Top Ten California Chardonnays - 2016

I tend to taste and drink a lot of wine over the course of a year.  I am in a few tasting groups, sometimes the wines are consumed at various local wine store tastings and a number drunk with friends and family.  Early on, it was evident that the best way to pay attention and also to remember what wines were consumed was to write a tasting note.  Over the years, I have written well over 10,000 tasting notes probably representing 70% of the wines I have tasted.  I make no pretense about the quality of the notes, but sip by sip and bottle by bottle, the notes have gotten a bit better.  It always interesting at the end of the year to go back and review what wines were consumed and which ones I liked the best – overall and in categories.  In 2016 I wrote 1,334 tasting notes.  Thanks to computers, I can sort and select them down into various lists.  I give you these to use as you wish – suggestions, comments, and reasons to laugh or disagree.  

Caveat - I have for the most part not repeated wines that were tasted multiple times or the same wine from a different but close vintage in an effort to list more wines for those looking for suggestions.  I drink, for the most part, what my wife and I like, so did I miss out on categories or specific wines?  You bet.  There is a lot of great wine out there and one can’t drink it all.  Part of the fun is seeing, over the years, how tastes change, finding new discoveries, following the development of vintages but most of all, just enjoying this special beverage. Cheers! - Loren Sonkin

1.  2013 Rhys Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains

Best showing yet for this Chard. It was great drinking this next to the PM for a contrast in styles. It is still so young and in need of time to open. I would recommend a three hour decant if drinking now. Gold green in color. The nose is gorgeous with steely minerals, slight gun powder, lots of green apples, some lemon curd and vanilla. On the palate, this has pin point acidity. Razor shop. In a sense like a great Chablis but then the fruit has a ripeness to it that doesn't over power the wine but says it’s from California. Deep and layered. Red apples, some lemon and vanilla and lots of minerals on the palate. Long finish. Brilliant wine, but I need to hold these a bit longer (although it’s my wifes favorite white).  (97 pts.) 

2.  2013 Peter Michael Chardonnay La Carrière - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley

What a great Chard and equal to the Rhys but in a very different style. great to drink side by side. If the Rhys is Grand Cru Chablis, then this is Grand Cru from the Cotes du Beaune. Yellow gold in color. The nose is peaches, oranges, floral notes, very slight oak and butter. On the palate, this has some serious weight to it. Rounder but well balanced. Enough acidity to back the structure. Deep and layers. Pop and pour, it seemed to come out singing but then kept improving so air or cellaring would be good. Long finish. Very food friendly. Sonoma Chard at its best.  (97 pts.) 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

3.  2013 Rhys Chardonnay Horseshoe Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains

Blind, i would not have guesses this to be the Rhys. Pop and pour, this came out of the bottle blazing. It was far richer and bigger than I expected but in a good way. The nose has tropical fruit and peaches. On the palate, this is already showing a nice complexity. Good backbone of acidity. Peaches and papaya with a bit of lemon. Just delicious. I never did get back to it, but it was also my wife favorite Chard.  (97 pts.) 

4.  2013 Peter Michael Chardonnay Cuvée Indigene - USA, California, Sonoma County, Knights Valley

Gorgeous wine.  The wine was really abundant. Nose of peaches, slightly candied, some vanilla and spice. Great texture. Showing tight layers of complexity. On the palate, more peach and vanilla, great acidity and balance, bits of citrus. A long finish. (96 pts.) 

5.  2010 Rhys Chardonnay Alpine Vineyard - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains

Allowed to breathe for 30 minutes. This took about another half hour to really get going. Its young but not a baby. Light golden in color. The nose is great with lemon curd and vanilla but also a crisp mineral note. On the palate, wonderful creamy texture. The lemon vanilla note carry thru but in layers intertwined with minerals (almost gravelly) along with enough acidity to carry the food. Long finish. This is delicious and also really interesting as it has great complexity. No hurry, but really worth checking in on now IMO. (96 pts.) 

6.  2013 Rivers-Marie Chardonnay B. Thieriot Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast

This was pop and pour and was much improved at the end of the night. Very tight at first. As it opens, it shows very rich. Beautiful nose with orange and tropical fruits. Also a fair amount of vanilla. On the palate, the theme continues on with orange rind, vanilla and a slight char note. Deep but tightly layered. There is an oily texture which I love in Chards. Long finish. Just a gorgeous wine but will improve from here.  (96 pts.) 

7.  2014 Kutch Chardonnay - USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains

My first time trying the Chardonnay. Beautiful. Like a blend of California sunshine and Chablis minerality. The bottle was served at slightly cooler than cellar temps (maybe 50F). Light golden in color. Very nice nose with a slight chalkiness, and some bright red (fuji) apple fruit. Maybe a slight tropical sense to it, but very slight. On the palate, this has a creamy texture. Did this see oak? I don't taste it, but it has that feel or perhaps that is from stem inclusion? Not sure. In any event, the palate is all about the apples. Mostly green, some red, a slight cider note at the back end. Really delicious. This was the opening wine and I look forward to another bottle that I can really spend some time with. I am not sure I did not score it too low. In many ways, this reminds me of the Rhys Chards which I love. (95 pts.) 

8.  2013 Aubert Chardonnay CIX Estate Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast

This was a bit too warm which did not help it. That said, it was outstanding. Great nose. Peaches, apples, caramel and slight char. On the palate it is much more reticent but still some peaches. There is some roughness to the finish, but perhaps a bit colder would help. Still, it is quite long.  (95 pts.) 

9.  2009 Aubert Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast

Light golden in color. The nose is sweaty with great fruit and vanilla. It was not as cloudy as I expected so perhaps this had been standing for a while. On the palate, there is a nice complexity. Tart acidity cuts thru but plenty of fruit too. Long finish. Very nice.  (94 pts.) 

10.  2009 Marcassin Chardonnay Three Sisters Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast

I walked into the living room and noticed a table in the corner that I had missed previously. Picked this bottle up to see what it was. Wow, pretty impressive label and most people were walking right by for the easier to access Viognier table. Lots of fun. Light golden in color. Some vanilla cream on the nose. Also some charred wood. Probably a bit warm but that wasn't too bad. There did seem to be some funkiness (sulfur?) showing on the nose. Good acidity. Good fruit on the palate. A very nice, blowsy, Cal Chard. (93 pts.)