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Finding the Nuance in California chardonnay

Finding the Nuance in California chardonnay

By Pamela S. Busch

In this column I try to stick to wines that retail close to the $20 range. Of course less is always good, but as wine prices continue to rise, the selection gets more limited. This is especially true for what remains one of the hottest tickets in town, California chardonnay.

Many of the wines that occupy this category seem way overpriced. However, there are some that fetch a few more bucks that are arguably worth it. How do you know which ones are the real deal? As wine is subjective, ultimately we are all our own judges, but for me it is about balance, meaning there is enough acidity, complexity, integration — neither the oak nor fruit dominates the wine — and the wine is expressive and pleasant from the nose to the finish.

There is definitely a movement in this direction, or shall I say, away from the buttery, oaky style of chardonnay that has come to define the category in many consumers’ eyes. This is not to say that everyone is doing a stylistic 180-degree turn, but even producers who have made wines in a heavier-handed manner are starting to realize that chardonnay can have nuance. Here are three to check out:


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Chanin Chardonnay, Los Alamos Vineyard, 2012 (Santa Barbara County): Gavin Chanin cut his teeth interning at Au Bon Climate and Qupe. In 2007 he started Chanin and over time it has garnered more attention. Made from a high-elevation vineyard, the fruit benefits from cooling influences that help promote acidity. Barrel fermented, the wood is just one part of the wine, giving it an almond oil note. With custard, citrus and a richly textured palate that also has a good core of acidity, die-hard California chardonnay drinkers will find plenty to love in this bottle. Suggested retail: $35