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The One White to Rule Them All: Which Chardonnay Will Pass

So are you tired of reading about wine tastings yet? Well I have been a little hot and heavy lately on the inner workings of my mind so we’re going to take a break from posts full of heart or fashion and focus on a white wine lesson. I really want to share with you one of our most recent tastings because Pat and I learned quite a bit about one of the world’s most popular grapes: Chardonnay.

As per usual we did this wine tasting with, but surprisingly both the tasting video is and wines are still available. Generally you have to stalk the site and be prepared to register and buy the wine immediately. We just missed out on doing the CabSav tasting and saw the advertisement for the Champagne tasting during the Chardonnay tasting, and immediately purchased and registered. With this link, you can get $30 off. Of course once I saw the price of the Champagnes I immediately realized it’s really a sparkling wine tasting. Actually they’re calling it the stunt double Champagne tasting. But hey, we always learn something. Everyone needs a hobby, ours has just gotten expensive. We've hooked up an TV to the Chromebook and put Gwendolyn Osborn on the big screen. She's the wine educator at and really at this point she's like our BFF.

On to Chardonnay. We actually weren’t the biggest fans of Chardonnay as a few weeks ago. Until we did the Stag’s Leap Tasting and tried the Karia Chardonnay we really had no great understanding of what makes Chardonnay special or lackluster. Our favorite vineyard, Freemark Abbey makes CabsSav we adore but have never really jived with their Chardonnay. On the other hand we buy the SavBlanc by the case. We didn’t know why. We’ve learned that there is always a reason we do or don’t like a wine. It’s never just a whim or some unique taste buds we have. There are flavor profiles we like and dislike, love and hate. These days we have the time and resources to find out why, so we were very excited to get into this tasting class.

Three Chardonnays were served. I am copying and pasting’s descriptions to save you from having to read my version full of spelling and grammatical errors. Also because this is only sort of relevant to the point I am ultimately going to make.

  • Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis A dry and fruity wine, easy to drink. Its color is pale gold with greenish hues. Very fresh aromas reminiscent of citrus (lemon or grapefruit); small pleasant touches of fern or coriander are found as well. On the palate, dry and fruity, with mineral notes. Pleasant and long aftertaste.

  • Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay With a refreshing purity of what this varietal can achieve on Rhinefarm's 158-year old slice of Sonoma, the Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a perfect example of fruit, texture, and balance. Leading with our old vine-driven aromatics of white blossoms, fresh lemon curd, and a hint of oak, the lush, mouth-filling palate is framed by bright acidity and citrus zest with flavors of white peach, spiced green apple, and a harmoniously creamy yet minerally finish.

  • Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Chardonnay The dramatic climate of the Highlands – located within Monterey County – allows Mer Soleil to create dramatic wines. Morning fog, bright sunshine, and gusting winds enable longer "hang time" for the grapes, resulting in wines of intense, complex character. With fresh, bright aromas and the taste of white peach, this wine has a vibrant acidity balanced by the lush flavors of fully ripe fruit.

To summarize, the first was from France, the second from Sonoma County, and the third from Monterey County. If you know me you know where I am going with this but for those of you who only know me digitally we’ll dive into my wine taste buds. I know a few paragraphs ago I said we didn’t have some unique taste buds, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. They’re not special is what I really meant. But as with all individuals they do have sensitivities. My taste buds hate Sonoma wine. I can immediately taste the difference between a Sonoma CabSav and a Napa CabSav. But this is about Chardonnay.

I could not immediately tell that the second wine was from Sonoma but it was by far our least favorite. After listening to listening to Jeff Bundschu, President, Gundlach Bundschu talk about Chardonnay grapes, ideal growing conditions. How the mist and fog coming off of the San Francisco Bay cools down the California heat along the coast where Chardonnay is grown in Sonoma. I was impressed with his passion. I also enjoyed his snobbiness. He said there are so many mediocre Chardonnays out there because it’s such a popular grape that it’s often grown in suboptimal conditions, leaving something to be desired in the grape. And yet...we didn’t like it. This Chardonnay had that creamy or buttery taste that so many love in Chardonnays. It’s one of the world's most popular varieties because it’s easy drinking but rich in flavor.

We smelled and tasted all the notes, most notably the Meyer lemon. However, the nose didn’t come through strongly enough in the taste. It was creamy and went beautifully with our triple cream brie and held up to the patte, it just wasn’t exciting. I will say we learned the most from Jeff, and he answered our question the best about if you can age Chardonnays. I have a bottle of that Stag’s Leap Karia that I want to see what will happen to it. He said that for a white to age it must be delicious to begin with and 5-8 years is about the right aging time for an excellent Chardonnay. Unfortunately his wine didn’t meet my requirements for that. We gave the rest of this bottle to mom.

Let’s move to the Monterey Wine. We have never had a wine from Monetary as far as we know, It’s closer to the central coast of California. It’s quite misty in the deep valleys where they grow their Chardonnay grapes. The combination of sun and fog leaves a complex flavor in the grape, but it’s the aging and blending that leaves this Chardonnay very balanced. Both California winemakers discussed how they age their Chardonnay in neutral barrels. Meaning they aren’t aged French oak. But this Santa Lucia Chardonnay used a mixture of both neutral and oak and that left it with a more complex flavor that left us wanting more. We saved the remainder of this bottle for the next night to have with pasta.

If you haven’t figured out why I didn’t start with the Chablis, the French Chardonnay, then you haven’t been reading my blog for very long. We love French wine. We didn’t go into this wine tasting having any bias, we didn’t even look at the bottles before the tasting and we knew nothing about Chablis. Chablis is actually a region in Burgundy, close to the Champagne border. The Chardonnay grapes are hand picked and of course aged in French Oak barrels with a rich history. But most importantly this wine was aged for the least amount of time. In other words, the blend, the grapes, and the taste were perfect from the get go. It was a 2019 bottle, whereas the other two were bottled from 2018.

In general the French believe you should drink wine when the wine maker says it’s ready. You should only age truly premier wines and their attitude about it is why age it when you could just drink it? This wine was so complex. You got nothing but fruit on the nose. We put it in our fancy glasses and it didn’t get us any more smells, but upon tasting this wine, it was incredibly complex. Like our favorite French reds, Bourdeauxs, with a heavy Cabernet blend, this wine was so rich in unique flavor it was hard to pin any one thing down. We finished the bottle.

So besides from being Francophiles what did we learn? A lot. We learned that there is no one size fits all with Chardonnay. It’s as complex and varied as CabSavs. We have an idea now what we are looking for, crisp and balanced and not buttery. We want complex Chardonnays which is in the wine making and not necessarily in the quality of the grapes. Neither of us actually dislike the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay that is in my opinion most similar to the Bundschu and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good dinner wine. A wine you don’t have to worry about messing up the flavor with your improperly paired meal. We gave it to mom because she babysat, not because we hated it. But we didn’t really like it, and we definitely didn’t love it.

By the time this has been published Pat will have received his Valentine’s Day gift. The Chateau Montelena which was the white that won the Paris Tasting of 1976. It beat out more than a few world renowned French whites. I can’t wait to report back and tell you how that was and whether or not a bottle will be purchased for aging. In the meantime I will leave you with this, I like my wine like I like my people, complex.

Update: This post was written almost a month ago but sat around because I had a lot of other content I wanted to push out. Needless to say, Pat and I accidentally, although not bad, exchanged Chardonnays for Valentines. He received the Chateau Monetlena and I received a fancy French Chablis. Neither of which have we found an occasion to try. Maybe it's time to crack at least one of them.

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