Chardonnay is America's favorite wine, and it's No. 1 in Washington, one of the state's "big four" wine varieties.
In the Old World, Chardonnay is best known in Burgundy, where it is the white wine of choice. In Chablis, a region of Burgundy, Chardonnay becomes a different style of wine, with less of the oak and butter notes we've come to expect and more of the dramatic flint and citrus notes. In Champagne, Chardonnay is one of the primary grapes used to make sparkling wine (along with Pinot Noir).
In the New World, California is by far the largest producer of Chardonnay. The "California style" for Chardonnay that developed during the past two decades has been a wine that is ripe, a touch sweet and oaky with rich, buttery flavors. In the past few years, a backlash against this style has led to more austere Chardonnays. So now we are seeing wines labeled as "unoaked" to signal us that we will experience a Chardonnay that is more steely and fruit-driven in nature.
Both styles have their place, with the buttery styles working as cocktail sippers and the "tree-free" examples pairing better with shellfish, pasta and chicken.
As we mentioned, Chardonnay is the top wine grape in Washington, followed closely by Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Here are several Northwest Chardonnays we've enjoyed in recent weeks. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Waterbrook Winery 2011 Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $15: This opens with aromas of pear, apricot, apple and a hint of butter, followed by fruit-driven flavors of Asian pear and buttered popcorn.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: Coming from a cool vintage, this opens with aromas of baked apple, poached pear, butter and apricot, followed by flavors of butter, pineapple and butterscotch.
Boomtown 2011 Chardonnay, Washington, $16: This starts with notes of freshly sliced lemon and just-pressed apple cider, backed by pineapple and slate notes. It is fruit-forward and food-friendly with fleshy apple and pear flavors on the entry.
Cloudlift Cellars 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $18: The toast on this Chardonnay shows in the nose, backed by hints of chicken stock and earthiness. Oak stands a bit taller on the palate among flavors of lemon custard, vanilla, butterscotch and lime.
Mercer Canyons 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13: Aromas of dusty pear, starfruit, lemon and jasmine are supported by flavors of pear, Braeburn apple, lemon curd and jicama. A scrape of lemon zest gives it extra lift at the end.
L'Ecole No. 41 2011 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $22: One of Walla Walla's iconic wineries continues to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year with a delicious Chardonnay that blends tropical and orchard notes with a balanced use of French oak.
Gordon Family Estate 2012 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14: This Chardonnay opens with aromas of lime zest, lemon, celery and mint, followed by flavors of fresh caramel, Asian pear and jicama, all backed with bright acidity.
Smasne Cellars 2011 Upland Vineyard Chardonnay, Snipes Mountain, $20: This wine opens with aromas of candy corn, baked apple, butterscotch and pineapple, followed by juicy flavors of apple, fruit cocktail and butter rum candy. This is a delicious cocktail wine.
Vin du Lac of Chelan 2011 Barrel Select Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25: This Chardonnay from a Lake Chelan winery opens with aromas that reminded us of lemon meringue pie, pineapple, guava and oak, followed by flavors of citrus, pear and tropical fruit.
Fujishin Family Cellars 2011 Late Harvest Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $22: Here's a delicious and rare Chardonnay dessert wine. It opens with aromas of baked apple pie and flavors of poached pear and apricot, backed with enough acidity to balance the residual sugar of 6 percent.
--Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine; www.greatnorthwestwine.com