A native of Burgundy, Chardonnay’s “blank slate” adaptability and forgiving viticulture have helped make it a favorite grape among winemakers around the globe. Its popularity has led to a wide variation of styles with tasting notes that can range from crisp and mineral, ripe and tropical, or spiced and fruit-forward. Less palatable, though, are the sometimes dizzying prices that can make the search for a good bottle quite challenging. But with a wine as complex and alluring as Chardonnay, it’s worth the effort.
To help zero in on affordable bottles, we polled sommeliers from coast to coast for the best quality-to-price Chardonnay. From wines hailing from the cult-classic Jura region and white Burgundies that won’t blow your budget to Oregonian Chardonnay competing with the Willamette Valley’s reputation as a Pinot Noir powerhouse, there are plenty of options to learn about below.
Brewer Clifton’s 2021 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
Chardonnay from Jura, France
Tyler Winery Chardonnay
Julien Baillard Fourchaumes and Montmains cuvées
Wines of Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon
Lingua Franca Estate Chardonnay
Domaine de Thalie Mâcon-Bray ‘Atout Vent’ Blanc
Goose Ridge 2021 g3 Chardonnay, Goose Gap AVA, Columbia Valley, Washington
Louis Jadot Chablis
Rhys Vineyards ‘Alesia’ Chardonnay
2019 Domaine Pattes Loup, Chablis, Vent d’Ange Mise Tardive
Sylvaine et Alain Normand Mâcon la Roche Vineuse AOC
Giant Steps, Tarraford Vineyard, Chardonnay 2019
Bourgogne Blanc or Rully/Mâcon Bottlings from Vincent Dureuil-Janthial or Domaine Leflaive
Ernest Fallenleaf Vineyard Chardonnay 2018
Bourgogne Blanc from Louis Latour or Olivier Leflaive
Textbook Chardonnay 2021
Turning Tide 2020 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County
Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis
2019 Johan Vineyards, ‘Estate’ Chardonnay
Time Place Wine Co. Chardonnay, Monterey 2021
Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Chardonnay. Willamette Valley, Oregon
Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay (any Vintage)
Domaine Katsaros, Thessalia, Greece
Cameron Winery Reserve, Dundee Hills Chardonnay
“I’m going to pick the Chardonnay that we can all actually find in the store for this question. With that being said, at my local Whole Foods Market, one bottle over from the Rombauer and a whole $1 cheaper, you can find Brewer Clifton’s 2021 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay. This bottle costs $36 and punches way above its price point!” —Jenna Isaacs, sommelier, Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, Calif.
“Some of my all-time favorite Chardonnays have been from the Jura in France, a cult-classic wine region for us cork dorks in the U.S., but it’s quickly finding more and more footing in natural and eclectic wine bars across the country. While you can spend a small (or large) fortune on divine Chardonnay just to the north in some of Burgundy’s most famous vineyard sites, I’d rather let my dollar and palate stretch farther right home in the Jura [like] the crémant 100 percent Chardonnay wines that rival Champagne in nose, texture, and flavor, to the near-savory and slightly oxidative traditional still white wines coming from generational producers in the region.” —Jared Sadonian, beverage director, Puritan & Co., The Lexington, & Geppetto, Cambridge, Mass.
“I think Tyler Winery is making some beautifully expressive Chardonnays by the ocean in Santa Barbara. This is not the buttery Chardonnay your grandma liked drinking: Think lean, fresh, mineral, and a touch of the salty sea breeze you’d expect from a coastal site.” —Arjav Ezekiel, beverage director/co-owner, Birdie’s, Austin, Tex.
“I love wines that sing with food but you don’t need a bite to choke them down either, and the Julien Baillard wines are stunning and are such good values — especially their Fourchaumes and Montmains cuvées which go through six to seven months on the fine lees and retail for about $30. These are not only great expressions of their terroir, but are approachable and really great crowd pleasers that will convince anyone opposed to Chardonnay after being traumatized by some of the more buttery vinification out there.” —Demetria Lewis, sommelier, Birdie G’s, Santa Monica, Calif.
“Chardonnay is a tough grape for value seekers, as the most inexpensive Chardonnays tend to lack character and depth. That being said, the wines of Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon are the Mâconnais domaine offshoot of the extremely admired and prestigious Comte Lafon, bringing top-tier winemaking to a less famous, though extremely high-quality area in the south of Burgundy.” —Jamie Harrison Rubin, advanced sommelier, Southwark, Philadelphia
“Chardonnay comes in all styles and price points. It seems in 2023, France and California are the go-to regions, but they are priced accordingly. In Oregon, Lingua Franca’s Estate Chardonnay offers world-class quality for a much more palatable price. Larry Stone, a legend in the wine and hospitality industry, runs the estate and he has Dominique Lafon of famed Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy as a consultant. The wines are beautifully concentrated while still being bright and fresh. Every vintage seems to be better than the last as the vines get more mature and the estate comes into their own. I think they have incredible value in the Chardonnay category.” —Ben Chesna, beverage director, The Banks Fish House, Boston
“Domaine de Thalie Mâcon-Bray Atout Vent Blanc. This Mâcon-Bray drinks above its pay grade. It has a restrained elegance and minerality not always found in this part of Burgundy.” —Dave Foss, co-owner + wine director, LaLou, Brooklyn
“2021 g3 by Goose Ridge Chardonnay, Goose Gap AVA, Columbia Valley, Washington. There’s many styles of Chardonnay, from the rich and buttery to the lean, unoaked, and sometimes even crisp versions. This Chardonnay splits the difference, and is satisfying enough for Chardonnay lovers who want something somewhat classic in style, without being heavy handed in oak. It has enough creaminess to achieve the texture expected without being thick and heavy on the palate. The subtle lemon on the finish provides lift for the wine. Collectively, this is why the g3 by Goose Ridge Columbia Valley Chardonnay over-delivers for the price for those who prefer a more balanced style of Chardonnay.” —David LeClaire, sommelier & founder, Seattle Uncorked, Seattle
“Louis Jadot Chablis. Chablis is named after the region of France where it is produced, and unlike most Chardonnay, it rarely sees any oak, resulting in a very different wine than what you would get out of a California Chardonnay. It is crisp, dry, and full of citrus and mineral. It’ll be in the $20 range, depending on where you’re purchasing. It’s a versatile white that can pair with chicken, seafood, and — my favorite pairing — Chinese takeout.” —Al Brown, beverage director, Lyons Group, Boston
“Hailing from their estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Rhys has been crafting remarkable Chardonnays since their founding 15 years ago. Rhys bottles Alesia, a Chardonnay made from seven single-vineyard sites that are meticulously chosen for their unique soil types, aspect, and cooler climate, which helps preserve its freshness. While their single-vineyard Chardonnays fetch the prices of good Burgundy, their Alesia offers a wine meant for everyone to enjoy.” —Joe Lapi, wine director, RPM Restaurants, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas
“2019 Domaine Pattes Loup, Chablis, Vent d’Ange Mise Tardive: Chardonnay might be one of the grapes with the largest sliding scale in terms of style. It takes on a winemaker’s influence easily. Getting well-made, balanced Chardonnay from Burgundy in quantity isn’t so easy anymore, especially when you are trying to keep it within a certain price point. I look to Chablis or the southern regions of Burgundy for value. Producers like Pattes Loup are emphasizing healthy viticulture and in the end, also making incredibly drinkable wines. They have enough complexity to keep anyone interested, but approachability to make them drinkable on any occasion.” —Courtney Wieland, sommelier and director of operations, Thatcher’s Wine, Hayward, Calif.
“Sylvaine et Alain Normand Mâcon la Roche Vineuse AOC. Say what you will about Chardonnay not being on-trend right now, but everyone planning an event requests it, and it’s very popular with our guests. This Chardonnay from Sylvain and Alain Normand is grown organically, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and aged on lees in-tank. Pear and peach on the nose follow through with a lush feel on the palate with notes of lemon, and great minerality. Always a crowd pleaser at events in Palm Beach, and a personal favorite at a great value.” —Melanie Ober, sommelier and owner, Corks + Forks Catering, Palm Beach, Fla.
“Head down under! Australia has some of the greatest climates for Chardonnay-growing in the world. One of my favorite bottles is the Giant Steps, Tarraford Vineyard, Chardonnay 2019 available at Little Saint for $54. This wine drinks like 1er Cru Puligny-Montrachet, and you’d be supporting a female winemaker, Melanie Chester. Going for Bourgogne Blanc or Rully/Mâcon bottlings from top producers of Burgundy like Vincent Dureuil-Janthial or Domaine Leflaive can also be the move if you are adamant to stay in Burgundy. From my experience, if you like a winemaker’s style, odds are you are going to like a wine they make from a less acclaimed vineyard site. One of my favorite Chardonnays from the Sonoma Coast comes from Ernest Vineyards, [which] has a tasting room in Healdsburg. The Ernest Fallenleaf Vineyard Chardonnay from 2018 is mineral, crisp, and has a great struck-match note — for only $38 retail, it’s complex and our guests dining at The Second Story love it!” —Alexandria Sarovich, executive wine director, Little Saint, Healdsburg, Calif.
“For value or bang-for-the-buck Chardonnays, I personally look for white Burgundies. Any Bourgogne Blanc from a respected producer, such as Louis Latour or Olivier Leflaive, can be real fine. Mixing grapes from two or more appellations and losing the singular appellation appeal for a label that just says ‘white Burgundy’ can still offer a magical wine at a fraction of the price. For a specific producer in Napa Valley, I like Textbook Chardonnay 2021. Trying to find a good Napa Chardonnay for under $50, $40, or even $25 is a rough task. Textbook is only $18 retail, and is completely varietally and stylistically correct. Lemon, red and yellow apple, slightly creamy with enough weight to know you are drinking California, or even more specifically, good Napa juice. Pair with oily fish, chicken francese or hard cheeses — everyone will be smiling.” —Marc Sauter, bartender/sommelier/owner, Zoe’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant, Virginia Beach, Va.
“We are currently pouring the Turning Tide 2020 Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County at Due West. This wine is of amazing quality and takes superior care to make. When you drink something that has been hand harvested and is organic, you expect to pay in the range of $50 or more. This wine sells around $20-plus. It has an amazing aroma of dried lemons and nectarines, and has a fresh and clean finish that would pair great with any roasted bird or seafood. I would definitely recommend this as a bang-for-your-buck wine!” —Camilo Viafar, sommelier and managing partner, Due West, NYC
“There’s so much diversity with Chardonnay and so much value to be had as a category. As someone who has tried every category of Chardonnay, for love of the grape, I appreciate a wine that showcases a purity of fruit. With so many options and factors that take place in either the vineyard or the production cellars, Chardonnay can offer a range of fruit flavors, from bright lemon to lemon curd, to pineapple, to even more exotic fruit. I personally prefer a French style, some that sits on its lees, or has been ‘kissed’ by oak. A style that I love for its acid and ability to pair with food is Chablis and Petit Chablis. Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis: It’s mineral-laden with soft and sweet Meyer lemon. It is a wine that can pair with a number of cuisines, including shellfish, oysters, any lemony or herbaceous pasta dishes, and beyond. It is lean and crisp, and you can probably find it for under $30 retail.” —Liz Martinez, general manager and sommelier, The Apparatus Room at Detroit Foundation Hotel, Detroit
“Johan 2019 Chardonnay offers power and concentration, while remaining elegant and poised. Nineteen months in large barrique gives the wine texture and body, while the maritime soils provide a salinity and an acid-driven lift. By far the best bottle under $100 on our list at Copra, we like to pair it with our slow-cooked octopus with Jaffna curry and our turmeric leaf and kokum lobster. This is a truly compelling expression of cool-climate Chardonnay that always over-delivers.” —Andre Sydnor, wine and service manager, Copra, San Francisco
“Time Place Wine Co. Chardonnay, Monterey 2021: This beautiful Chardonnay features pictures on the label of the coast of Charleston, a great city for wine and food. The winemaker, Jamey Whetstone, is from South Carolina and he began his wine education at Turley. This wine shows lime peels, ripe Meyer lemon, apples, hints of nuts, and the right touch of gentle oak.” —Juan Fernandez, head sommelier, The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, N.C.
“The BloodRoot Chardonnay is a project from famed winemaker Noah Dorrance, where he sources grapes from top-notch vineyards throughout Sonoma County. This is an outstanding Chardonnay that really over-delivers for the price. The wine has ripe tropical aromas of papaya and pineapple, with rounded oak presence coming through with balance. The gentle acidity adds to the finesse of the wine, finishing clean and zesty.” —John Stanley, owner, Stanley’s Wet Goods, Los Angeles
“Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Ore.: During my time living in the Willamette Valley, I was truly blown away by the quality and the depth the Chardonnays were reaching — even in some instances outpacing Pinot Noir in terms of striking a perfect balance of fruit and mineral, texture and acidity. Old Eight Cut refers to an ancient diamond cutting technique, using simple tools to enhance the natural beauty of the stone — a metaphor that aligns with their minimalist approach to winemaking. The result is a wine as charming as the folks who make it, and one that will appeal to Burgundy and California Chardonnay drinkers alike.” —Ruth Frey, wine director, Dalida, San Francisco
“Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau Mâcon-Villages is a very affordable Burgundy that punches above its weight, with complex yellow apple and mineral notes, some toastiness, and good acidity. It’s a great complement to chicken, pork, or cheese — but it’s also fantastic on its own.” —Billy Van Dolsen, owner & beverage director, Sereneco, Brooklyn
“Oregon Chardonnay is providing phenomenal quality-price ratio. It’s laser focused with great minerality and lots of complexity and it toes a fine line between the Sonoma coast and Burgundy. I find that the judicious use of oak really lets the fruit sing. Domaine Drouhin uses the ‘less is more’ philosophy, crafting clean wines with minimal intervention. The Dundee Hills are an absolutely beautiful wine region that is especially magical around harvest time when the valleys sparkle like green emeralds and the leaves begin to change color. I love Oregon Chardonnay with a fresh Dungeness crab roll!” —Francis Kulaga, beverage director, Anomaly SF, San Francisco
“Chardonnay from Greece offers tremendous value for high-quality, beautifully made wines. Greek Chardonnays will appeal to lovers of less oaked style, as the wines have plenty of racy acidity, ripe fruit — sometimes erring on tropical for richer-style wines and plenty of vibrancy. A couple of standout Chardonnays include Katsaros from Thessalia, which has a smoky, nutty toasted quality while staying fresh on the palate. We also love Zafeirakis, which produces Chardonnay in a lighter style, perfect for enjoying with light dinner or as an aperitif.” —Kylie Monagan, sommelier and partner, Amali, Calissa and Juniper at The Vanderbilt, NYC/Water Mill and Westbury, N.Y.
“I think Oregon is the most distinctive domestic region for Chardonnay and something we should celebrate. With that in mind, I’ve always been a huge fan of Cameron Winery’s Reserve Dundee Hills Chardonnay. Founded in 1984, John Paul has been crafting beautiful wines for nearly four decades, maintaining a modest production of just 3,500 cases. He works with two remarkable organic/dry farmed vineyards: Clos Electrique, which he manages with the crew, and Abbey Ridge, owned by Bill and Julia Wayne. The winemaking is currently at the meticulous care of Tom Sivili, who also makes incredible méthode Champenoise blanc de blancs. What sets this wine apart is its unique blend of these two exceptional crus, declassified to create something truly special. It’s a fusion of two of the finest Chardonnay vineyards in the Dundee Hills, or Oregon for that matter. With a retail price of around $40 or $79 on the list, it fits comfortably within a price point that allows us to offer it by the glass.” —Austin Bridges, wine director, Nostrana and Enoteca Nostrana, Portland, Ore.
The article We Asked 24 Sommeliers: What Chardonnay Offers the Best Bang for Your Buck? (2023) appeared first on VinePair.