Winemakers assess Napa’s ‘affordable’ Chardonnay

California Napa grapesKimberlee Nicholls of Markham Vineyards, makes a Chardonnay that retails for $18. Oak is used in its production, but is limited to 30% new oak.

Panelists all agreed that Chardonnay is very malleable, with Nicholls calling it a winemaker’s wine. Chardonnay wines, she said, are more reflective of a winemaker or the house style. For her Markham Chardonnay, it is 100% barrel fermented but in addition to a small percentage of new oak, only 40% goes through malolactic fermentation. She wants it to be a food wine.

Panelists examined the many different approaches that can be taken in the cellar which change the final style of the wine–from malolactic fermentation, lees stirring, leaving residual sugar in the wine, the use of stainless steel, staves or oak barrels, and so much more.

This, however, brings on difficulties in the marketplace as Chris Oggenfuss of CADE and Plumpjack wineries pointed out. “Napa has a hard time defining what a ‘Napa Chardonnay’ tastes like.”

This led panelists to discuss the need for stylistic variety in the market versus the confusion this can cause when diners review a restaurant wine list. If they don’t know a particular producer, they won’t know the style of Chardonnay they are ordering. A hot topic, panelists discussed this issue without resolve until the close of the tasting.

The top wines of the tasting indeed included a range of styles from un-oaked to round and buttery. Three different vintages (2010, 2011 and 2012) were included in the tasting and the three flights were arranged by vintage.

Click through the following pages to find out which wines the panelists chose the following as their favourite Chardonnays priced $30 and under.

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