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9 Outstanding Chardonnays From Across Napa Valley to Drink Right Now

Whether you like your Chard oaky or not, we've got the right bottle for you.

napa chardonnays Mayacama, Pahlmeyer, Mira

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Well-made Chardonnays from Napa Valley first hit the wine world’s collective conscious in 1976 when Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won the “Judgement of Paris.” Aficionados everywhere were shocked when a California wine beat France’s time-honored Chardonnays. The varietal became immensely popular in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s until wine drinkers began their love-hate relationship with Chardonnay and joked about the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement. This most likely occurred because winemakers responded to demand, increased production and began making lower quality wines using techniques such as wood chips and “sawdust teabags” to make heavily oak-flavored wine. These unfortunate tricks were not just a California phenomenon and extended to mass produced Chardonnays made in other countries including Australia and South America. People began associating California Chardonnay with heavy amounts of oak and in fact, one French winemaker we had dinner with in the late 1990s referred to California Chardonnay having flavors “like a piece of wood slathered in butter.”

We should all be grateful that California winemakers listened to their consumers, began scaling back their use of oak and instead let the beautiful flavors of Napa Valley grown grapes shine through. Today some Napa Valley winemakers still use oak to accent their wines, but we like to think the current use is more like a wood frame to highlight the beautiful characteristics of valley grown fruit rather than an oppressive one. Some winemakers ferment Chardonnay in stainless steel, while others ferment in barrels. Some choose to age in oak for a few months and some choose to not age in oak at all, so wine lovers today have a variety of California Chardonnays to choose from.

We are big fans of California Chardonnay and enjoy a non-oaked version as much as a well-oaked version. It all depends upon what we’re pairing it with. Non-oaked (or lightly oaked) versions are great to drink on their own as an aperitif or pair with crudité platters, charcuterie and briny seafood. Well-oaked versions pair nicely with grilled fish and meat in cream sauces, vegetables with Hollandaise or Béarnaise sauces or a simple steamed lobster dipped in clarified butter. In the summer we prefer to drink less oaked styles while in the winter our heavier food choices lean towards more oaked versions.

If you’ve stayed away from Chardonnay for a while it’s time to come back home to Napa Valley. We have picked nine food friendly wines to enjoy with your family and friends; many of them are a few years old and we think that they are drinking perfectly right now. Most are made with a judicious use of oak that accents Napa Valley grapes letting the heady fruit aromas and flavors shine through rather than overpowered by oak. Some have more oak derived characteristics, some have less, but with the variety to choose from you won’t be disappointed.

Our Best Napa Valley Chardonnay Picks

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