Feature Coverage

The 15 Best Chardonnays Under $50

“If you’ve been avoiding chardonnay on the grounds that too many examples are garish and overblown, stop. It’s the most popular white in America—and better than ever.

“What to know about the grape?

“First, it’s native to Burgundy, where winemakers embrace a spectrum of styles, from steely, edgy, and chalky to creamy, rich, and golden. Chablis in Burgundy’s far north and Mâcon in the south are sources of delicious, reasonably priced bottles, and the two vintages now in shops are excellent. The 2014s are classic, pure, mineral, and savory; the just-arriving 2015s, from a warmer year, are exotic and rich.

“And second, because the grape is so easy to grow, it’s ubiquitous around the globe, planted in wine regions from Chile to California to New Zealand.

“It’s California’s most planted grape variety (95,000 acres’ worth), and the new-wave wines shun the oaky, butterball style that inspired the ABC (anything but chardonnay) movement a decade ago.

“Yes, some of those over-the-top whites still exist—billionaire Gordon Getty once enthusiastically described them to me as “smash-face” chardonnays, while others refer to them as “fat Elvis” wines. But most of those now getting buzz have slimmer, more elegant profiles, even the ones with real curves. A winemaker at the 2014 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium described his as “lingerie-style” chardonnays, by which he meant they had a touch of French oak aging.

“Lastly, chardonnay is one of the rare grapes that succeeds in a wide variety of styles, from powerful to finely finessed, from fresh and crisp to rich and deep. Winemakers love to give it their personal recipe spin, using stainless tanks to keep the wine bright and fruity or fermenting and barrel-aging to give it smoky overtones and lush texture.

“New styles taste more of lemon than of tropical fruit; have a racy, mineral edge; and go much, much better with food. I could’ve picked many more than the 15 below.

2014 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 
“This New Zealand white from a pioneering winery shows the country isn’t just about sauvignon blanc. It produces several chardonnays that win blind tastings against Burgundies. The estate bottling has spicy, warm fruit richness and a round texture…”

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Elin McCoy, March 22, 2017
The 15 Best Chardonnays Under $50