In Praise of Domestic Chardonnay: Stripping Away the Shade from America’s Most Misunderstood Grape

Domestic Chardonnay doesn’t always get the love it deserves and we’re here to change that. Over the years, we’ve found that Chardonnay from the USA often falls victim to stereotypes that don’t always ring true. While there are certainly expressions of domestic Chard that don’t live up to our expectations, this same thing could be said about any region or variety -- so why the shade towards Chard?

At Verve Wine, we hold our domestic Chardonnay to the same standards that we do every other wine on our shelves. The bottles we support are produced sustainably, reflect the soils from which they come, and above all, are super delicious to drink. This week, we’re letting you in on five reasons why we can’t get enough of Chardonnay produced in our own USA-based soils. To all of the bottles on our shelves that have found themselves pigeon-holed into unfair clichés, this one’s for you. 

 

Domestic Chardonnay Highlights Our Country’s Vineyard Diversity 

One of the best things about Chardonnay is that it is somewhat of a chameleon grape, meaning that when minimally manipulated, its juice undeniably reflects the place from which it comes. Couple that with the fact that the variety can basically grow anywhere and you’ve got yourself the recipe for some seriously site-specific wine. 

We believe that Chardonnay’s transparency distinctly reflects our country’s plethora of diverse growing sites. As tasters, we are able to feel the difference in landscapes and climate conditions through various bottles of domestic Chardonnay. From sea-influenced expressions in Santa Barbara to cool-climate bottles in Oregon, we can’t think of a better way to taste your way through the many viticultural gems that exist in our country. The best way to do this? Curate your own Chardonnay-inspired tasting journey across the USA. We recommend snagging a bottle from Oregon, Central California, and the North Coast (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, etc.) to get started. 


It’s Not all Butter

Chardonnay or not, one thing’s for sure: When it comes to delicious wine, balance is always key. Contrary to popular belief, not all domestic Chardonnay is ‘buttery’ or ‘oaky.’ To us, this is basically an alternative way of saying ‘out of balance.’ Thankfully, there are so many domestic Chardonnay producers that eschew the use of chemicals, oak chips, and other flavoring agents and choose to put balance first.

Take Sandhi (Santa Barbara County) or Cruse (Sierra Foothills) for example. Although these wines are vinified in oak, the wood influence is balanced by fruit-driven flavors and ample amounts of natural acidity. Don’t get us wrong, we love a bit of oak on our Chardonnays, domestic or not. When incorporated properly, oak can add structure, backbone, and pleasant spice-driven flavors to a given wine. When oak is used and abused -- or even worse, added to must in the form of chips or dust-- that’s when balance, quality, and overall terroir-reflection begin to fall out of whack. 


It Always Has Our Back 

Simply put, domestic Chardonnay is perfect for year-round sipping. During autumn months, the wines’ unctuous yet balanced profiles perfectly complement the savory flavors of fall dishes. In the winter, fuller-bodied expressions of domestic Chardonnay warm our bodies and provide perfect pours for sipping around the fireplace. In the spring, high-acid expressions provide the perfect transition from winter sipping to warm weather drinking, and by the time rosé fatigue rolls around in the summer, there’s generally always a bottle of domestic Chardonnay on the table to reignite our taste buds with something equally delicious. Call it the Goldilocks of wine if you will. When it comes to finding the perfect bottle year-round, Chardonnay is generally always just right. 

For three of our favorite domestic Chardonnays that clock in under $35, check out Bethel Heights (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon), Camino Cellars (Monterey County, California), and Tyler (Santa Barbara, California). 


No Shortage of Talent

Although it can seem like the United States' winemaking scene is dominated by big-name brands, we assure you that for every mass producer that exists, a handful of talented small growers are scattered somewhere nearby. From the North Coast to Santa Barbara and everywhere in between, the USA is loaded with an insane amount of winemaking talent.

We may be biased, but our friends at Arnot-Roberts (North Coast), Lingua Franca (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon), Presqu’ile (Santa Barbara), and Hirsch have totally nailed down what it means to create small-batch wines from family-owned facilities. If you’ve not checked out these producers out in the past, we definitely recommend giving them a go now. 


Domestic Chardonnay Makes Our Cellars Happy

In the world of ageworthy Chardonnay, domestic expressions often get placed on the backburner. It goes without saying that Burgundy and Champagne provide excellent references for laying down in the cellar, but that’s not to say that expressions produced in our own backyard are any less worthy.

When produced at the right hands (see examples above), domestic Chardonnay can seriously withstand the test of time. For ageworthy candidates to lay down in the cellar, we can’t recommend the wines of Mayacamas, Ceritas, or Cameron ‘Clos Electrique Blanc’ enough. While delicious now, these wines will bring you on an unforgettable tasting journey if you can hold out another decade or so. To read more on everything you need to know about aging wine, click here.

*

To all of the domestic Chardonnay bottles that move us, this is our ode to you. We don’t believe in comparing you to Burgundy and we love you just the way you are. Although January is still six months away, we’re kickstarting our resolution to drink more of you now!