There’s a reason why Chardonnay is this summer’s new it wine. We’ve found five of the best vintages for you.
At its best, Chardonnay is a lush, golden wine with plenty of acidic brightness and a crisp minerality. Think your classic Chablis. But until recently, American winemakers aimed for a different sort of Chardonnay. Their ultimate expression was so woody, fat, and alcoholic, it brought about its own demise. “The critics were unhappy with the style,” says Sandy Block, vice president of beverage operations for Legal Sea Foods and one of the few certified Masters of Wine in this country. “So about five years ago, winemakers started creating a purer Chardonnay that’s less oaked, less sweet, more food-compatible, and more acceptable to the public.” These new-style Chardonnays finally do justice to the grape. Still rich on the palate, they have a lighter, fresher taste—perfect to sip with summer seafood. Here are several to try.
Hirsch, Sonoma Coast, 2011 Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards launched the nonprofit organization In Pursuit of Balance in 2011 to promote better balanced, less manipulated Chardonnays (and Pinot Noirs) throughout America, and this wine notably achieves that goal, with hints of vanilla and peaches balanced by citrus and slate. “Hirsch wine is snuggled between the rugged terrain of western California and the Pacific,” says Nicholas Daddona, wine director at Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar (70 Rowes Wharf, 617-439-3995). “It is one of the few places in the vast region that sees a great influence of the Pacific Ocean on the vines.” Daddona and Meritage chef Daniel Bruce suggest pairing it with panseared halibut and asparagus purée.
Flowers, Sonoma Coast, 2012 The cool Pacific Ocean gives this voluptuous Chardonnay a mineral-rich brightness. In the glass, you’ll savor “fresh flavors of Comice pear and Honeycrisp apple,” according to Flowers Vineyard and Winery, “followed by a driving minerality on the midpalate and a lingering finish derived from the vibrant acidity.” Available at Ostra (1 Charles St. South, 617-421-1200), it’s a perfect match for the char-grilled branzino with salt-cured lemon and herbs.
Newton Unfiltered, Napa Valley, 2011 Newton Vineyard has earned a sterling reputation for its unfiltered wines, which are bottled without filtration in order to preserve their natural aromas and fruit flavor. By using natural (as opposed to cultured) yeast, the vineyard maintains the wine’s true essence. Richer than the newstyle Chardonnays, this creamy wine has a soft acidity with notes of roasted nuts and marmalade. Find it at Strega Waterfront (1 Marina Park Dr., 617-345-3992), where it partners beautifully with seared Maine scallops with pesto.
Chehalem "Ian's Reserve" Stoller Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Oregon, 2008 This delicate vineyard-designated Chardonnay is rich, broad, full, and yet retains a pure acid structure due to the extremely cool Oregon weather in 2008,” says Sandy Block of Legal Sea Foods. “According to Chehalem Wines founder Harry Peterson-Nedry, it expresses an ‘essence of candied ginger, lime, white flower, and grapefruit pith.’” Available at The Collection on Floor 2 at Legal Harborside (270 Northern Ave., Liberty Wharf, 617-477-2900), it pairs superbly with the sizzled skate and miso brown butter.
Starmont Stanly Ranch Estate, Carneros, 2012 This Chardonnay has great balance; a nice round, crisp finish; and a great toasted nose,” says Nancy Batista- Caswell, the owner of Brine (25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8479). With its notes of butterscotch and nutmeg, “it pairs perfectly with our Jonah crab salad, as well as the butter-poached lobster dish,” accented with corn and juicy charred melon.