It has been 40 years since the Judgment of Paris tasting proved California Chardonnay could hold its own against its French counterpart. Times change and, stylistically, so did that state's Chards. Too many went big, burly and buttery with enough oak that you risked splinters in your tongue. Happily, the pendulum is swinging back toward a fresher, better balanced style with good acidity. Here are three to try:
2012 Ramey Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $34
This one is oak fermented, but with only 16 percent new, and though it's full malolactic (which softens acidity) there's enough crisp citrus to balance the creamy fruit flavors. It opens with buttery tart apple and lemon zest aromas. Round and ripe on the palate, apple and stone fruit flavors lead off, finishing with a subtle kiss of oak.
2014 Sean Minor Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $20
This well-priced Chardonnay is a mix of stainless steel fermentation (20 percent) and oak (20 percent new French). The result is a generous hit of wood on the nose that colors the tropical fruit, pear and apple. You get well integrated oak on the palate, along with citrus, pineapple and lemon custard. It's a richer, crowd pleasing style with light acidity on the finish.
2014 Trefethen Chardonnay, Napa Oak Knoll, $37
Barrel fermentation is the rule here (74 percent) with nine months oak aging (20 percent new), but only 5 percent malolactic fermentation, preserving the acidity that helps make this a well balanced wine. Golden delicious and pear aromas lead off with a touch of oak. It's beautifully structured with silky smooth apricot and green apple fruit flavors. Very Burgundian in style.