California winemakers have pretty much gotten over the desire to be “just like Burgundy” when it comes to making chardonnay. But, just as in Burgundy, certain regions have gained reputations for producing the best chardonnays and demanding the prices that go with that reputation.
The Carneros region, which spans parts of Napa Valley and Sonoma County along San Pablo Bay, has held a high reputation for chardonnay for the longest time, followed by Napa farther up-valley and Sonoma’s Russian River watershed appellations. More recently, the Sonoma Coast appellation has attracted much investment and attention.
Farther south, the Central Coast between the cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara has also enjoyed a long reputation for producing superior chardonnays.
Here are eight wines from these regions with a heavy dose of Sonoma.
Gloria Ferrer Carneros chardonnay 2012 ($17)
Very nice, with ripe apple flavors and mild toast — more rounded than big with good finishing acidity.
Three Sticks “Durrell” Sonoma Coast chardonnay 2012 ($50)
Mellow apple with lots of fresh oak flavors. A fairly big wine that’s a little hot (14.6 percent alcohol) in the finish.
Sojourn “Durrell” Sonoma Coast chardonnay 2012 ($48)
Spicy apple flavors with some eau-de-vie notes (much have been a hot harvest at Durrell) with a lemon-pie finish. Good acidity, but not an overly crisp finish.
Gary Farrell Russian River chardonnay 2012 ($32)
A combination of flavors of mellow apples and pulpy oranges with a smooth texture and good acidity.
Gary Farrell “Westside Farms” Russian River chardonnay 2012 ($35)
Same flavors as the Russian River, but with more texture and some luscious brioche notes.
Paul Hobbs “Edward James” Russian River Valley chardonnay 2012 ($82)
This is a lovely wine, but I would decant it first, as I would many of Hobbs wines — they need to gasp air once the cork is pulled. The fruit is almost stunning — dried peach and other dried-fruit flavors — with a creamy finish.
Newton Napa Valley chardonnay unfiltered 2012 ($47)
This wine is evidence that you can have a big wine (15.5 percent alcohol) that doesn’t taste “hot.” It has rich, golden-apple and spiced-apple components with barrel-influenced creaminess (is there a chicken in cream sauce on the menu?).
Austerity Arroyo Seco chardonnay 2013 ($15)
Good mixture of oak toast and ripe apricot flavors — like a smooth crème brûlée — with a long, light-custard aftertaste.