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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Brousseau Vineyard Chardonnay***
10BedrockChaloneChard.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Chalone, CA $26 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A water-white, straw-yellow-colored wine with a youthful nose of green fruit, citrus, flowers, minerals and a hint of sweet vanilla. The palate is light-bodied with refreshing acidity, elegance and a lingering finish that keeps your mouth watering long after. The flavors are of lemon creme, grapefruit, pear, yogurt, minerals and green apple with notes of oak and vanilla. Sourced from the Chalone appellation from 30-year-old vines and aged in 25% new French Oak for 18 months, this wine tows the line between traditional and modern Chardonnays quite nicely. By only allowing partial malolactic fermentation, the fruit is allowed to stay bright even with the oak influence. Part of winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson's Heritage Vineyard series, which is focused on showcasing the best and oldest CA grape-growing sites. A dynamic wine that needs a bit more time in the bottle to truly come together, but one that had me going back to the glass for more. Great QPR. But it if you find it. Even if you don't normally like Chardonnay. (13.1% abv/92 cases)

2010 Liquid Farm White Hill Chardonnay****
10LiquidFarmChardWH.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $35 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A pale, lemon-yellow colored wine with vibrant aromas of lemon, melon and green fruit with hints of sweet spices and chalk. The palate is light-bodied with crisp acidity that delivers intensity from the first sip to the lengthy finish. The flavors include ripe apple, pear and lemon creme along with notes of minerals, ginger and melon. A complex wine that has amazing balance between the fruit and acidity. At 13.7% abv it is certainly more refreshing and bright than most CA chardonnay, hewing towards the Chablis model more than the Burgundy. The grapes come from the Zotovich, Kessler-Hawk and Rita's Crown vineyards located in the Santa Rita Hills. It's an impressive wine for the price, especially considering this is only their second vintage. Their goal is to let the land speak for itself with very little intervention and only using neutral oak barrels. This wine is all about the fruit, in a good way. If all chardonnay tasted like this I might become a believer. Very Good QPR. Get it while you can. (350 cases)

2010 Melville Vineyards Wente Clone Chardonnay***
10MelvilleChard.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $35 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A pale, lemon-yellow colored wine with an aromatic nose of green apple, stone fruit, minerals, herbs and a hint of tar. The palate is light-bodied with crisp acidity and nice balance with a lengthy finish of pear and slate. The flavors showcased green apple, herbs, peach and that note of tar that I initially had a hard time getting past. Thankfully it dissipated as the wine warmed up and opened. It wasn't apparent to everyone at the tasting, but one other person did note it as well. Since the wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation and no new oak is used, I am not sure where that smell/flavor could come from except the land itself. This is a very young wine and it needs a bit more time in the bottle to bring better unity to the flavors, but is very well-structured and elegant for a CA chardonnay. It also tastes much crisper than it's 14.4% abv would suggest. When the vineyards were initially planted there was only 1 acre of this clone, but they liked it so much they grafted over another 2 acres of it so they could have more. Melville is serious about Chardonnay and this wine shows their dedication to the varietal. Wine Club Selection Only

2009 Peter Michael "Belle Cote" Chardonnay***
09PeterMichaelBelleCote.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Sonoma, CA $75 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A clear, medium, yellow-colored wine with moderate aromas of ripe apple, citrus, orange blossom and peach with hints of minerals, toast and almond. The palate is medium-bodied, smooth and creamy with well-balanced acidity and a small hint of heat on the lengthy finish. The flavors were fairly intense with apple, yeast, peach, chalk, sweet spice and almond. This is a pretty weighty, alcoholic Chardonnay (15.2%) considering it comes from a higher elevation vineyard in Sonoma (1,700 feet), however, it's the vines age (they were planted in 1990) and the vintage's moderate growing season that keep any flabby, overripness in check. In fact, it's quite elegant in its own way. I don't normally care for the most expensive wines when tasted blind but this one was one of my favorites of the evening. It had an intensity and purity of fruit that most of the others lacked, even while clearly showing oak influence. (The wine was barrel-aged sur lies for 12 months.) I could actually see myself enjoying a whole glass of this, as long as I didn't have to pay for it myself. This wine has a long way to go. I would sit on it a few years so it can fully integrate.

2009 Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay***
09RameyHyde.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Napa, CA $60 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A pale, lemon-yellow-colored wine with an aromatic nose of lemon, mango, pineapple, ripe apple, cream, yeast and a hint of oak and minerals. The palate is medium-bodied and smooth with well-balanced acidity and a hint of alcohol on the lengthy finish, which should integrate as the wine ages a bit. The flavors are more subtle than the nose suggests with caramel apple, pineapple, mango and sweet spice integrating nicely with the yeasty and smokey elements of the oak. Vine selection is old Wente, Robert Young and Long Vineyards ranging in age from 10 to 29 years old. This wine is just being released, so it has quite a way to go and got better as the night went on. It was the most "typical" chardonnay of the tasting, but not in the usual overblown CA style. Everyone was able to tell it was from Napa. There was nice restraint with the oak, adding depth to the wine without being overly obvious. I wouldn't pay $60 for this wine, but I can understand why true Chardonnay lovers would. There's a lot going on in this bottle and would wait another year or two when it should really shine. (14.5% abv)

2008 Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Steel Chardonnay**
ChamisalSSChard.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Edna Valley, CA $18 @ the Winery 9/13/10
A pale, lemon-gold-colored wine with bright aromatics of tropical and citrus fruit with hints of flowers and minerals. The palate is medium-bodied, well-balanced and lush (25% went through malolactic fermentation to help soften the wine), but with a refreshing acidity that keeps it from being cloying. The flavors are vibrant with lemon creme, pinepapple, melon and peach taking center stage with notes of coconut and banana on the medium-length finish. Would have given 3 stars if the finish was a bit stronger. A lovely wine for the price and a Chardonnay that will please those not overly fond of the varietal. I don't buy or drink a lot of Chard, but this is a wine worth seeking out every vintage.

2008 Domaine Pascale & Mireille Renaud Macon-Solutre**
08RenaudMaconSolutre.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Burgundy, France $12 K&L Wines 6/17/11
A pale,lemon-straw colored wine with a vibrant nose of citrus, stone fruits and ripe apple with hints of melon and flowers. The palate is light-bodied with crisp acidity and a lingering finish that reminded me of apple pie. The flavors are mostly lemon, lime and peach with a floral component and a tartness that keeps the wine from tasting too flabby. It's quite an intense wine for the price, though it doesn't quite have the structure and elegance to be more than an everyday sipper. It doesn't taste like Chardonnay, which will be a plus for some, not so for others. No new oak here. Was still going strong and could age for another year or two, but there's really no reason to wait. Very Good QPR. A wine I will be seeking out every year. (13.5% abv)

2008 Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet**
08JadatChassagne.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Burgundy, France $47 Private Tasting 3/30/12
A pale, clear, straw-yellow colored wine with a fairly muted nose of green apple, lemon, chalk, herbs and a hint of oak. The palate was light to medium-bodied with fresh acidity and good balance. Though it had a fairly long finish with notes of butter and vanilla, the flavors, which reflected the nose, just didn't have much intensity or complexity. Initially tasted blind, I was not impressed or intrigued by this wine. Though it was well-crafted, once it was revealed I was somewhat disappointed, even after retrying it. Jadot is one of the premiere Burgundy houses and the Chassagne-Montrachet region is well-regarded for making some of the best chardonnay in the world. This is the entry level version, but still I didn't think it warrented its price tag. Perhaps with food or a bit more air it would have shown better. These wines are known to age for up to 10 years, so that could have been a factor as well. That being said for almost $50 I expect a lot more, especially for a white wine. Enjoyable, but forgettable. (13% abv)

2007 Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay***
lioco.gif Region Price Tasted Drank
Sonoma, CA $20 Taste of the Nation 6/1/08
A pale, lemon-green colored, light-bodied wine with bright aromas of citrus and stone fruits and notes of blossoms and minerals. The palate is full of ripe fruit (apple, pear, citrus), refreshing acidity and a creamy texture from time on its lees. The cool climate and steel-tank fermentation make this a crisp, fruit forward, complex wine with a lovely mouthfeel and vivid finish. More like Chablis than most CA Chardonnays. Butter lovers need to steer clear of this wine. For me, it's right up my alley.

2007 Luli Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay***
luli.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Santa Cruz Mtns, CA $20 Mission Wines 4/26/08
Pale, lemon-colored wine with youthful aromas of citrus, tropical fruit and hints of flowers. The palate is crisp and creamy with flavors of lemon, pear, apple, melon and a tiny hint of vanilla on the finish. Some time in neutral oak barrels adds complexity and softness to the mouthfeel as the lack of malo keeps the fluit flavors bright and the acidity refreshing. Am becoming a real fan of Chards from this region, mostly because the winemakers are letting the fruit shine by leaving the butter and oak out. A chardonnay I would drink with pleasure and an amazing value as well.

2007 Sobon Estate NOBOS Chardonnay**
07noboschard.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Monterey, CA $20 Sample 1/12/10
A medium, lemon-colored wine with moderate aromas of citrus, apple and oak with hints of tropical fruit. The palate is medium-full-bodied with moderate acidity and a creamy texture with flavors of lemon creme, ripe apple, oak and sweet spice along with notes of almond and buttered toast on the medium-length finish. Sourced from the Scheid Vineyard, this wine surprised me as I'm not a big fan of oak in my Chardonnay. Was not as oaky with our dinner of Lemon Chicken with Artichokes and Green Olives, which really brought out the fruit. A well-crafted Chardonnay that should please both oak lovers and haters by sticking to the middle ground. Good QPR.

2007 Oreana Winery "Project Happiness" Chardonnay**
ProjectHappiness.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Santa Barbara, CA $7 Trader Joe's 4/10/09
A pale, lemon-colored wine with aromas of ripe apple, pear and lemon with notes of vanilla and sweet spice. The palate is light-bodied and creamy, yet with a crisp, minerally acidity that keeps the ripe pear and stone fruit flavors from being too sweet. Notes of butterscotch, almond and lemon creme on the finish. A nice, basic everyday wine that delivers more flavor and balance than one would expect for the price. A great party wine for a hot summer day. Enjoyed it at a tasting last month and just had to try it again. Plus the label is just too cute.

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**** Outstanding | *** Delicious | ** Enjoyable | * Drinkable
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