Chuck Hill on Wines and Wine Country with links
Main menu bar for Wines Northwest


By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

About Chuck

Follow Chuck on Twitter





Chuck's Wine Reviews
of Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal




Wines of the Week Archive
Archived April 12, 2014
Published March 19, 2014

Versatile Chardonnays – The Food Connection
Part 2 of a 3-Part Series (See Part 1)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill 

I recently read a wine book describing a wine lover who paired all his meals with inexpensive Chardonnay.  The wine-expert author proceeded to take the gent on an armchair tour of the wine world, opening his eyes to different wines and the foods that they complemented.  I won’t be telling you today to pair Chardonnay with everything, but you can enjoy it with many foods. 

Chardonnay has become a go-to wine for serving as an aperitif.  It is usually not too acidic, and many versions offer a little nuance in the way of toast and vanilla to complement the varietal’s signature pear, apple and peach flavors.  Sip it alone or with mild cheeses, crackers and crudités with creamy dipping sauces.  Other possibilities abound. 

If you have just purchased a barrel-fermented toasty Chardonnay, you should move to more strongly flavored foods, especially those from the grill or those with a nut component, that add tannin to the flavor mélange.  One theory of wine pairing suggests matching a richly flavored wine with a rich and creamy food – pricey Chardonnay with Lobster Newburg for example.  The opposite strategy is to contrast the wine (rich and flavorful in this case) with a brightly acidic and fresh entrée, such as poached sole with lemon and herbs. 

Here is a variety of versatile and flavorful Chardonnays to pair with springtime meals and snacks: 

Maryhill Winery
2012 Chardonnay, Proprietor’s Reserve
Columbia Valley

Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge had a banner year in 2013 with many of its released wines winning praise and medals throughout the wine world.  Match this with their outstanding view location and expansive visitor amenities for a winning combination.  Maryhill’s barrel-fermented Chardonnay Proprietor’s Reserve offers rich aromas of tropical fruit, citrus, vanilla and spicy toast, leading to a richly flavored palate of creamy peach, citrus and a balancing acidic finish. 

Cloudlift Cellars
2012 Chardonnay, Bacchus Vineyard
Columbia Valley

Tom Stangeland has always enjoyed making things - from model airplanes as a kid, to creating fine restaurant cuisine as his first career, to crafting his own line of fine furniture.  His love of wine led to learning the trade at the Northwest Wine Academy and opening Cloudlift Cellars in his building in the Georgetown neighborhood of South Seattle.  His barrel-fermented Chardonnay offers a fine balance of fruit and oak, highlighting aromas and flavors of citrus, vanilla and spicy pear with notes of tropical fruit and flinty mineral. 

Pondera Winery
2012 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley

Pondera Winery is a family-owned, boutique winery located in the Warehouse Winery District north of Woodinville, Washington.  Winemaker Shane Howard has been making wine since 2003, and the winery was officially launched with the Pondera brand in early 2005.  Specializing mostly in red wines, Shane found time to craft his barrel-fermented Chardonnay from grapes grown at the Conner Lee Vineyard on Radar Hill just east of the Wahluke Slope.  The wine is rich with aromas and flavors of lemon, vanilla custard, baking spice and toasty/earthy notes from sur lie aging. 

Columbia Winery
2012 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley

Arguably Washington State’s oldest winery (in the modern era), Columbia Winery was founded in 1962 as Associated Vintners by a handful of University of Washington professors.  Arts and Sciences Dean Lloyd Woodburne was the leader and he hired talented David Lake as winemaker in 1979.  Under David Lake, M.W. the winery flourished.  Fast forward to 2013: after a succession of owners, E & J Gallo purchased the winery, installed winemaker Sean Hails, and has begun the process of reviving the glory of the historic winery.  Four wines were released in 2014 including this tasty Chardonnay, offering tropical fruit, buttered toast, apple and mineral – an excellent food wine as well. 

Kramer Vineyards
2012 Chardonnay, Dijon Clone
Yamhill-Carlton AVA

Keith and Trudy Kramer were early wine pioneers beginning in the early 1980s in the Yamhill area near the foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range. Trudy handled the winemaking and Keith was in charge of the expanding vineyards as their operation grew and succeeded.  Thirty years later, daughter Kimberly has taken the reins on winemaking and crafted this Chardonnay from Dijon-clone fruit grown on the property.  Look for aromas and flavors of ginger and flinty mineral with stone fruits and tropical elements – excels as a food wine.

Airlie Winery
2011 Chardonnay
Willamette Valley

Located in a quiet woodland cove near the western Oregon town of Monmouth, Airlie Winery was founded in 1986 and acquired by current owner Mary Olson in 1997.  It is a cheerful stop for wine touring and a short, scenic drive from Salem to the north or from Corvallis/Albany to the south.  Winemaker Elizabeth Clark crafted this food-friendly Chardonnay as barrel-fermented style, using 14% new American oak.  Aromas of spicy apple, pear and spicy oak lead to a palate crisp with citrus flavors, notes of mineral and a hint of toasty vanilla. 

Seven of Hearts
2012 Chardonnay, Gran Moraine Vineyard
Yamhill-Carlton AVA

The Gran Moraine Vineyard is located at the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA near the coast range.  Dijon clone 76 is planted and farmed with modest yields.  The near-perfect 2012 growing season provided excellent fruit which winemaker Byron Dooley barrel fermented in French oak, 33% new.  This wine is restrained and elegant, offering aromas of pear and melon with notes of earthy mineral.  The palate shows flavors of tropical fruit and citrus with hints of vanilla.  Visit the Seven of Hearts tasting room in downtown Carlton. 

Three Rivers Winery
2012 Steel Chardonnay
Columbia Valley

As the wine's name implies, winemaker Holly Turner fermented this Chardonnay in stainless steel only with no oak contact and no malolactic fermentation.  Such Chardonnays make excellent food wines with crisp flavors and bright, fruity aromas.  Look for aromas of citrus and melon with notes of flinty mineral and lychee.  The palate adds apple and stone fruit flavors with a medium-bodied mouth feel. 

Patterson Cellars
2012 Melange Blanc
Columbia Valley

Winemaker John Patterson crafts his wines in the Woodinville Warehouse District, but the tasting room is located at the busy wine corner of Hollywood Hill, just east of Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Friendly and well-informed tasting room manager Stephanie Cuffel leads visitors through a tasting of the wines.  Patterson Cellars Melange Blanc is a blend of 68% Chardonnay, 22% Viognier and 10% Roussanne.  Aromas of pineapple, citrus and stone fruits lead to flavors of peach and mineral with notes of floral perfume. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle
2012 Chardonnay, “Mimi”
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Who is “Mimi” and how did she get a delicious Chardonnay named after her?  The moniker comes from a nickname for Michelle, as in Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Grapes for Mimi come primarily from the winery’s Canoe Ridge Estate vineyard, with additional fruit coming from other Horse Heaven Hill sites.  Mimi offers aromas of pear and vanilla with complex earthy notes from sur lie aging.  Some of the wine saw only stainless steel aging, preserving fresh character on the palate with flavors of green apple, citrus and notes of anise and buttered toast. 

Chehalem Wines
2012 INOX Chardonnay, Estate
Willamette Valley

This wine is a perennial favorite of mine to serve with oysters on the half shell.  Both nose and palate offer fresh citrus, pear and mineral (talc) character with finishing notes of green apple and grapefruit – a classic Northwest food wine for shellfish and many other dishes.  INOX refers to the French term for stainless steel, the fermenting vessel of choice for this wine. 

Chehalem Wines
2010 Chardonnay, Ian’s Reserve
Willamette Valley

This wine from a cool Oregon vintage is crisp and flavorful with character that promises excellent aging potential.  It was barrel fermented with French oak – 38% new – and aged sur lie for 11 months.  Aromas of lemon curd, ginger and floral notes mingle with whiffs of buttered brioche.  The palate adds seductive tropical fruit notes and a toasty finish with earthy mineral complexity. 

Upland Estates
2010 Chardonnay
Snipes Mountain AVA

William Bridgman was a Washington wine pioneer, preceding Walter Clore as a commercial force rather than an academic.  He planted the first wine grapes on Snipes Mountain and opened the original Upland Winery in 1934.  The vineyards survived, but the winery didn’t.  Beginning in 1972, the Newhouse family purchased Upland Vineyards and expanded the holdings to include Harrison Hill Vineyard near Sunnyside.  Todd Newhouse now operates Upland Estates winery providing a taste of Washington wine history through his bottlings.  Sip his flavorful, lemony Chardonnay with hints of mineral, toast and toffee as you contemplate the beginnings of Washington viticulture. 

Wines from other areas:

2011 Chardonnay, Signature Series, Laguna Ranch
Russian River Valley

Gallo’s Laguna Ranch Vineyard was an apple orchard when winemaker Gino Gallo was growing up, and her grandfather Julio picked fresh apples there for his wife to make her famous apple pies.  The orchard was later purchased by Julio and replanted as a Chardonnay vineyard.  Gina honors this memory with this special signature Chardonnay offering aromas of stone fruits, spicy pear, vanilla and earthy notes from sur lie aging.  The palate is rich with lemon, caramel and buttery flavors finishing with balancing acidity that invites pairing with your favorite seafood or pasta alfredo.  

Kendall Jackson
2012 Chardonnay, Grand Reserve
Monterey/Santa Barbara

Kendall Jackson winemaker Randy Ullom combined fruit from Monterey County for citrus and floral notes, with fruit from vineyards in the Santa Maria benchland in Santa Barbara for structure and richness to create this wine.  Several different clones are in play - including the exotic Rued clone - adding yet more complexity.  Enjoy this well-balanced Chardonnay for its tropical and citrus aromas and flavors and notes of apple, vanilla and toast on the finish.  

Cakebread Cellars
2012 Chardonnay
Napa Valley

Cakebread Cellars has been a Napa Valley institution since the 1970s, and coincidentally, their first release was 157 cases of Chardonnay in 1974.  The winery has grown to offer many wines and wine styles including three Chardonnays.  Touring and tasting programs are offered at the winery between Oakville and Rutherford on Highway 29 in the Napa Valley.  This entry level Chardonnay offers bright fruit of lemon and sweet apple with notes of pear and earthy mineral from sur lie aging. 

Carmel Road
2012 Chardonnay, Liberated
Arroyo Seco, Monterey

The Clark Vineyard, in the shadows of the Santa Lucia range in the Arroyo Seco AVA, enjoys a slightly warmer climate than most vineyards in the valley.  It is the primary source for fruit used in this all-stainless Chardonnay crafted by winemaker Ivan Giotenov.  Look for aromas and flavors of earthy pear and cream with notes of orchard blossom and spicy baked apple. 

Isabel Mondavi
2012 Chardonnay

The wines of Isabel Mondavi are crafted by Isabel’s son, fourth generation winemaker Robert Mondavi, Jr.  This brand of wines started out as “just a few cases for mom,” but evolved into this new line of wines that includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Deep Rose.  The Chardonnay comes from the cool Carneros region in the southern Napa Valley and offers a nice balance of pear and apple with notes of floral perfume and buttery toast. 

Esk Valley
2011 Chardonnay
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Grapes for this bracing New Zealand Chardonnay come from the east coast of the North Island near Puketapu in the hills overlooking Hawkes Bay.  Tasters appreciate the organoleptic connection to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of grapefruit, gooseberry, lychee and toasty vanilla.  The palate is crisp with flavors of citrus zest, spicy pear and hints of lemony vanilla.

#          #          #


One-year Archive of previous Wines of the Week reviews

Contact Chuck

Back to Chuck's Main Page

Copyright © 2013 Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 05/13/2014