a barrel-fermented and aged white from the famous grower site in Carneros, which does justice to its soulful sense of place. Brioche and nutmeg aromas lead to a midpalate of succulent green apple, pear and oak, with lifted, bright and layered acidity. Complex and completely delicious, it remains focused and balanced throughout. Editors’ Choice. —V.B.
Beauregard 2018 Sand Hill Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains); $65, 95 points. Chalky aromas meet with lime peel and yuzu on the sharp but expertly refined nose of this bottling. The chalky character goes through the sip, where seashell and bright Key lime flavors remind of crisp, tight yet thoroughly engaging Chablis. —Matt Kettmann
Benovia 2018 Three Sisters Chardonnay (Fort Ross-Seaview); $55, 95 points. From a coastal site farmed by the Martinelli family, this impresses in its grasp of white flower and sea spray. The palate reveals juicy nectarine and pear with a hint of crushed rock, a sprinkling of baking spice and lemon meringue. It is both beautifully complex and elegant. —V.B.
Donnachadh 2017 Estate Chardonnay (Sta. Rita Hills); $42, 95 points. Meyer lemon, crisp jicama, light mint and chipped oak aromas show on the very exciting and inviting nose of this bottling from a new vineyard on the southern side of the Sta. Rita Hills. The light kiss of oak on the palate frames yuzu zest, chamomile and crushed sea-shell flavors. —M.K.
Gary Farrell 2018 Russian River Selection Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $35, 95 points. This wine offers such tremendous value and quality—it should be on everyone’s go-to list for Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Lime, fig and grapefruit rind flavors ride along a lifted character of crushed stone texture and bright acidity. This wine is impressive from the detailed start to the lengthy finish. Editors’ Choice. —V.B.
Migration 2018 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley); $56, 95 points. Clean and brisk aromas of white-fleshed fruit, honeysuckle, lemon peel and a hint of buttery ghee make for a deliciously floral yet rich entry into this complex bottling. A zesty citrus-peel flavor leads into light toast and wood elements on the sip, finishing with blanched almond, cinnamon and clove dust. —M.K.
Ramey 2017 Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $42, 95 points. This is such a fine appellation wine, punching well above its price point in quality and memorability, sourced from such stellar sites as Westside Farms, Rochioli Allen and others. Stone, melon and Meyer lemon highlight a fresh core of acidity that’s both steely and focused, with floral jasmine nipping around the edges. Editors’ Choice. —V.B.
Scar of the Sea 2018 Rancho Tepusquet Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley); $38, 95 points. From own-rooted vines planted in 1973, this bottling offers aromas of Asian pear, strong chalk, jicama and soft butter. The palate is incredibly crisp, clean chalky and tense, with tightly wound flavors of lime pith, talc, more jicama and loads of white-fleshed fruits. —Matt Kettmann
Shafer 2018 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay (Carneros); $52, 95 points. This robust, full-bodied white holds its weight and pedigree remarkably well, offering an intensely flavored, richly layered experience that seamlessly provides freshness along the way. Apple, cinnamon and nutmeg are complemented by toasted oak and lasting structure. —V.B.