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