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ModernHomeTheater.com – Lifestyle and Design
10 Important California Chardonnays
By Jerry Del Colliano

Wine snobs stick their noses up at chardonnay as “too mainstream,” suggesting that white burgundies from one tiny micro-region on basically one hill in France represent the “true aficionado’s” wine. And wine snobs are the same pompous jerks who think its okay to suck wine through their teeth, sounding like Hoover vacuums, in front of other people. Those in the know today are eating local and buying local and, before you get into the ultra-big-dollar white burgundy game, where I find one in ten $100-plus bottles can be soured, Modern Home Theater has compiled a list of important California chardonnays that range from eye-opening to truly collectable, like some of the best reds from Tuscany, Burgundy and Napa. Invite your red-loving friends over and watch them fall in love with these strong picks.

Samantha Star 2005 Chardonnay ($16)
This Monterey Country chardonnay is the savvy enthusiast’s answer to “two-buck chuck” from Trader Joe’s. While it is a little oaky in the beginning, you will want to give this bold chard a second look, assuming you know how much you paid for it, as it gives the $30-a-bottle guys a run for the money. This is a daily drinker that won’t put a dent in your budget, but will impress you with its refinement for the price.

Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($16)
This is the king of Costco chardonnays, and if you can get past the snobbery about buying wine at Costco, this is one hell of a daily drinker. At our home, this affordable wine is suitable to serve to guests or even with a steak from the grill. It’s not a flowery little thing; it’s got some balls to it and that’s exactly why we like it. For the price, it’s just hard to beat.

Foley 2005 “Clone 96” Chardonnay ($32)
Take a taste directly from the set of the film Sideways. While I had major philosophical differences with the plot of the film (what kind of man would drink his “wine quest” bottle in a Styrofoam cup because some girl said “boo” to him?), this wine is light, sleek and happening. Santa Rosa Hills near Lompoc, California is one of the hottest areas for exciting wines, as well as home to one of my favorite golf courses in La Purrisima, which is right down the road from Foley. Clone 96 is lighter than some of the aforementioned chards and is delightful with shellfish, local Santa Barbara vegetables and specifically non-overpowering sheep’s milk cheeses.

Clos Du Val 2006 Napa Chardonnay ($24)
Live from 180 acres in Carneros and close to nearby San Pablo Bay, this Napa-area chardonnay is one of the best values out there, but is widely available for consumers nationwide. The rocky clay soil and the effect of other soil nearby makes for a complex end result. Take a moment to give Clos Du Val a swirl in your glass and pick up on some of the stony minerals you might expect to get from a French Bourgogne chardonnay.

Au Bon Climat 2005 Nuits Blanches – XXV Anniversary ($35)
ABC’s very well-respected winemaker, Jim Clendenen, might look like the guitarist from Megadeth, but his Central Coast white wines are truly worth seeking out. He avoids the whole wine-tasting room phenomenon and focuses on selling to club members, specific wine enthusiast retailers and more specifically to restaurants like Roy’s (Yamaguchi), The Hitching Post (which makes one hell of a Pinot in-house) and even Spago here in Beverly Hills. The body and complexity of these whites almost demand a more bowl-like burgundy glass to allow them to open up and wow you and your guests. Fans of traditional cabs will be shocked at how refined and detailed this Central Coast chardonnay tastes.

ZD 2006 Reserve Chardonnay ($45)
From the Napa hotbed of Rutherford, California comes one of the more meticulous white wines you can taste. Based on founder Norman deLeuze’s background in aerospace – ZD stands for “zero defects” – the reserve wine to this day approaches the same level of performance that you might expect from a rocket or satellite being shot into space. Rich and buttery, ZD’s wines are all organic and are capable to holding up to a Lobel’s porterhouse right off of the grill. ZD also offers visitors the chance to buy from their wine “library,” where they house some of the most exciting wines from their 30-plus years of wine-making.

Walter Hanzell 2005 Cuvee Alyce ($39)
This is the absolute most popular wine at Casa Del Colliano this summer. Our wine enthusiast friends from here in California, as well as family from the East Coast, have all been blown away by this burgundy-style chardonnay. The wine is made in new oak and is a lighter on the tongue than, say, a ZD Reserve, with complex minerals and some light fruit in the finish.

HdV 2005 Napa Chardonnay ($55)
You’ve got to love winemakers who don’t need to over-hype themselves. HdV is a place that boasts no Disneyland tasting room or some neon sign on the main drag. What you will find (assuming you can locate the winery or their wines – best bought online at places like Wine.com) is one of the most badass Napa Valley chardonnays out there. Stone fruit and minerals are for starters with this French-oak aged chard. The nose on HDV’s 2005 chard is intoxicating and nearly addictive. HdV is a collectable California chardonnay, so in theory, it will last for years in your cellar. I ordered a case and it didn’t last very long at all – for all the right reasons. Your friends will be blown away with this choice if you see it on a wine list or order some for your collection.

Aubert 2003 Richie Vineyard Chardonnay ($120)
The secret is out on this low-volume Napa wine. You can find Aubert chards at only the absolute best wine shops and when you do, buy all you can see, as they reportedly have a 10-year waiting list for their products (and yes, I am waiting, too). Aubert graces the wine lists of The French Laundry and Capo (likely the best restaurant in Los Angeles these days), if you are making reservations. The 2003 Richie Vineyards chardonnay is deep in its character, but soft on the tongue. I would put this up against the best Chasagne Montrachet wines from France any day. Aubert makes some of the most amazing burgundy whites you will find and they’re not even from France. They’re also $300 a bottle less than comparable French whites.

Peter Michael 2003 Belle Cote Chardonnay ($120)
Another wine with a 10-year waiting list is Peter Michael. Wine Spectator gives it a 93, Robert Parker a 96. You might go even higher. This ultra-complex chard just takes you to the moon and back. Break out the burgundy glasses and buy every bottle you can get your hands on, because once you open one of them, you will wish you had more. Rich in character and delivering subtle fruit on the tongue, Peter Michael is the antithesis of an “oaky” chardonnay. Once again, here is a California wine that can put the French to shame for significantly less money per bottle.

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