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Holiday chards
Hendry Ranch Vineyards 2009 Napa Valley Unoaked Chardonnay

I received plenty of questions after last month's Pinot Noir story about choosing Chardonnay for holiday dinners.

Most of those questions came from the eastside islanders. So, I decided to check with one of your island retailers to find the best-selling Chards.

The West family at Whitemarsh Island Beverage are always willing to help, and were delighted to steer me toward three of their best selling Chardonnays. I'll present them from no oak to oakiest of the three. The entire trio are nicely balanced Chards without excessive oak or overwhelming butteriness.

Pricing is approximate; your neighborhood retailer may differ.

Hendry Ranch Vineyards 2009 Napa Valley Unoaked Chardonnay


I had the pleasure of staying with this Napa Valley producer for two days this summer, and loved walking the vineyards. It's rocky soil there is the western side of Napa Valley, nearly into the Carneros region. Winery owner and winemaker George Hendry is a meticulous craftsman, who makes wines to go with foods - one reason this wine is such a go-to for smoked turkey or ham - or even shrimp or shellfish.

The juice itself is pretty and soft with a peachy-floral nose. Being aged in all stainless steel, the wine is light-bodied - bright, tangy and citrusy on the palate. The forward citrus and apple flavors and floral nose of this wine are accentuated by the absence of oak.

Plowbuster 2007 Chardonnay


This is a second label from Carabella Vineyards, a producer of high end Pinot Noir in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The cool nights so loved by Pinot Noir are equally relished by Chardonnay grapes.

Despite the label reading "unoaked," 40 percent of the wine is actually aged in neutral oak barrels. Neutral oak imparts no flavor but adds smoothness to the blend that creates a rounder and softer Chardonnay. It pours straw in color, with a bit of almond and pear on the nose. The mid-palate delivers tantalizing hints of white peach. The acidic finish is big enough to handle bold fish and pasta dishes in heavy cream or cheese sauces.

Mark West 2008 Chardonnay


This California Central coast Chard is the oakiest of this lot, but with only 40 percent of the juice aging in new French oak you won't be palate slammed by excessive woodiness.

The 2008 vintage shows aromas of bright citrus, including lemon and pineapple, as well as mango, peach, nectarine, vanilla and lemongrass notes. The wine is bright with clean fruit flavors showing tropical notes with a touch of baked apple. The oak aging gently frames the wine, contributes a slight caramel note, and complements the fruit flavors.