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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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(In the order of their
publication dates)

Italian Varietals Come
to America

A 4-Part Series
Published Jan & Feb 2015

Cabernet Sauvignon
& Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2014

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2014

Oyster and Mussel Wines
A 4-Part Series
Published Sept & Oct 2014

Red Rhone Varietals
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2014

Pinot Noir & Salmon
A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series


Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


































Wines of the Week
Published March 21, 2015

Fifty Shades of Chardonnay, Part Two
– Wines from Far and Wide

Part Two of a 4-Part Series  (See Part 1)
By Chuck Hill

Today I present Chardonnays of many shades and many locales.  From the northern vineyards of the Columbia Valley to the Willamette Valley to Napa and on south to Tumbarumba in New South Wales.  These wines have origins of many Chardonnay clones (more on that next week) and have been vinted using different amounts of oak, sur lie aging and skin contact.  Revel in the differences and be sure to let the wine breath a bit for the best experience.  Decanting with aeration is helpful for the younger wines. 

Bergström Vineyards
2012 Chardonnay, Sigrid
Willamette Valley AVA

Josh Bergström crafts complex and elegant Chardonnays from his family’s vineyard properties on the southern reaches of Chehalem Mountain and Ribbon Ridge in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  This wine is made from the finest barrels of seven select vineyards throughout the region.  The wine shows all the characters that experienced tasters seek in Chardonnay: rich aromas of lemon and cream, smoky mineral and buttered brioche.  Complexity is key on the palate where tension between crisp acidity and minerality play against rich fruit flavors and round notes of toasty oak and vanilla.  It was the favorite pairing with Chef Ted’s seared scallops with herbs. 

Mercer Estates
2013 Chardonnay, Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Mercer Estates sources fruit for their reserve tier primarily from estate vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  The wines represent the very best barrels of each variety and are of limited production.  This tasty Chardonnay was a favorite with my tasters for its complex tropical fruit notes of guava, mandarin orange, pineapple and apricot.  The palate adds vanilla and toasty oak to the mix. 

Harbinger Winery
2012 Chardonnay, Piper Vineyard
Columbia Valley

Energetic winemaker/owner Sara Gagnon continues to produce excellent wines at her facility on Highway 101 in Port Angeles, Washington.  She sources her Chardonnay from Piper Vineyard on Washington’s Royal Slope.  Her Chardonnay gets rave reviews from me for its aromas and flavors of ripe apple, spicy banana-pineapple and toasty vanilla.  Good acidity and moderate alcohol make it a superb food wine. 

Januik Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Cold Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Last week, I reviewed Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Ethos Chardonnay, also primarily from Cold Creek Vineyard.  As former winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, Mike Januik knows Cold Creek fruit as well as anyone, and this tempting Chardonnay shows that experience makes the difference.  Look for citrus and floral notes evolving to spicy apple and vanilla-toast-coconut on the finish.  This young wine needs some breathing time to open up and show its stuff. 

2012 Chardonnay
Ancient Lakes AVA

“Fresher than a hickey on a Catholic schoolgirl’s neck on the first day of class.”  WineGirl Wine's Angela Jacobs knows how to describe her winemaking efforts to get attention!  This tasty Chardonnay was crafted from grapes grown in the northern Columbia Valley in the recently approved Ancient Lakes AVA.  (WineGirl Wines is located in the northern Lake Chelan community of Manson.)  Aromas and flavors of green apple, spicy Asian pear, butterscotch and toasty vanilla combine to make a nice wine for sipping or serving with lighter meals.  Angela suggests pan-fried catfish!  

Novelty Hill Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Estate
Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Mike Januik crafts the wines for Novelty Hill Winery from grapes grown at their estate vineyard on the Royal Slope of Washington’s Frenchman Hills.  This Chardonnay opens with aromas of stone fruits, honeysuckle and baking spice that lead to a creamy palate of baked apple with vanilla and hints of toasty oak and mineral – great for sipping or with lighter meals. 

Ponzi Vineyards
2013 Chardonnay
Willamette Valley AVA

If you are a peripatetic enophile (wandering wine lover), you should set your GPS to guide you to the top of the Chehalem Mountains where Ponzi Vineyards new winery and tasting room are among the most elegant in the Northwest.  Tableside service, a covered terrace, bocce courts and other amenities make this a perfect stop for the discriminating connoisseur.  Enjoy their 2013 Chardonnay for its fresh grapefruit, lemon custard and mineral flavors – perfect with our NW scallop sauté or other seafood dishes. 

Buried Cane
2013 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley AVA

Buried Cane is named for a time-honored Washington State grape-growing practice used to protect grape vines from frigid winter temperatures.  Low-growing vine canes are buried under the soil for protection from the cold, and are then unearthed after the threats of winter freeze are past.  Buried Cane Chardonnay is crisp and clean with aromas and flavors of citrus and pear complemented by notes of toasty oak, mineral and creamy vanilla. 

2013 Chardonnay
Celilo and Conner Lee Vineyards

Winemaker John Abbott crafted his Abeja Chardonnay using 100% French oak – 40% new – in Allier and Vosges barrels.  This wine is showing a softer side right now, offering pear, apple and vanilla, with complex notes of mineral, citrus and sur-lie components hiding until the wine has breathed for several hours.  Additional bottle age will boost this bottling up the charts. 

Sol Stone Wine
2013 Chardonnay, Conner Lee Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Buzz and Karen Buckingham took up an interest in winemaking when their children attended school in Walla Walla.  Early consulting with winemaker Cheryl Barber Jones led to their first wines under the Rock Meadow Cellars label.  Their current tasting room is in the Woodinville Warehouse Winery District.  This Chardonnay offers tropical aromas and flavors of pear, pineapple and citrus with some earthy mineral and toasty vanilla notes. Find out more about this new winery at

Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2013 Chardonnay, Destiny Ridge Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This complex and flavorful Chardonnay had some of the tasters remarking of its white Rhone-like character – somewhat like a Roussanne.  As the wine breathes, notes of pear, cucumber and earthy mineral yield to citrus, floral and apple flavors playing hide-and-seek with vanilla and toasty oak.

This food-friendly bottling is testament to the Horse Heaven Hills AVA for versatility and to Destiny Ridge Vineyard specifically for producing exceptional fruit from many varietals. 

Wines from other areas:

Grgich Hills Estate
2012 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyards
Napa Valley AVA

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich has been called “The King of Chardonnay” since the winery began in 1977.  (He was the winemaker who crafted the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that topped French white Burgundies in the tasting later hailed as “The Judgement of Paris.”  This wine is a perennial favorite of my tasters combining complex fruit – tropical, citrus, orchard fruits – with barrel character – vanilla, toast, roasted hazelnut – to deliver an impeccably balanced wine to sip and savor or pair with rich seafoods or lighter meat dishes. 

Cakebread Cellars
2013 Chardonnay
Napa Valley AVA

Beginning in 1973, Cakebread Cellars has been known for wines that exhibit the power, structure and depth of flavor that makes the Napa Valley famous around the world.  Its Napa Valley Chardonnay belongs in anyone’s list of the “best of the best.”  Winemaker Julianne Laks fermented 90% of the juice in the barrel with subsequent sur lie aging in 20% new French oak barrels.  My tasters lauded the wine for lively acidity and aromas and flavors of stone fruits, melon and lemon with notes of spicy oak, vanilla and mineral. 

 2013 Chardonnay, Bin 311
Tumbarumba, Australia

On the next hill over from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales lies the hamlet of Tumbarumba – a high altitude, cool climate viticultural district.  Penfolds has worked with Chardonnay from Tumbarumba since the early 1990s.  This wine is a bit shy in the nose upon first opening, but delivers superb flavor and structure on the palate, showing lemon-lime and grapefruit with mineral and hints of vanilla and toast.  As Penfolds’ chief winemaker Peter Gago says: “Beguiling and elegant.” 

Wente Vineyards
2013 Chardonnay, Morning Fog, Estate
Livermore AVA

The Wente winery was founded in 1883 and is now – 130 years later – owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.  The family earned the title of “California’s First Family of Chardonnay” for more than 100 years of work with the varietal, yielding the hallmark “Wente clone” planted throughout the world.  The Morning Fog Chardonnay offers aromas of pineapple, guava and citrus with tropical flavors carrying over to the palate, augmented by mineral notes and creamy lemon – great value! 

Cambria Estate Winery
2013 Chardonnay, Katherine’s Vineyard
Santa Maria Valley

This wine comes from one of California’s truly unique vineyards on the Santa Maria bench in Santa Barbara County.  Each of 15 different blocks of Chardonnay are farmed individually, allowing nuances of fruit to emerge.  Lots are blended to create this inviting wine featuring citrus, white peach and apple with notes of vanilla and spicy oak. 

Bota Box
2013 Chardonnay
3L - $23.00

I have championed box wines for many years, not only for their value, but for the environmental responsibility of not shipping tons of glass bottles around the world and for using recyclable or biodegradable packaging.  Bota Box Chardonnay has all these advantages, but also stands out as a fine table wine showing aromas and flavors of citrus, melon and apple with nuances of toasty oak on the finish.  With summer on its way, look for this great value and responsibly green product.


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All rights reserved.  Last revised: 03/26/2015