When the days are short, the air is crisp, and nightfall comes fast, I reach for warming, comforting red wines. But come longer days and warmer weather, it’s time for something cool and tasty.
Notice I wrote, “tasty,” not “crisp.” Chardonnay has always been my go-to white, and the richer, creamier, butterier, oakier, the better. All of these characteristics come from the malolactic fermentation, the secondary fermentation process that converts the harsher malic acid into the softer lactic acid. Yes, I realize this style has seen its heyday and is now regarded by some as passé and masking the true varietal flavor, but that’s what I like. Besides, taste is subjective, right? So here are my long-standing and new favorites.
2012 Rombauer ($34): This is the Chardonnay that started it all for me years ago and forever spoiled my palate. The Carneros-grown varietal spends 10 months in French and American oak to create a full-bodied, creamy, rich wine with layers of tropical fruit.
2012 Sonoma-Loeb “Envoy” ($40): Sourced from the Sonoma side of the Carneros AVA, this wine is aged in 60 percent new French oak, and is described as having “luscious fruit aromas” and flavors as well as “nuances of honey, brioche and spice.” For me, it is just the right balance of buttery, rich and creamy, making it a winner in my book.
2012 Chappellet “Signature” ($45): With Carneros-grown fruit from Robert Young and Wente clones, 10 months in new French oak, 100 percent malolactic fermentation, and a richness described by winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus as “warm butter and freshly baked bread,” it’s no surprise this wine has become my new favorite.
2012 Hartford Court ($45): Wine critics consistently rate this wine from the Four Hearts Vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA “outstanding” and “exceptional.” Ten months in French oak, full malolactic fermentation, and bi-monthly lees stirring combine to create a richly textured Chardonnay with “flavors of Golden Delicious apple and Meyer lemon.”
2011 Mer-Soliel “Reserve” ($32): Sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation in Monterey County, this wine is hand stirred during the 12–15 months it spends in French oak. Although it goes through only partial malolactic fermentation, it is creamy and rich, with “well-integrated oak characteristics,” and just enough acidity.