Bye Bye ABC: Explore Chardonnay’s Many Expressions

It’s no secret that Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. A truly versatile, green-skinned varietal that’s capable of great expression, Chardonnay is growing in pretty much every wine-producing region. The public has had its share in the rise (and fall) in popularity of the grape, as winemakers around the world have turned their hand to adapting it to a broad array of styles.

What better way to mark both #NationalWineDay (May 25) and #ChardonnayDay (May 27) in 2021 than with a celebration of Chardonnay based wines. Nielsen data show it is the second most popular wine in U.S. by sales volume, after Cabernet Sauvignon. (52 weeks ending 11/28/20).  We conducted another in our series, BensonLive Presents, called “Cheers to Chardonnay,” which aired May 25, 2021; you can view the video on our YouTube channel.

Writers: if you’re challenged to find new and interesting angles, Benson’s client roster has a bevy of Chardonnays – from unoaked to oaky still wines, bubbly and attention-grabbing packaging and campaigns, there’s an array of Chardonnay in our court to choose from. Below are just a select few to tickle your palate!

No Oak Bomb Here

Balletto Vineyards Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay – Russian River Valley, California – SRP $20 – At Balletto Vineyards, one of the few family-owned estate wineries in the Russian River Valley wine region of Sonoma County, all the wines are grown on sustainably farmed estate vineyards and reflect the Balletto family’s passion for the land. This one continues to define California’s Unoaked Chardonnay category. Crisp and vibrant, yet amazingly luscious, it showcases how chardonnay does not need flashy oak or malolactic fermentation to be distinct and delicious. It’s mouthwatering with refreshing acidity that contrasts its surprisingly robust and weighted mid-palate.

Bubble Up!

Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blanc – Robertson, Western Cape, South Africa – SRP $30 – This 100% Chardonnay Méthode Cap Classique wine (the South African style of méthode champenoise). Only the cuvée juice (premium quality) was used for fermentation from the best selection of grapes in Robertson. It is one of South Africa’s most awarded sparkling wines and showcases what the “Graham Beck way” truly means.

Hahn Winery Selection Blanc de Blanc – Santa Lucia Highlands, California – SRP $50 – Limited production. Carefully sourced from of select vineyards in Monterey County, this sparkling wine is crafted from 100% Chardonnay, picked in early August when sugars were low and acid beautiful. Done in a Méthode Champenoise, this wine spent 30 months in the bottle. Generous aromas of strawberry and cranberry are complimented by fresh floral notes. The palate opens with flavors of peach, cantaloupe, and strawberry, finishing with hints of honey, light minerality and beautiful acidity.

Packaging & Inspirational Campaigns

Bread & Butter Chardonnay – California – SRP $15.99 – Bread & Butter believes good things shouldn’t be complicated, and neither should you! They launched a 360-degree campaign dubbed, “Don’t Overthink It” essentially giving wine lovers the freedom to simply enjoy. Made for beautiful spring afternoons, Bread & Butter Chardonnay is a simple and easy drinking wine. Delicately balancing flavors of green apple and citrus, this Chardonnay is made to be enjoyed year-round.

Hahn Appellation Series Chardonnay – Arroyo Seco, California – SRP $17.99 – The Hahn Appellation Series, a new addition to Hahn Family Wines, is replete with gorgeous dark teal and copper packaging and screw cap. Grapes for this wine are sourced from Ste. Nicholas vineyard, one of the family’s six certified sustainable estate vineyards, in Arroyo Seco, one of the smallest AVAs in California. Bright light gold in appearance with aromas of tropical fruit, vanilla, honey and caramel. On the palate, vibrant flavors of pineapple, lemon, apricot and gentle notes of honey, followed by nuanced toasty spice on the finish.

True Myth Chardonnay – Edna Valley, California – SRP $18 – With inspiration drawn from Mother Nature, this wine honors the grace and beauty of the vineyard. Cool climate Edna Valley is an ideal environment for Chardonnay, producing a rich and creamy wine bursting with tropical fruit flavors, making it a great wine for the spring. BONUS: Stay Tuned for limited-edition Ryder Cup x True Myth Edna Valley Chardonnay summer 2021; perfect gift idea for the golf enthusiast in your life!

Everyday Occasions Under $20

Highlands 41 Chardonnay – Monterey, California – SRP $15 – Artfully crafted by fourth generation winemaker Anthony Riboli, Highlands 41 Chardonnay is grown from sustainably farmed estate vineyards in the heart of Monterey and produced at the Riboli Family sustainably certified winery in Paso Robles. It greets the nose with an array of ripe fruit aromas, including citrus, guava, and orange peel. A touch of spicy oak adds complexity. Balanced acidity creates structure and a long, complex finish. This brand captures the energy and excitement of visiting somewhere new, meeting new people, and exploring new adventures.

Reata Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – Sonoma Coast, California – SRP $20 – Created with grapes from Russian River Valley and Los Carneros during a perfect and extended growing season, this Chardonnay has naturally high acidity with fresh fruit aromatics and flavors of apple blossom, honeydew melon, guava and grapefruit zest. The creamy texture and rich flavors of toasted oak are framed by its bright acidity that lifts the fruit and leaves a lingering finish. Made by veteran winemaker Linda Trotta with more than 35 years of winemaking experience.

Step It Up $20+

Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay – Edna Valley, California – SRP $28 – Grown in the coolest climate region in California, which also enjoys an extended growing season, this Chardonnay has intense and complex varietal flavors. It’s smooth and balanced with refined acid structure and a creamy finish. Named after the Acacia Baileyana plant that is beloved for its yellow flowers and is synonymous with the traverse mountain ranges of California, including Edna Valley, the beautiful label design pays homage to this namesake.

Balletto Vineyards Chardonnay – Russian River Valley, California – SRP $29 – Made by Balletto Vineyards, one of the few family-owned estate wineries in the Russian River Valley wine region of Sonoma County, the texture and balance are spot on, making it one of those wines that draws you in for another sip. Both complex and elegant, showing its cool-climate heritage with concentrated flavors and a dark and lasting texture that has perfectly bright citrus tones for balance. It opens with warm spices, ripe pear and lemon aromas. New oak has been used sparingly to enhance the wine with subtle toasted tones, rather than dominate the aromatic profile. This is serious Chardonnay with depth, structure and finesse.

Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay – North Carolina – SRP $25 – Bearing the North Carolina designation, the Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay was crafted with grapes from the estate vineyard. In this way the wine honors the legacy of self-sufficiency that George Vanderbilt originally envisioned for his estate. Channel a bit of Vanderbilt level hospitality with this Chardonnay.

Hahn SLH Chardonnay – Santa Lucia Highlands, California – SRP $25 – Great Value, Tastes Expensive. The ‘SLH’ label is the flagship of Hahn Family Wines, celebrating their 40th anniversary. This is a true ‘gem’ from the small, but mighty Santa Lucia Highlands. This wine greets the nose with citrus and stone fruits, followed with hints of ripe tropical fruit and vanilla. On the palate, this wine is full-bodied with a viscous round mouthfeel, balanced acidity and flavors of lemon, vanilla and delicate butter notes that lead to an elegant long finish.

Lucienne Chardonnay, Lone Oak Vineyard – Santa Lucia Highlands, California – SRP $40 – Family Owned. Estate Grown. Limited production. This 90+ rated wine from Hahn Family Wine’s 146-acre certified sustainable Lone Oak Vineyard sits at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands where it is cooled by ocean breezes from the Monterey Bay. This 2018 Chardonnay is beautifully balanced with a profile that is sophisticated and nuanced. Aromas of fruity floral lychee, honeysuckle and ripe citrus with a hint of vanilla. The palate is feminine and dry in character, with delicate and elegant notes of silky citrus, hints of toasty oak and medium acidic finish.