Top 5 Value Chardonnays
The first few listings of Top 5 Value Wines published in this column were the low-hanging fruit. Spanish reds, Spanish whites, French whites, French reds. Though chardonnay is arguably the most popular wine in the country, our Top 5 Value Chardonnays has been a challenge (which is why it’s actually a Top 10).
Though we pride ourselves in appreciating the entire spectrum of wine types and styles, there's a fundamental problem with California chardonnay for value shoppers; it tends to be overpriced. And the inexpensive, grocery store varieties – with rare exceptions – are indifferently made, frequently tasting of wine-soaked oak chips rather than the seamless integration of wood and fruit that expensive California chard has to offer.
So our Top 5 Value Chardonnays has just one California wine, though that’s among the top-selling categories in most wine shops. And there’s just one French white Burgundy (really three), another category where bargains are hard to find. In between those two extremes, the other three (really six) from Washington State, Australia and Chile strike a nice balance between the Old and New Worlds.
Like all of our Top 5 Value Wines, these have a consistent track record of pleasing year in and year out – though that doesn’t necessarily mean they taste exactly the same from one vintage to the next. They are also ubiquitous in wine shops (and grocery stores) in Virginia, Maryland and the District, and they typically cost $10 to $12 a bottle or less. They are not in order of best to worst. (All five are about equally good bargains.) But they are arranged roughly along the style spectrum from California to France.
The 2009 Bogle Chardonnay California scored an impressive 88 points from Wine Spectator, following on the heels of 87-point vintages in 2008 and 2007. It's available locally for as little as $7.47 a bottle at Total Wine in Virginia and for $7.97 at sister stores Corridor Wine & Spirits in Laurel and Beltway Fine Wine in Towson. The April 2011 issue of The Wine Blue Book lists 2009 Bogle Chardonnay California as a “Great Value” by virtue of its average 87-point score from the critics and average $7 price tag, just 32 percent of the average cost of West Coast chardonnay with the same scores.
“Fresh, intense and vibrant, with sweet pea, green apple, melon and honeysuckle notes that are full-bodied, ending with a clean, crisp finish,” is how James Laube described it in the April 30, 2011 issue of the Wine Spectator.
Compare prices and find Bogle Chardonnay online or at a store near you nationwide.
We’ve repeatedly sung the praises of Washington State’s largest winery, Columbia Crest – as recently as just a few months ago – for its Grand Estates wines, which it makes in quantities of 200,000 to 250,000 cases each year, yet they perennially score well with the critics. We noted in February that The Wine Blue Book also lists 2009 Columbia Crest Chardonnay Columbia Valley Grand Estates as a “Great Value” with its average 88-point score and $8-a-bottle price.
Another Great Value from Washington State, according to The Blue Book is 2009 Château Ste. Michelle, Chardonnay Columbia Valley, at $9 a bottle, or 41 percent of the average price of West Coast chardonnay that also scored 87 points from the critics.
“Fresh and light, this Chardonnay deftly balances apple, citrus and spice flavors on a soft frame,” wrote Harvey Steiman, scoring it 87 points in the November 30, 2011 issue of Wine Spectator. Château Ste. Michelle made a whopping 420,000 cases of the 2009 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, which is why you’ll find it for less than $8 a bottle at Total Wine, Corridor and Beltway and perpetually on sale in the District at Calvert Woodley.
Compare prices and find Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay online or at a store near you nationwide.
Compare prices and find Chateau Ste Michelle Chardonnay online or at a store near you nationwide.
For a few dollars less and equally consistent and ubiquitous is Cousino-Macul Chardonnay, from Chile’s Maipo Valley. Perpetually on sale at Calvert Woodley for as little as $7.99a bottle, the 2010 vintage of Cousino-Macul Chardonnay is“Fresh and light, with a mix of green and yellow apple fruit and a floral-tinged finish,” according to Molesworth’s web review. And its slightly more expensive sibling, Cousiño-Macul - Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay Maipo Valley, is well worth a few dollars more.
“If there is anyone delivering more bang-for-the-buck than Arturo Cousino and his namesake winery Cousino-Macul, I’d like to know about it,” Jay Miller, formerly of the Wine Advocate wrote in the April 2009 issue. “Over the years Cousino has continued to fine-tune his portfolio, and the wines are better today than they have ever been.”
Compare prices and find Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay online or at a store near you nationwide.
Compare prices and find Cousino-Macul Chardonnay Maipo Valley online or at a store near you nationwide.
“It is difficult to find a better Chardonnay than Thorn-Clarke’s 2009 Chardonnay Milton Park,” influencial critic Robert Parker wrote in the August 2010 issue of the Wine Advocate.“Very Maconnais-like in character, with no evidence of wood (although some barrels are used), it offers up notes of white peaches, honeydew melons, and hint of spice. This fresh, medium-bodied, richly fruity white is meant to be consumed over the next 6-12 months.”
Another consistent winner, which sees no oak at all, isYalumba Chardonnay Unwooded Y Series South Australia. The 2010 vintage earned 88 points from Josh Raynolds at International Wine Cellar, and it enjoyed an unbroken string of scores between 85 and 88 points fromWine Spectator for eight consecutive vintages from the 2002 through 2009.
“High-pitched aromas of green apple and quince, with a deeper nectarine quality in the background,” is how Raynolds described the 2010 in the Jul/Aug 2011 issue of IWC. “Juicy, palate-coating orchard fruit flavors are pleasantly straightforward and expand in the mid-palate, picking up a touch of peach nectar. A kick of lemon pith adds focus and bite to the finish. Lots of fruit here.”
Compare prices and find Milton Park Chardonnay South East Australia online or at a store near you nationwide.
Compare prices and find Yalumba Chardonnay Unwooded Y Series online or at a store near you nationwide.
5. Cave de Lugny (several bottlings, including Cave de Lugny Mâcon-Lugny ‘Les Charmes’ and Maison Louis Latour Mâcon-Lugny ‘Les Genièvres’ and Cave de Lugny Mâcon-Villages 'La Côte Blanche')
Cave de Lugny is one of southern Burgundy's largest and most modern cooperatives – comprised of over 250 wine-growing estates and 1,500 hectares of vines in the Mâcon region. And it produces a variety of whites that are consistently good and widely available for $10 to $14 or less (sometimes a lot less, like the sale at Pearson’s a few years back on Cave de Lugny Macon-Villages for $7.99 a bottle).
You're likely to find one of these three French “grocery store” wines in most wine shops – and yes, grocery stores – in Virginia, Maryland or the District. Unlike a lot of the heavily oaked California chardonnay you might encounter, these wines are crisp and refreshing. Great food wines and perfect for sipping on steamy summer evenings in and around Washington. And they are just what we needed to round our Top 5 Value Chardonnays into a Top 10.
Compare prices and find Cave de Lugny Chardonnay online or at a store near you nationwide.