Few topics are as divisive in the wine world as buttery Chardonnay. The wine’s creamy quality is the product of malolactic conversion, a technique involving the introduction of bacteria, which lowers acidity. The resulting wine delivers a softer, creamier mouthfeel and, of course, a distinctively buttery flavor.
Some folks absolutely hate it. In our April 2023 print issue, Marshall Tilden III, the head of the Wine Enthusiast Academy, Wine Enthusiast’s WSET education program, came out swinging against buttery Chard, albeit judiciously. “[Unlike] other, and more simple white varietals, the complexities of Chardonnay stand strong on their own without needing to soften, or transform, the flavor profile,” he said at the time. Although malolactic conversion “can round out the acidity, softening the wine on the palate, I much prefer a Chard with searing acidity that has me craving a second sip.”
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On the other side of the spectrum, however, the style isn’t hurting for fans. “Sometimes, there’s no substitute for the decadence of a barrel-aged Chardonnay,” says Writer-at-Large Tom Capo, who reviews Sonoma County wines. “There’s a certain voluptuousness to well-made buttery Chardonnay that just hits different—especially during crab season. The velvety mouthfeel and rounded flavors of this style of Chardonnay accentuate the texture of succulent crab meat.”
Writer-at-Large Michael Alberty, who reviews wines from Washington State, Oregon and Canada, similarly adores buttery Chards, but with a caveat. “I look for Chardonnays that provide a bit of butter without making me feel like I’ve licked the bottom of a Land O’Lakes tub,” he says. “I’m in heaven if I find a Chardonnay that combines butter with elevated acidity.” Superlative examples are a match for fare like crab cakes and blackened catfish.
This is all to say: Even those with a preference for buttery styles have their limits. It’s key to find one with a balanced flavor profile, which describes all the buttery Chardonnays on this list. Hailing from Sonoma County to Napa to Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA and beyond, these bottlings hit the sweet spot between butter bomb and nose-searing acidity.
Three Sticks 2021 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
This full-blown, toast- and butter-scented wine boasts rich fruits, a mouthfilling texture and a lingering finish. Spicy toasted-oak aromas lead to vanilla, poached pears, toasted almonds and cream flavors that swell on the palate and linger on the finish. Editor’s Choice. 97 Points — Jim Gordon$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Hendry 2021 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (Napa Valley)
Creamy but complex, this elegant wine made from mature vines glides across the palate, sharing subtle oak smoke, toasted almond, butter and Bosc pear flavors in fascinating layers. Silky in texture, nicely dry and long on the finish, the wine is something for a special occasion with a great meal. Editor’s Choice. 96 Points — J.G.$34 Wine.com
Lombardi 2020 Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
Creaminess in the texture and deftly layered flavors give this extraordinary wine an almost irresistible attraction. So light but so rich at the same time, the wine offers vanilla, butter, poached pears and hints of caramel and toast, while the finish is delicious and lingering. Great for a special occasion. 95 Points — J.G.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Beringer 2021 Private Reserve Chardonnay (Napa Valley)
Seductive, almost-sweet aromas of butterscotch, toasted baguette and poached pears lead to a rich, luscious palate that echoes the aromas and coats the palate with vanilla, butter and pear syrup flavors. A full body, ample oak spices and an extra-rich texture make this classic wine a show-stopper.94 Points — J.G.$44 Total Wine & More
Knights Bridge 2021 KB Chardonnay (Sonoma County)
This smooth and silky wine emphasizes delicious apple and pear flavors, keeping the buttery, oaky notes in the background for a complex and harmonious effect. Granny Smith apples and Bosc pears meet mild vanilla, toast and almond flavors that linger through the finish. Editor’s Choice. 94 Points — J.G.$29 Wine.com
Big Table Farm 2021 Chardonnay (Yamhill-Carlton)
What’s not to love about aromas like lemon curd, toasted filberts, butter and a touch of fresh basil? Classic stuff. Elevated acidity and a brisk mouthfeel accompany flavors like buttered popcorn, pan-seared scallops drizzled in lemon juice and balsa wood. Pair this wine with a thick, firm halibut filet. Editor’s Choice. 93 Points — Michael Alberty$39 Gary’s Wine & Marketplace
MacRostie 2021 Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
As inviting and buttery as a croissant, this soft and creamy wine is loaded with vanilla, fresh butter and baked apple flavors on a broad, melted texture, with just a hint of acidity for balance. Pour during cocktail hour for your Chardonnay-loving friends. 92 Points — J.G.$45 Wine.com
Beringer 2021 Luminus Chardonnay (Oak Knoll District)
This is a big, broad and oak-influenced wine. Winning aromas of toasted almonds and pear tart are followed by a rich palate of peach nectar and brown butter. Good for sipping alone, the wine will also pair with indulgent seafood and chicken entrees. 92 Points — J.G.$24 Total Wine & More
Textbook 2022 The Pey Family Chardonnay (Sonoma County)
Tropical fruits meet ripe apples in this well-balanced, fresh and forward wine that also sports tempting accents of vanilla, toast and butter. It’s light enough for a cocktail party and rich enough for almost any appetizer. Editor’s Choice. 92 Points — J.G.$23 Wine.com
Aeris 2021 Chardonnay (Sonoma County)
Milky aromas and a subtle blend of oak, butter and baking spices invest this medium-bodied and well-balanced wine with good complexity. Balancing richness with a tang of acidity, the wine is both appetizing and rather deep. Best Buy. 91 Points — J.G.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
Carol Shelton 2022 Wild Thing Chardonnay (Sonoma County)
Ripe and plump, this unusual blend of Chardonnay plus 10% Roussanne and 8% Viognier is full bodied, almost thick-textured, and lays on the vanilla, cream and butter flavors. Seeming low in acidity, the mouthfeel is viscous and soft but a hint of lemon peeks through to keep it balanced. 91 Points — J.G.$18 Total Wine & More
World’s End 2019 Rebel Rebel Reserve Chardonnay (Napa Valley)
Pastry-like flavors give this fun, creamy-textured wine an almost sweet effect as notes of vanilla, croissant and butter bathe the palate in richness. Good fruit acidity and elevated alcohol keep it powerful through the finish. 91 Points — J.G.$ Varies Wine-Searcher
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Published: January 30, 2024