Chardonnay is an ideal wine to pair with many grilled foods. For one thing, it’s immensely popular — I have friends who prefer it to anything else. It is also extremely versatile, with the best examples having not only the acidity to cut through the grease and char that one expects from a lot of grilled foods, but also a richness that helps it stand up even to heavier meats such as pork and lamb. Rounding out its grill-versatility, it’s also the perfect accompaniment to grilled fish, chicken, octopus, and vegetables.
The following are my 15 top suggestions, based on more than 1,000 recent vintage chardonnays tasted. These beautiful chards can all be found for less than $50 and hail from cooler regions of California and Australia, as well as France’s Chablis region.
All of the wines on this list are minerally and possess good acidity, a key to pairing with grilled foods. Many of them, especially from cool climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County and the Sonoma Coast, are regularly swept by ocean breezes, exhibiting a salinity that makes them wonderfully food-friendly.
The rankings below are based first on my score. For those wines all ranked, for example, 92+ points, I’ve listed the lower-priced wines first. As you’ll see, there a lot of relative bargains on this list, as low as $20 for an excellent chablis from a great vintage, and $23 for one of Australia’s tastiest chards!
1. Sandhi Wines
Sandhi is Sanskrit for "collaboration." Its partners are famed sommelier Rajat Paar, winemaker Sashi Moorman, and investor Charles Banks. They make some terrific, minerally chardonnays from cool climate locations, using limited amounts of new oak — 20 to 25 percent for 11 months. The wines are left on their lees, but the lees are not stirred. (The 2011 Santa Barbara Chardonnay is listed number 9.)
2011 Sandhi Wines Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict Sta. Rita Hills Santa Barbara County $47
Light to medium lemon yellow color; saline, tart lemon, tart pear, Chablis-like nose; a little tight, tart lemon, mineral, Chablis-like, lightly saline palate with medium acidity and firm structure; should age very well; medium-plus finish. 13.5 percent alcohol; 25 percent new oak. 93+ points
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts make a slew of great wines, many of which, like this one, are also good values. This one is sourced from 30 year-old vines in a cool climate location in the Trout Gulch district of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This pairs great with anything grilled.
— Richard Jennings, Snooth