Chardonnay is by far the most popular wine in America, and in the Pacific Northwest, it also has strong support.
In Washington, it is the No. 1 white wine grape, keeping ahead of Riesling but lagging behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Across the Columbia River in Oregon, it is the No. 2 white grape behind Pinot Gris and far behind Pinot Noir, the state’s signature wine.
Chateau Ste. Michelle leads the Northwest in Chardonnay, producing more than a million cases last year. To the south, interest among consumers in the past five years has fueled the rise of the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, a wintertime event that’s now produced by the folks behind the successful International Pinot Noir Celebration.
It’s good to have such robust Chardonnay production from both states because that provides a diversity of styles, with the Columbia Valley producing a riper style that comes from the sun-drenched region, and cooler-climate approaches with Willamette Valley grapes. In addition, winemakers in both states are pushing the boundaries of traditional styles, experimenting with different levels of oak, along with making the wine in such vessels as stainless steel and concrete eggs.
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All of this adds up to it being a good time to being a lover and explorer of wines in the Pacific Northwest. Here are a few delicious examples of Chardonnay from Washington or Oregon. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
Stoller Family Estate 2016 Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, $25: As one of the leaders of the Chardonnay renaissance in Oregon, Stoller Family Estate is focused on Dijon clones for its 53 acres of work with that grape. Melissa Burr drives a fruit-forward Chardonnay approach that’s bright and juicy, carrying hints of Granny Smith apple, piña colada and honeysuckle with grapefruit, lemon and a touch of sweet herbs. It’s a Chablis lovers’ Chardonnay, backed by delicious acidity that screams for halibut. (12.5 percent alcohol)
Novelty Hill 2014 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $23: Veteran Washington winemaker Mike Januik works with three clones of Chardonnay from owner/grower Tom Alberg’s scenic Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope in the Columbia Basin. The 10 months of aging in French oak barrels accounts for aromas and flavors of pina colada, pineapple and citrus with butterscotch, a touch of toast and enjoyable acidity. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Knudsen Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay, Dundee Hills, $45: Top grapes from the Willamette Valley’s first planting of Dijon-clone 76 and 96 Chardonnay end up in the hands of Dundee, Ore., winemaker Nate Klostermann. He chose a 10-month program of 27 percent new French oak, and his skillful use of wood allows for balance from start to finish. Buttery and almond oil notes join ripe fruit that hints at Bosc pear, Red Delicious apple and honeydew melon. It’s all framed by a pleasing burst of orange oil. (14 percent alcohol)
Barnard Griffin 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14: The hottest vintage in Rob Griffin’s four decades winemaking in Washington state make for a remarkably complex and bright Chardonnay. Toasted almond, butter and zesty citrus fruit aromas come through to the creamy palate that’s capped by lemony notes with Golden Delicious apple peel bite. For the second straight year, Barnard Griffin earned a gold medal for its bargain Chardonnay at the Cascadia International Wine Competition. Enjoy it with shrimp or fried chicken with mashed potatoes. (12.4 percent alcohol)
Waterbrook Winery 2015 Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $16: John Freeman’s approach began before Labor Day with harvests from Canyon Vineyard Ranch in the Yakima Valley and stately Sagemoor Vineyard along the Columbia River. The 11 months in French oak creates aromas of toast, facial powder, dusty orchard fruit and jasmine, followed by rounded flavors of baked apple, sweet pear and nutmeg. This rich and golden-hued Chardonnay earned a gold medal at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, and should be a pleasant pairing with Salmon Steaks with Curried Fennel Wine Sauce. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Elk Cove Vineyards 2014 Goodrich Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton, $40: Adam Campbell and his family’s 2014 investment in Goodrich Vineyard near Yamhill, Ore., pays dividends here with Elk Cove Vineyards’ first Chardonnay since 1998. Beautiful aromatics of rosewater, Asian pear and green banana lead to flavors of Golden Delicious apple and baked pineapple, backed by pear skin and dried apricot. (13 percent alcohol)
Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2015 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $19: This Walla Walla Valley winery continues to provide quality and affordability within its Boomtown brand, a 20,000-case collaboration with the Wahluke Wine Co. The nose of starfruit, pineapple and Key Lime transition to balanced, nutty and fruity flavors of Bosc pear, dried apricot and green banana flavors. Suggested pairings include Mussels and Spanish Chorizo, a recipe from Savor chef Janis Frey. (12.9 percent alcohol)
Sinclair Estate Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $33: Much of the focus for Amy Alvarez-Wampfler during her time at Columbia Crest was spent doting on the Chardonnay program - 10,000 barrels - which helps explains the success that Sinclair Estate Vineyards in Walla Walla has enjoyed with the white Burgundy. Hints of butterscotch and almond lead to a creamy palate of ripe orchard fruit with Golden Delicious apple and pear butter that’s framed and balanced by lingering lemony acidity. This earned a gold medal at the 2017 Cascadia International Wine Competition. (13.7 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; greatnorthwestwine.com