Many wine pros are quick to dismiss California chardonnay as too popular, too overblown and too ripe and tropical in flavor to be worthy of consideration. While this widespread prejudice holds that wines showing even a trace of oak treatment pander to the most superficial and homogenized of consumer tastes, I could not disagree more. When handled with skill and finesse—as the following three producers consistently do—super-premium-priced, barrel-fermented chardonnay can be distinctive, precise and delicious.
Melville Estate Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, 2012
Originating from vineyards that lie quite close to the Pacific Coast in Santa Barbara County, the grapes that form this razor’s edge chardonnay enjoy the longest growing season in California and benefit from cold, windy weather that rarely exceeds 70 degrees, but is also dry and exceptionally sunny. The wine’s saline and stony bite reflects a strong oceanic influence in the soils that master craftsman Greg Brewer preserves through a minimalist “hands off” discipline. Fresh and lemony, it’s ideal with grilled fish.
($32, Wine Gallery, Brookline)
Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012
Richness, subtlety and layers of flavor are Paul Hobbs trademarks regardless of the variety, but this is certainly the finest non-vineyard-designated chardonnay of his that I have tasted. For the most part, California’s wine regions experienced mild, dry and tranquil weather from bloom through harvest in 2012, yielding a bumper crop of delicious, healthy and well-ripened fruit. This one is silky-smooth and expresses a fine balance of earthy apple, toast and caramel-like notes. It’s a perfect choice for lobster.
($57, The Urban Grape, Boston)
Patz & Hall Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2012
Having followed it for a number of years, I’ve found this blend consistently outstanding, but the 2012 vintage rises to new heights. Medium-deep in color, with pear, almond and smoky notes, it’s bright but also supple in texture, with finely integrated spice and mineral notes punctuating the finish. The largest proportion of fruit in this wine is from Gap’s Crown, a Sonoma Mountain vineyard that overlooks the Petaluma Gap, but there are also components from such storied Sonoma vineyards as Durell, Dutton Ranch and Zio Tony Ranch.
($38, Brix Wine Shop, Boston)