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The Best California Chardonnay to Drink Right Now

The Best California Chardonnay to Drink Right Now

“Chardonnay is one of the great chameleons in the wine world,” says Writer-at-Large Tom Capo, who reviews wines from Sonoma County. “That’s why it’s popular everywhere, and why so many winemakers love working with it.”

The grape is especially well-loved in California, where it is the most-planted white variety. While Chardonnay’s classic flavors include green apple, fig and citrus, it’s characteristically versatile and moldable. A thousand small decisions, made both in the field and the winery, can carve out unique identities.

“Really, it’s almost magical,” Capo continues. “It can be grown in warm inland valleys, or on cool and windy coastal hillsides. Winemakers can block the malolactic fermentation to keep the acids brighter or stir the lees to develop creaminess. Oak, stainless, concrete egg—there are just so many options.”

On the whole, California Chard offers an “enticing balance of mouthwatering freshness with abundant flavor,” adds Writer-at-Large Elaine Chukan Brown, who reviews wines from Napa. “The combination can be so satisfying, and I’m excited to see it becoming more and more common in these wines.”

But despite Chardonnay’s ascendance in California, there are still under-the-radar bottlings to be found. “The Santa Cruz Mountains remain somewhat of a Chardonnay gem hiding in plain sight, surrounded by the millions of people in Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area who live less than an hour away,” notes Writer-at-Large Matt Kettmann, who reviews wines from California.

He points to Storrs Winery, a veteran of the region with 35 vintages in bottle, which consistently offers wines with ample fruit and salty minerality. A newer property, Mindego Ridge, has vines planted just 15 years ago, “but its mountainside site, surrounded by redwoods and constantly chilled by the Pacific influence, shows a stunning citrus purity.”

In other words, California Chardonnay is an exciting category worth exploring. These top-reviewed bottles, selected by our Tasting Department, are a great place to start.

“Maybe you love it when it’s fresh, citrus-scented and floral, or decadent and rich, or somewhere in the middle,” Capo says. “No matter your preference, there’s a Chard for every palate.”

Flowers 2022 Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)

This native-yeast-fermented Chardonnay is a swirl of golden sunshine in the glass, with aromas of tangy tangerine, orange blossom and sweet cinnamon on the nose. Bright and balanced, the palate has lovely precision and freshness. Enjoy now–2040. Cellar Selection. 95 Points  — T.C.


Auteur Wines 2022 Green Acres Chardonnay (Carneros)

Freshly linen, orange blossom, zested lemon, and nectarine aromas swirl from the glass of this vibrant and acid-driven Chardonnay. The palate is flush with pineapple and green apple freshness while extended sur-lie ageing with bâtonnage brings texture. Lovers of Chablis and Puligny-Montrachet will be entranced by this style. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points  — T.C.

Auteur Wines

A truncated version of this list originally appeared in the June/July 2024 of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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