Once upon a time there was a little fox, and he was so thirsty. But no matter how he tried to grab a nice cold bottle of Chardonnay from the refrigerated wine aisle, he just couldn't reach it. "Oh, who needs it, anyway," he said scornfully as he slinked away. "It's probably just that same old, oaky, buttery 'Cali' Chardonnay."
With an attitude like that, little fox, you could miss out on some decent 2013 Chardonnays: some oaky and buttery, some not. Just please don't call it "Cali."
Frank Family 2013 Carneros Chardonnay ($35) Mix the lemon with the melted butter and slather it on the artichoke, freeze this and make ice cream out of it, and you've almost captured this wine's cool aroma. Add county-fair caramel apple—artisanal caramel apple, as we're in Napa—and a soft cotton-candy palate, and you're getting close to this vegetal, woody, but likable wine that might take well to roast chicken with capers.
Jordan 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30) Unlike Jordan's 2012, which evoked oak like a page out of a scratch-and-sniff book, the 2013 is just a little nutty on the nose, with liquid golden raisin and searing Eureka lemon fighting for the palate. Extreme citrus wins the round, and the lingering aftertaste settles into a characteristic that polite people call "leesy." (Lees are the spent yeast and muck that settle to the bottom of the barrel after fermentation—winemakers often stir them up.) Interesting turn, and a palate-awakener for rich meals.
Educated Guess 2013 Carneros Chardonnay ($17) Here, it's a cool, oak-flavored ice cream aroma that starts the show—Ben & Jerry's Quirky Quercus? Also, a vanilla scoop astride an apple tart, with tangy papaya and melon on the finish. Warming up, the toasty, caramelized wood notes bring certain lighter expressions of Islay single malt to mind. Educated Guess got it right on this one.
Buena Vista 2013 Carneros Chardonnay ($20) To be "golden" is a good thing in contemporary lingo, and that's what this Chard is: an alchemy of oak, baked apple fruit and glazed almond cookie notes. It just tastes "golden."
Napa Cellars 2013 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($22) A nice balance between pink grapefruit, hints of caramel and toast, dried herbs and leesy notes. Even with Chardonnay, it's possible to be middle-of-the-road without being boring.
Menage à Trois 2013 California Chardonnay ($12) In a world where movie theater popcorn meets butterscotch candy, and cloying peanut brittle flavors mix with nutty wood notes, one sweet, smooth and simple wine is Exhibit A in "California Chardonnay."