ABC – Really?

Anything but Chardonnay (ABC) is what the acronym in the title of this article stands for—this phrase came out in the 90’s when a lot of wine consumers (mostly here in America and maybe Australia) thought if it’s going to be white wine it will probably be Chardonnay.

It was a buzzword for many signaling the folks who used it had a broad knowledge of wine and had grown weary of the Chardonnay varietal. Referred to by wine industry professionals, the ABC crowd sent a signal that welcomed the expansion of white wines that would increase consumption of the various other white wine varietals. Why? Because it opens up space on wine lists and retailer shelves to the many other white wine varietals that had primarily been the sole purchases of Europeans and small groups of educated wine enthusiasts from the rest of the world.

There is not a lot of love shown for Chardonnay in the press this time of year, but truth be told there are a plethora of great Chardonnay pairings for holiday meals—not to mention how many people who fancy a glass of white wine usually crave Chardonnay.  Also, I think there is probably no other white wine varietal that is made in so many different styles. I doubt there are any wine professionals out there who will challenge me on this one. If you’re giving a gift of white wine, Chardonnay is also the safest to insure your recipient will drink the wine and enjoy it.

Of course you could go with Pinot Gris but there are many who do not understand the flavor profile of the various styles of Pinot Gris, not to be confused with Pinot Blanc, which is an acquired taste most often appreciated by palates that can discern the slightest nuances of flavor.  Now if you go with Riesling you need to know how much or how little residual sugar it takes to become offensive to the person who will imbibe the gift. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon will sometimes appease but they can be tricky too. Albariño is getting more and more press these days and deservedly so. If I start naming Italian white varietals, it will be Easter before I finish this piece.  That being said, with gift giving during these times it is important you make your purchase with the confidence that the person who receives it also appreciates it. The following reviews are a few of the Chardonnays we have tasted and within the reviews, you should be able to understand the styles they represent.

’08 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Sonoma Chardonnay 14.2% | $20 |91

If you do not belong to the ABC crew and like an old-fashioned California style chardonnay this wine is for you. By old fashioned, I mean malolactic fermentation and plenty of oak aging. The olfactory senses are pleasantly integrated with a balance of fruit and spice with the oak leaving a yeasty vanilla aroma.  The wine has a depth of flavors that cascades through layers of ripe pear and melon and the vanilla persists on the palate as well as the nose. If you start your meal with a different wine and move to this one for a specific pairing of a second or third course, this wine may not seem as food friendly as it would if you had started with it first.  In my opinion, this wine is so good you would be hard pressed to find another without reaching a lot deeper into your pocket. By that, I mean a wine that works great without food before or after a meal. This one will always be welcomed on my table especially if you show up with it before anyone else arrives.

’08  Stonestreet Red Point Alexander Valley Chardonnay 14.7% | $55 | 92

I always say there is a time for every wine. In fact, I will probably call my next Rap album A Time for Every Wine but that’s a story for a different time and place. Intense and classic, this well made Chardonnay is farmed at an elevation that is often under the fog-line. These vines were planted in 1994 so they are relatively young. 100% natural yeast was used as well as full malolactic fermentation in 50% new French oak barrels.  The aromas are like grapefruit swirled with orange and lemon zest. The texture on the palate is exciting and addictive. The citrus comes through in the flavors but is also balanced by a creaminess of vanilla picked up from the French Oak—a winner all the way around and a big bold style Chardonnay. Since this one takes some time to come around, pour it through a Wine Soiree or decant and you will be greatly rewarded.

’09 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay Napa Valley 14.1% | $25 |90

This winery has been a benchmark setter in the past—they took a hiatus from that moniker but now they are back again. Fruit is harvested from parcels on Howell Mountain, Carneros and the famed Rutherford Bench so the pedigree is there and the wine lives up to the reputation these locations tend to garner. Anyone that has been drinking wine for a while will know the label and be pretty excited if they receive this one as a gift. White peach, pear and a hint of crushed cardamom show up in the aromas, and on the palate, you get all that and just a bit of spice that resembles a pinch of fading white pepper mixed with citrus zest. This will be a real crowd pleaser and compliments fish, fowl, and more cheeses than I can remember the names of—you would be the hit of any dinner party if you show up with this one.

’09 Chardonnay Bogle California 13.5% |$10 |89

This has always been what I call the Chardonnay that separates the women from the girls and this one is all woman.  Half malolactic fermentation with the balance being stainless but you would never know it from the final blend.  With the classic sur-lie aging, this is my go to—cannot fail me now white wine that is always praised by the pickiest of Chardonnay connoisseurs. Year after year, I can always count on Bogle. Clarksburg and Monterey fruit go into this one expressing a balance between cool climate coastal and warm climate grapes coming from sites with a bit of elevation. Another layered wine that exposes the onion theory layer by layer. It is a complex wine that delivers a QPR that is off the charts. Aromas of island fruits, the pineapple swiftly change to lush tropical fruit and butterscotch on the palate. This wine has a long full finish that will leave you wanting more.

’09  Kendall-Jackson Reserve Sonoma Chardonnay 13.6% | $14 | 87

Although there is obvious malolactic fermentation applied to this vintage, the flavor profile almost seems like they were aiming to make a chardonnay that tastes like a stainless steel (virgin Chardonnay) style wine. With the extra fermentation costs why bother if you are aiming for a target audience that does not want it. With that entire plausibility aside, it is pleasant wine with no major distractions and certainly no genuine unique attractions. Well, unless you consider the barcode iphone 4 applications that are available with the advent of this vintage. No, really, you can retrieve tasting notes from a barcode scan.  If you have a smartphone, scan the little box that looks like the redbox movie barcode, and don’t pretend you do not know what that is.

If you are in a hurry or looking for a value wine with an excellent QPR, try the 2009 Vina Santa Rita Chardonnay 120 from Central Valley, Chile. It’s a good, everyday drinking wine with apple and pear flavors with a clean finish—and at $7 retail, it’s tough to beat.

What are some of your favorites?

Eat well, Drink well, Live well.  Enjoy! ~Marc Hinton


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.


  1. Wine Wines @ everything! » Blog Archive » ABC – Really? – Enobytes (blog) December 17, 2010 at 2:28 AM - Reply

    […] Enobytes (blog) […]

  2. neil barham December 17, 2010 at 9:15 AM - Reply

    I like chards; but why do most Bloggers and the press always trump the same old ones like KJ?? there are some very interesting chardonnays being produced in California, why not get on your sherlock cap and find them???

  3. Olivia December 17, 2010 at 10:22 AM - Reply

    One of my favorite chardonnay’s is ABC (no pun intended) Au Bon Climat from Santa Maria!

  4. Dale M. December 17, 2010 at 10:35 AM - Reply

    I agree, chardonnay gets a bad rap. There are plenty of good ones on the shelf. My ol standby is Veramonte from South America but when I’m looking for something special I reach for the Donum from Carneros.

  5. enobytes December 17, 2010 at 12:20 PM - Reply

    @neil – When we receive samples we get around to writing about them sooner or later. …and in KJ’s defense, for many years when I worked as a line cook, I would often get out of work after everything was closed. As much as I thought it was overpriced as I walked past the 7-eleven there the rack was full of KJ@$20 or more but at least I got something better than E&J. What are your secret finds?

  6. Enobytes December 17, 2010 at 12:28 PM - Reply

    We agree Jim Clendenen has always made great wines. When we lived in Paso Robles we would run into him every now and then and he was always willing to talk wine. ABC was always on every restaurant wine list I wrote. Santa Maria holds a special place in my heart for several reasons most important Pamela got her pilots license in Santa Maria. Have you tried Riverbench Wines from SM?

  7. Olivia December 17, 2010 at 12:37 PM - Reply

    No, I haven’t tried the Riverbench but I’ll give it a try. What’s it like?

  8. Enobytes December 17, 2010 at 12:55 PM - Reply

    I had a Veramonte 07 Cab last night and they are a great winery. Not familiar with Donum but we will make ourselves familiar soon. I did recently taste a big bold Chardonnay from Jessie’s Grove in Lodi Some great values coming out of Lodi. Another label from over there doing great things with Tempranillo and Albarino is Harney Lane.

  9. Enobytes December 17, 2010 at 1:03 PM - Reply

    Riverbench makes a couple of different Chardonnays, it is
    Chuck Ortman’s aka Mr. Chardonnay current project,
    He used to be the winemaker at Far Niente, Heitz, Cain and Meridian.

  10. Sandy December 17, 2010 at 1:58 PM - Reply

    Concha y Toro makes a good everyday drinking wine, and I like Grgich Hills and Sonoma-Cutrer for gift giving. Freemark Abbey is good too.

  11. Christine Collier December 17, 2010 at 1:13 PM - Reply

    My favorites:

    Berstrom Old Stones Chardonnay
    Lemelson Reserve Chardonnay

  12. Jeff V. December 17, 2010 at 2:32 PM - Reply

    WOW! Your list of Chardonnay’s reads like a “who’s who?” of corporate wineries. What is the avg. case production of these choices? 100k cases? Kendall-Jackson? You have the wrong price and image for this wine, btw. Somewhere a KJ PR person is crying. The only wine missing from your reviews is Rombauer.

    Criminally, absent from your list of Chardonnay’s is anything from Oregon or France. Probably, the two greatest places on earth to make Chardonnay.

    Also, the term ABC was conceived by wine industry folks who were tired of tasting over-oaked, manipulated, syrupy sweet, homogenized examples of Chardonnay. ABC was a industry stance AGAINST that style of California (and to a lesser extent Australia) Chardonnay’s. The consumer never really bought into that.

    The consumption of Chardonnay continues to shine as is seen in the latest consumer data. 1 in 5 bottles of wine sold is actually a Chardonnay.

    There was a great Chardonnay article just the other day. You can find it here:

    And I couldn’t agree more with Neil. There are exceptional Chardonnay’s from there, but most do not have the PR machine that backs them like the KJ’s and Rodney Strong’s of the world. I wonder who was really behind this article?

  13. Brian December 17, 2010 at 5:33 PM - Reply

    Stonestreet is a new one to me – haven’t tried it. Sounds interesting. There is a Washington wine which I’m quite fond of, L’Ecole 41 Chardonnay, which has lots of pear and tropical fruits.

  14. Enobytes December 17, 2010 at 8:27 PM - Reply


    I wish we were on the list to receive samples from L’Ecole 41,I have been a fan of their wines for a couple of decades. Nice tasting room too. Stonestreet has another Chardonnay called Upper Barn

  15. Matt December 18, 2010 at 12:13 AM - Reply

    Jeff, I’m not really sure I agree with you on the best grape growing regions for Chardonnay. France, of course yes- Burgundy, and Champagne. I’d call out California because Chardonnay is the most important white wine grape grown there with a plethora of stellar examples coming from almost every coast reaching north, north central and south central. I’d call out Australia as another major region, in the Adelaide hills, Yarra Valley and Margaret River. Oregon seems to be picking up a little momentum over the last decade but in reality, there are only a handful of good producers out there. The mainstream producers seem to be Argyle, Adelsheim, Domaine Serene, Bergström, Chehalem, and Evening Land. This is a far cry from the diversity and selection produced from the aforementioned regions. Does Oregon have what it takes to be the next great Chardonnay region? Only time will tell. For now, the examples are so few and far between it’s hard to gauge.

  16. Beau C. December 18, 2010 at 7:31 PM - Reply

    I really enjoy unoaked Chardonnays like Passagio or Sebastiani’s versions. It’s rare that I find an oaked, fully malolactic example that I dig. Still, there are some good ones out there, just have to find them.

  17. Pamela December 18, 2010 at 7:51 PM - Reply

    Beau – Have you tried Chehalem’s unoaked “Inox” (Willamette Valley) chard? It’s pretty good. I’ve also heard good things about the unoaked Four Vines Naked Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, reasonably priced at $14, but I haven’t tried it yet.

  18. Beau C. December 18, 2010 at 8:06 PM - Reply

    Pamela, Haven’t had the chance to taste either of those Chards yet but I’ll be looking for them down here in San Diego. So far my all-time favorite California example has been from Derbes. It’s kind of pricey though so not a weekly sipper type wine.

  19. Pamela December 18, 2010 at 8:22 PM - Reply

    Derbes, eh? I had to google that :) It will definitely hit my “must buy” list. Thanks!

  20. Roger December 19, 2010 at 8:33 PM - Reply

    Speaking of Australian chardonnay, my favorites are Leeuwin, Streicker and Bindi. They are probably hard to find in the states but if you find them, give them a try.

  21. Jeff V. December 20, 2010 at 4:28 PM - Reply

    Matt – I would have to agree with you. Of course, you are correct and I know better. Apparently, my ‘homer-ism’ (I live in Oregon) got the best of me. :)

    I was traveling all over Napa/Sonoma/Mendocino/Lake County for the month of November and I tasted (and purchased) many great examples of Chardonnay.

    Certainly, the Russian River, Sonoma Coast, and higher elevation vineyards in Alexander Valley, Napa, and Mendocino can knock it out of the park.

    Worth checking out:

    Horse & Plow “McFadden Ranch” $18 (excellent)
    Frogs Leap Chardonnay $25 (dry farmed,valley floor gem)
    County Line Chardonnay $22 (best QPR)
    Old World Winery ‘Tweek Block’ $20 (this will challenge)
    Salinia “Heitz Ranch” $25 (Gorgeous)
    Porter-Bass “Estate” $40 (Raises the bar)
    El Molino Chardonnay $50 (razor sharp beauty – haunting)

    I will also mention that Chardonnay from Valle d’Aosta (Les Cretes)and Friuli (Meroi or Miani) in Italy and Goriska Brda (Edi Simcic or Movia) in Slovenia are really worth trying.

    Roger, I have not tried any Aussie Chard yet, thanks for your suggestions. I will investigate.

  22. Mark's Wine Clubs December 20, 2010 at 4:51 PM - Reply

    I see ABC and get shivers as I think it’s talking about Alcohol-Beverage-Control….one of those groups which clearly was started by someone outside the industry.

    The trick with Napa Chard is finding the one’s actually grown in the cooler climates, much the same goes for Sonoma.

    Quite a few nice examples from Carneros these days.

  23. enobytes December 20, 2010 at 6:59 PM - Reply

    Jeff V – that’s an impressive lineup! ~Pamela

  24. enobytes December 20, 2010 at 7:03 PM - Reply

    ABC :) Carneros, indeedy! There are also some kick butt chards from the central coast as well. ~Pamela

  25. Mark's Wine Clubs December 21, 2010 at 11:12 PM - Reply

    Well put Pamela, although I think Paso has finally taken the limelight off Santa Barbara when it comes to the central coast (which is amazing after Sideways was such a boon for the area’s wine tourism). Some really good cool weather growing spots there.

  26. Bob Larkin February 8, 2012 at 7:01 PM - Reply

    Best chardonnay I’vd tasted in a long time is the Truchard-

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