With some 100,000 vineyard acres planted, California chardonnay is arguably the most popular white wine in America. The trend has been toward rich, buttery wines colored by extensive oak. At the same time, later harvesting has pushed up sugar levels, resulting in bigger, higher alcohol wines. That's not typically an option in the cooler climate of the Northwest, where the emphasis is on creating fruit-forward, balanced wines, with food-friendly acidity. Viva la difference.
2011 Airfield Estate Unoaked Chardonnay, $12.99
Given a choice between a heavily oaked chardonnay (aka Chateau Two-by-Four) and one that sees no wood, I'll always pick the latter. This unoaked entry from Yakima really lets the varietal character of the grape shine through. It opens with racy green apple and fig on the nose, while zesty citrus and tropical fruit fill the mouth. That's backed by nuances of mineral and white pepper on the finish of this exceptional bargain.
2010 Domaine Drouhin Arthur, $30
What do you get when you cross one of the top domains in Burgundy with Oregon's Willamette Valley? A chardonnay with New World terroir wrapped around Old World style and structure. The creamy peach aromas in this wine are round and ripe with earthy touches of mineral and citrus. On the palate, it's a mix of tangy lemon, lime, fresh bosc pear and sweet apple. Touches of herb and spring greens come through on the finish.
2011 Mercer Canyons Chardonnay, $13.99
This is the new, value-priced label for Washington's Mercer Estates, and this bottle definitely provides a lot of bang for the buck. The floral aromas combine crisp apple, mango and kiwi with a hint of ginger. This wine is big and bold, but balanced by just the right amount of acidity, offering lovely peach and blood orange flavors that persist nicely.