Top Three Chardonnay Wines (2022 Edition)

In a recent conversation with one of you WineSnobs, I asked what kind of content they would like to see more of. They made a great suggestion – do a Top Three wines series for different categories and/or varietals. I thought it was a great idea. It also prompted me to reflect over all the amazing wines I’ve encountered so far and come up with a short list of three wines I can recommend that would further advance your journey, adventure and discovery of wine as a whole.

So without further ado, here are the top three Chardonnay wines I recommend for 2022. No matter your taste – oaked, un-oaked, dry, light, buttery or acidic – these three Chardonnay are sure to change how to look at and appreciate this varietal. Be sure to share your thoughts and notes with me on social media or in the comments below.

Tara by Ventisquero Wines, Atacama Desert, Chile

Subtle, creamy white cherries. Full, lush, silky, luxurious, weighted mouth feel. leathery terroir notes remain front and center. Chalky slate finish. Unlike most chardonnay which leave your palate dry and tingling with spice, this one’s hallmark is an absolutely drenched, wet, moist (read drooling) palate. At 12.5% ABV, you can take your time and enjoy it without experiencing any palate fatigue.

A fine wine by all accounts. An impressive feat considering it was fermented in whole clusters using only naturally occurring yeast and pressed by foot! Unfiltered! Wild!

Read my full review of the 2016 vintage here

Chardonnay by Panther Creek Cellars, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Soft, restrained nos of mild citrus and under-ripe peach, damp slightly mineral leather, white cherries linger. Subtly firm, viscous body, slightly weighted mouth feel, good tension. White pepper, subtle citrus zest, under-ripe white cherries, crisp, refined caramel and a spice tingle.

If I were to open a Chardonnay on any given day, this would be it.

Read my full review of the 2017 vintage here

Chardonnay by Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands, California

Supple, slightly crisp nose with notes of damp hay, light citrus, cantaloupe, pomegranate white cranberry which evolve into peach stone fruit. Take your time because hours later this becomes a truly magnificent wine. Beautifully balanced from front to back. Soft silky if not viscous mouth feel. Sweet citrus up front with a touch of zest. The palate is rendered moist through the finish. The body quickly fades across the palate leaving hints of honeysuckle, ripe cantaloupe and cola.

A very gentle, terroir driven Chardonnay with a beautiful, full bodied expression.

Read my full review of the 2020 vintage here

2020 Chardonnay by Morgan Winery, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA

2020 Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands) by Morgan Winery, Salinas, CA

Supple, slightly crisp nose with notes of damp hay, light citrus, cantaloupe, pomegranate white cranberry .as it opens up these notes turn into more of a peach stone fruit. Take your time because hours later this becomes a truly magnificent wine.

Body is beautifully balanced from front to back, greeting the palate with a soft silky if not viscous mouth feel immediately. Sweet citrus up front with a touch of zest. Hints of white cranberries. There’s a noticeable minerality that lends a slight bitter in the background and renders the palate moist through the finish. The body quickly fades across the palate leaving hints of honeysuckle, ripe cantaloupe and cola.

This a very gentle, terroir driven Chardonnay with a beautiful, full bodied expression. I love this wine maker’s work. Great philosophy and execution.

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2012 Syrah (Double L Vineyard – Santa Lucia Highlands) by Morgan Winery, Salinas CA

Tonight’s Occasion: 2012 Syrah (Double L Vineyard – Santa Lucia Highlands) by Morgan Winery, Salinas CA

Deep dark intense semi-opaque color. It appears clear and free of suspension. Out of the bottle nose is a little restrained for a syrah but very much present. Up front ripe dark plums, blackberries, dark cherries over a backdrop of old dusty, woody leather. Hints of black licorice punctuate the nose. Fruit and earth go hand in hand here. A deep, dark, brooding syrah.

Body is balanced from front to back. Bone dry. Thin plum skins carry over to greet the palate . Tannins are crisp, fairly restrained and fully integrated into the body. Slightly under-ripe blueberries. Barely noticeable acidity provides a gentle tension across the palate. Towards the back a gentle spice warmth slowly takes over the transition to finish, along with thin black currants. With each sip, a gentle grip builds upon the lips one delicate layer at a time. As it breathes, old barnyard woody leather and licorice intensify.

Following the nose I expected a massive beast of a Syrah however this is the complete opposite. Body is very delicate and gentle on the palate. There is a certain classic, understated simplicity to its expression and execution. This should make for a great benchmark Syrah in any cellar/collection. It is now that I have to remind myself that this is Santa Lucia Highlands and what a difference this climate/terroir makes with this otherwise massive varietal. This winemaker has done a great job of shepherding these grapes and chanelling everything that is great about this vineyard, and region at large.

Tech Sheet

2012 Double L Syrah by Morgan Winery

From Winemaker: 2012 Double L Syrah Tech Sheet.pdf
Terroir: Vineyard: Double L
Appelation: Santa Lucia Highlands
Soils: Arroyo Seco & Chualar Loam
Climate: very cool, Region 1 (UCD)
Composition: Rootstock: 110-14, 420a
Clones: 383 & 470
Aging: 1 3 months in 100% Bordeaux barrels
Analysis: Alcohol: 14.4%
Acidity: 6.7 G/L
PH: 3.54
Total Production: Approximately 75 cases
I would also like to say a Special Thank You to the Morgan Winery family and crew for digging into their limited library and making this limited production and beautifully crafted wine available. It’s truly a pleasure and honor to explore your life’s work.

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2018 Zinfandel (Paso Robles) by Lusso Della Terra

2018 Zinfandel (Paso Robles) by Lusso Della Terra, Fiddletown, Amador County, CA

Intense clear ruby color. Out of the bottle nose is restrained, especially for a Zinfandel with notes of straw, slightly ripe berries. That signature raisin is barely noticeable, almost nonexistent. Swirling vigorously adds ripe dark cherries, pinewood sawdust and honey beeswax. These all conspire to create a subtle anise essence. Rich. This is not your typical zinfandel.

Body is nicely balanced, greeting with a subtle acidity that lends good tension up front. This is followed immediately by a thin lightweight, dry body of blackberries and dark cherry skins. Tannins are crisp, heavily restrained and fully integrated into the body. A crisp, unobtrusive oak caramel softens this otherwise crisp, sharp body. Hints of stone fruit (especially dried apricots) linger in the distant background. Mouth feel is light, dry, smooth, especially for a Zinfandel. Midway a warm spice heat emerges and eventually dominates the entire palate. Ahhh yes, you can only tame Zinfandel so much. The palate is left fairly neutral in short order with little more than a warm spice heat from front to back and down deep into the chest.

This is a highly understated Zinfandel. It has really benefited from the more gentle climate of this region. The winemaker has done a great job of creating a very mature, classy interpretation of this varietal. In the right hands, Zinfandel can be so much more of a sophisticated wine. Nicely done Ed!

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2017 Cabernet Sauvignon by Louis Martini, Napa Valley

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) by Louis Martini, Napa Valley, California

Deep dark ruby color. Out of the bottle, ripe plums, and blackberries over a subtle backdrop of sawdust. Swirling vigorously unleashes bursts of sweet pinewood, ripe dark cherries, licorice and a faint freshness akin to mint/eucalyptus. Yummy.

Body is fairly balanced up front. A touch of acidity and fine grain dusty tannins greet the palate with mild tension. This is quickly followed by slightly ripe plum, dark cherries and red apple skins so faint you’d likely miss it. The fruit quickly dissipates as the fine grained tannins precipitate into an ever thickening coat of grit upon the palate. Hints of cola, currants and spice emerge as it transitions to finish. Lips are rendered parched shut under a thick dusty tannic grip and smoldering spice heat.

I seldom indulge in Napa wine country but when I do, I stop by Louis Martini. You’ve likely driven by this unassuming and understated Napa Winery. Its custodians have done a great job of documenting, preserving and continuing its legacy. It’s grounds and experience follow form and function, the tastings focused but casual and thoughtful. Louis Martini should provide a great benchmark for the Modern Day Napa Cab in any cellar.

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2018 19 Block Mountain Cuvée by The Hess Collection, Napa Valley

2018 19 Block Mountain Cuvée, The Hess Collection, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley

Slightly ripe plums and dark cherries over a backdrop of sawdust and subtle pinewood. Swirling vigorously intensifies these notes, adding hints of black licorice. Overall the nose is fairly restrained. As it breathes, a soft butterscotch emerges along with a subtle eucalyptus both so faint you’d likely miss them.

Body greets with a subtle tension in the form of slightly unde-ripe blackberries. This is quickly taken over by herbal freshness which is in turn overlaid with a noticeable oak (reminiscent of new oak). It’s not off balance but fairly prominent. This compensates well for its relative dryness while accentuating the fruit. Tannins are fully integrated into the body, and slowly precipitate layer by layer eventually coating the entire palate with an almost waxy dry lingering grip. A gentle of spice tingle caps the finish.

This is a medium bodied Cuvée with a desirable composition that should appeal to a broad spectrum of palate while still remaining enjoyable if not interesting to the more discerning snob. It has more of a new world modern style and execution. A well made, quality wine.

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2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by Mayacamas, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, CA

Deep dark ruby color. Nose is shy. Greets with dark plum, old sawdust, and a touch of beeswax. Swirling vigorously adds a slight rocky essence, hints of licorice, shortbread and flutter of minty, herbal freshness toward the back.

Up front, thin, slightly under-ripe dark plum. This is quickly followed by restrained currant, black licorice and a noticeable old, woody leather. Acidity is fairly unobtrusive and could be easily overlooked but for the precise amount of tension it lends to this understated body. Crisp, clean and fully integrated tannins roll off the palate in short order, transitioning to black currants and subtle bitter cola towards the back. Transition to finish is seamless leaving the palate slightly parched with a gentle spice tingle. The cola and currants develop a subtle sweet dimension as the palate resets. As it opens up, a firm tannic grip develops over the entire palate as some of tannins caramelize to add a slight sweet aftertaste. This wine is very much reminiscent of a classic old world style Bordeaux. I can’t help but wonder how amazing a Meritage/Bordeaux blend from Mayacamas would be.

This is a mature, dry, old world look at Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, California and the World at large. I highly recommend it for the advanced palate. If you want to get an appreciation for the kind of wines that put Napa on the world stage decades ago, Mayacamas is a great place to start. Their program has gone largely unchanged over several generations of custodians. Their work provides a great reference point and study for the enlightened and curious palate.

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the estate for a private tasting last fall and the experience exceeded all expectations. For many years I have come assume there were little left in the Napa region in the form of true, single estate, artisan winemakers with small batch production wines. It’s an expensive proposition these days, especially for a highly sought-after region as Napa. This is why I was even more excited to realize that this small team of custodians (as they refer to themselves) are passionately preserving and continuing the legacy of this storied region with absolutely no room for compromise. This alone is reason enough to explore their wines.

No big, spicy, jammy, fruit bombs here. No overbearing manipulation, additives, or blending down [with Lodi grapes]. It’s simply wine from a vineyard in Napa, made the same way it always has been for generations, clean crisp, true… and there is a lot to said about that these days. It’s so refreshing for a WineSnob!

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2019 Pinot Noir by Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA

2019 Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) by Morgan Winery, Salinas, CA

Bright, clear, ruby color. Shy nose, greets with wet hay, subtle raspberry, cherry and sweet cranberry. Swirling unlocks red vine licorice, honey nectar, and a sweet citrus afternote reminiscent of Meyer lemon. All mere suggestions at their most intense. Sophisticated.

Body greets with a gentle, soft, weighted, zesty, viscous composure. Once the palate adjusts, a soft, bitter, licorice, wet wood, cranberry, and slightly under-ripe raspberry dominate the expression. The overall expression is familiar yet different. This is clearly Santa Lucia Highlands, one of my favorite regions for Pinot Noir. A crisp, refined oak caramel vanilla rounds out the body without distracting the palate and rendering the mouth feel more plush and luxurious. This whole act quietly vanishes leaving the palate slightly dry and moist, completely neutral. Impressive. That’s a first.

This iconic region and its fairly neutral terroir among other key factors make it the perfect place for growing and making rich, nuanced, exquisite Pinot Noir with a unique expression of its fruit characteristics. In this way, this wine showcases this iconic region so well. By blending so many clones it becomes a true celebration of SLH and Pinot Noir. What a great representation. Nicely done!

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2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir by Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel by the Sea, California

2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) by Dawn’s Dream Winery, Carmel by the Sea, California

Rose gold color. Aromatic nose greets with strawberry, white cranberries, wet wood and a hint of honey. Swirling intensifies the nose, adding a bit of cantaloupe and dusty earthy essence. This is Pinot Noir!

Body greets with a punch of citrus lemon, under-ripe strawberry and a faint, crisp caramel. This creates a slightly viscous, weighted mouth feel. Hints of white pepper pop up randomly as the body fades, leaving behind a dry grippy lemon zest, touch of minerality and a tingle of spice.

I keep thinking Bougie Rosé 🤣🤦🏽‍♂️. This wine is proof that Rosé is best when made from Pinot Noir. Clean, crisp, light and refreshing.

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2021 Nebbiolo (Clarksburg) by Haarmeyer, West Sacramento, CA

2021 Nebbiolo (Clarksburg) by Haarmeyer, West Sacramento, CA

Think you’ve seen all Nebbiolo can be? Think again!

Light clear, transparent almost iridescent color. Bright crisp nose with subtle citrus and sweet cola. Swirling unlocks a gentle sedimentary earth leather and intensifies the cola, adding a little zest.

Slight Citrus and lemon zest up front on the body. This is quickly followed by subtle bitter cola, mineral and sedimentary leather. A touch oak lends a crisp refined caramel that further accentuates the fruit with hints of raspberry, red cherries and strawberry. Beneath all this lies a bone dry wine. This all quickly vanishes across the palate leaving behind parched lips and a touch of spice. Most certainly a chillable red.

Nothing ventured nothing gained. The wine world seems to have no shortage of folks who insist on having found, seen, tasted or learned all there is to know about wine. To all, I suggest you take a look at what the folks at Haarmeyer are doing. It’s a great approach to and perspective on wine I think we all could use these days. From harvesting for pH instead of Brix and creating subtle, low intervention wines that are simply delightful.

Thank you Craig for the great wines and hospitality! I’m excited and look forward to many more vintages.