I must admit I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to Chardonnay. I've always loved the French styles the most - from the everyday Macon wines to the high end versions from the Cote de Beaune. And though I've never had the good fortune or the dollar fortune to try a Grand Cru, I have tried many a Premier Cru and village wine from Puligny Montrachet, Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault. They are, for my money, the best Chardonnays in the world hands down.
California, and in particular Napa and Sonoma, are warm and getting warmer. Chardonnay is a cool climate grape and the problem with Chardonnay in too warm a climate is that when the ripeness of the grapes goes up too high, the acidity goes down, and you are left with a dull, flabby version of Chardonnay. Combine that lower acid fruit with too much barrel treatment, perhaps including some malolactic fermentation, and you have a wine that easily gets overpowered by whatever dish you're trying to pair it with. Malolactic fermentation is a secondary fermentation that you either let happen or you stop it from happening. Most reds get it and Chardonnays frequently get it to varying degrees. It's what gives some Chardonnays their buttery flavors and textures. When you pick up a Chardonnay in the store, you can't tell how much malo is on it but you can tell something of the ripeness of the grapes from the alcohol level. And when Chardonnay starts getting up to 14.5% or even 15% alcohol, the chances are I'm going to hate it. This Chardonnay though comes in at a balanced 13.8%.
Wellington Vineyards is a small family owned Sonoma winery that produces nicely valued wines. They are only a step shy of certified organic and they are 100% solar powered. A couple of blocks of their vines planted with Zinfandel, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet date back to 1912 and 1924 while another block dates back to 1895.
The $13.99 2010 Sonoma Chardonnay is made partly with estate fruit and partly with purchased fruit. 25% is fermented in stainless steel and the rest is barrel fermented in 90% French oak - only a small portion of which is new. It's kind of Burgundian in the aromas, with oak spice, poached pear and green apple leading the way. It's got a lovely smooth, medium bodied texture balanced with zingy acidity. The pear and spice notes dominate the flavors and it finishes long, even and bright. This wine is a wonderful value that you should seek out if you like California Chardonnay. Distributed by one of my favorites, Maximum Wine Co. Cheers!