Looking for a Chardonnay price guide? There’s so much you don’t know about your favorite wine. Chardonnay has had a difficult history. It seems that, more so than any other grape variety, people have a polar reaction to it.
They either love Chardonnay or they dislike it with a vengeance. Thanks to a somewhat misunderstood book by Laura Holmes Haddad titled Anything but Chardonnay: A Guide to the Other Grapes (2008) it was commonplace to outwardly loathe the variety.
The ABC (anything but Chardonnay) club was loud and proud. Today, Chardonnay is making a comeback. The Chardonnay moms of the world may have a little to do with it, but in reality, like anything that succeeds, there was a learning curve to understand how to grow and process the grape.
But for true wine lovers, Chardonnay has always been in the spotlight and the reason for that is its versatility.
Chardonnay: The Noble Grape of France
In 1991, DNA analysis was performed on Chardonnay and it was found that its parents are the Pinot Noir and Gouais blanc. Today, Gouais blanc is nearly extinct, but both were easily accessible in France during the Middle Ages.
Chardonnay is grown in every commercial wine-making region of the world, but it originated in Burgundy, France. In fact, Chardonnay is responsible for over half the hectares under vine in the region.
According to the California Grape Acreage Report, in 2020, it was once again the highest planted white grape variety in California with 87,106 out of a total of 165,752 total white wine acreage.
California Chardonnay’s history began in the late 40s/early 50s when Wente Vineyards developed what is now known as the “Old Wente Clone.” Just behind Wente, Paul Masson Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains planted 60 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with Burgundian cuttings he received from Louis Latour.
In 1973, Chateau Montelena won the historic Judgement of Paris and springboarded Chardonnay into legendary status. By the 1980s, wineries were changing how they processed the wine by introducing oak aging and malolactic fermentation.
This new buttery Chardonnay was the line in the sand for many Chardonnay drinkers and was the beginning of the end of Chardonnay’s fame. However, like a phoenix, Chardonnay has found a resurgence thanks to its malleable character.
Chardonnay: The Chameleon
There is something called the chameleon effect and we all fall prey to it. The phenomenon occurs when someone unconsciously begins to mimic the people they interact with the most.
The individual takes on the mannerisms or gestures of the other person. It may be the picking up of a catchphrase or the motion of a hand while talking.
The name of this effect is named after the chameleon, whose defense mechanism is the ability to change the appearance of its skin to blend into any environment. Chardonnay, also known as Aubaine, Beaunois, Gamay blanc, and Melon blanc is the chameleon of the wine world.
It is considered to be a neutral grape and easily molds to the environment in which it is grown and processed. The region has an effect not only on the alcohol content but on the aromatic and flavor profiles.
In cooler climates, such as Chablis (Burgundy), Pfalz (Germany), the Willamette Valley (Oregon), and Sonoma (California), Chardonnay tends to be lighter in body, higher in acidity, and possess citrus flavors and mineral characteristics.
In warmer climates such as Paso Robles (California), Penedès (Spain), and Alto Adige (Italy), the profile changes to introduce a range from stone fruits to tropical fruits. The warmer the climate, the more tropical the flavors are, along with higher alcohol and a fuller body.
The winemaking process also plays an important role in the profile of Chardonnay. The choices the winemaker makes during fermentation and aging can be seen in the bottle. During the 80s, when the “butter bombs” were popular, the winemakers were fermenting in oak.
New French or American oak will create a fuller body with vanilla and spice flavors. The “butter” and creaminess are a result of a secondary fermentation known as malolactic fermentation (MLF).
To produce a lighter, more crisp Chardonnay, the winemaker chooses stainless steel as their fermentation vessel. Fermenting and aging in stainless steel limits the influence of oxygen on the wine, thereby retaining the wine’s fresh character.
When aged in stainless steel, unlike in oak, the wine typically does not see contact with lees (dead yeast cells), so it feels lighter on the palate.
Find Your Style – A Chardonnay Price Guide
There is a shoe for every foot, and there is a Chardonnay for every palate. You just need to find which Chardonnay fits your style and your wallet. The most expensive bottle of Chardonnay, a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, was sold at auction for $11,325.
A wine’s price tag does not necessarily correlate to its quality. You can find wonderful Chardonnay at all price ranges. Since most of us can’t afford an $11,000 bottle, luckily there are options starting at under $10.
Generally speaking, you can expect to pay somewhere between $15 and $80 for a bottle of Chardonnay. Several aspects help determine the price of the bottle. Since Chardonnay is such a highly planted variety and yields many grapes per acre, this keeps the relative price of the wine low.
Unlike some other varieties that can be thousands of dollars for a bottle, the high end for Chardonnay typically tops out at $200-$300. Chardonnays that are stainless steel aged are lower in price than those that are oaked aged. Where the fruit comes from is a large determination of the price.
Just as in real estate, certain wine regions are more expensive than others. Labor costs also need to be considered. If the vineyards are in a flat valley, it is cheaper to harvest than if the workers need to pick the fruit on steep hills.
That does not mean that cheaper wines are not as good, it all comes down to your palate. There are exceptional “cheap” Chardonnays and some really poor “expensive” ones. Wondering which profile is more to your liking? Have fun finding out by creating your own unoaked vs oaked Chardonnay taste test.
Simply go to your local wine shop; don’t be afraid to ask for help. Choose a wine that on the label uses the terms “unoaked,” “steel,” or “crisp.”.
You can also look for regions such as Sonoma, Loire Valley, Chablis, or the Colchagua and Casablanca Valleys which are known for quality unoaked Chardonnay. Then find another bottle with the terms, “oaked,” “aged in wood,” or “barrel fermented.”
Similarly, the wine regions known for oaked Chardonnay include Napa Valley, Mendoza, Burgundy, and Puglia. Taste them both and decide which you prefer.
Chardonnay Price Guide
|Unoaked||Four Vines 2019 Naked Chardonnay (Central Coast)||$11||91 Points|
|Unoaked||Schild Estate 2019 Unwooded Chardonnay (Barossa Valley)||$17||92 Points|
|Oaked||Hans Family Estate 2018 Chardonnay (Marlborough)||$45||92 Points|
|Oaked||Testarossa 2019 Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands)||$53||93 Points|
|Oaked||Moreau & Fils 2018 Valmur Grand Cru (Chablis)||$108||94 Points|
Recommended Unoaked Chardonnay from Wine Enthusiast
This unoaked bottling carries all the tropical hallmarks of the style, starting with jasmine and guava flesh on the nose. The palate is generous in both acidity and flavor, showing pineapple, lychee, guava, and stone fruit that lingers into the grippy finish. Best Buy. — Matt Kettmann
This unwooded Chardonnay is a refreshing contrast to many of this producer’s ripe, powerful reds. It opens with a bright perfume of peach, melon, and ginger, with a mineral, saline note in the background. The palate has textural appeal.
It’s creamy in feel yet lifted by pure, mouthwatering acidity and clean, fresh fruit flavors. USA Wine West. Editors’ Choice. — Christina Pickard
Recommended Oaked Chardonnay from Wine Enthusiast
Hans Family Estate 2018 Chardonnay (Marlborough)
The Herzog’s peerless Chardonnay, which sees skin maceration, natural malolactic fermentation, and time on lees and in French puncheons, is a rich, mouth-filling wine. Heady notes of candied orange, melted butter, honeysuckle, and bruised orchard fruit sit within a creamy mouthfeel.
The alcohol and oak show a bit, making this vintage a little clunkier than the previous one, but lovers of full-bodied Chards will delight in its luxuriousness. — Christina Pickard
Testarossa 2019 Lone Oak Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Broad aromas of white peach, melon rind, fluffy gardenia, and a hint of toast show on the nose of this single-vineyard expression. The palate is packed with dried lemon, chamomile, and dried apple slices, with a pinch of savory sea salt adding depth. — Matt Kettmann
The richness of oak expresses itself as the scent of roasted hazelnut on this wine’s nose. Smooth and rounded, the palate can handle the oaky resonance that sets the tone. An edge of honey is balanced by lemony brightness. Concentration and freshness signal that this wine will age well. Drink 2025–2040. Boisset Collection. —Anne Krebiehl MW
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is Chardonnay a wine or champagne?
Chardonnay is usually a dry still wine, but it is also an important component of many sparkling wines, including Champagne and Franciacorta. A sparkling wine labeled Blanc de Blanc means it is 100% Chardonnay.
2. What food goes well with Chardonnay?
The first question you need to ask before pairing a Chardonnay is what style you have. If you are opening a crisp lighter-bodied, lower alcohol bottle, then you will want to choose a more delicate dish, such as shellfish or goat cheese.
If your bottle is a medium-bodied expression, a pork tenderloin or risotto. If your palate enjoyed the deeply oaky buttery Chardonnay, you should look for gamey foods and dishes with cream sauces.
3. Is Chardonnay served chilled or room temp?
Serving temperature may be the most important concept for any wine. The temperature of the wine has dramatic ramifications on the palate. A little chill on your Chardonnay will allow the acidity and aromatics to be at their peak.
Serving the wine too warm increases the alcohol sensation, while serving Chardonnay too cold will suppress those beautiful aromas and flavors. When preparing your Chardonnay, put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but remove it about a half-hour prior to serving.
The proper serving temperature is between 50°F and 60°F.
4. Is a Chardonnay dry or sweet?
Generally speaking, Chardonnay is a dry wine. That, of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a sweet Chardonnay. Sweetness means different things to different people. In the wine world, sweetness refers to the amount of residual sugar.
But ripe fruit and flavors derived from oak can provide a sweet sensation.