Chardonnay is a varietal of white wine renowned for its refreshing crispness. The light, fruity notes typical to this grape lend themselves to the warm summer air. Yet chardonnay also possesses a great malleability, meaning that it can take on many different flavor profiles depending on how and where it was produced. For instance, some winemakers like to introduce smokey tones to chardonnay. While that might uncover some elements of the grape that you hadn’t previously considered, it’s not necessarily what you want to sip on to get through a hot, sunny day. As you enjoy the dog days of August, consider these fine specimens of wondrous white to bring out the best of the season.
The chardonnay grape was among the first to be commercially produced in the eastern United States. It was in the fertile regions surrounding upstate New York’s bucolic Finger Lakes that this style really took root in the mid 20th Century. Nowadays, you can find accomplished winemakers here—like the folks at Chateau Lafayette Reneau—capable of making a juice that could stack up against some of the finer chardonnays around the world. Their Proprietor’s Reserve 2009 is silky smooth thanks to grapes that are harvested at full ripeness. They age it for ten months in French oak, blending the subtle sweetness of pear with the subdued zestiness of tart lemons. At under $20 a bottle it’s also an exceptional value.
From the opposite coast, Wente Vineyards was the first California winery to produce a Chardonnay (back in 1936), and they’re a great place to turn to for a solid bottle. Kalinda vineyards—out of the sun-soaked hills of Anderson Valley, California—is producing an incredibly drinkable chardonnay that typifies the alluring fruitiness of west coast whites. This vibrant creation lingers lovingly on the tongue with the vibrancy of the summer sun. And at $14 a bottle, you can certainly afford to bring a few of them to your next beach BBQ.
For the purists out there, you can obviously find a slew of French chardonnays that deliver on authentic old world flavor. The trick is to find the ones that are reasonably priced. Consider the 2008 Macon chard from VRAC—a veritable steal at around $11. It’s clean, crisp and oak-free, leaving you with only the sweetness of the grape to consider as you sit back and enjoy a glass, watching the sun set on another beautiful summer evening.