Let’s look at Napa Chardonnays from high to affordable prices

June 3, 2023

Is Sherry-Lehmann in trouble? In addition to owing $2.8 million in New York taxes, it was alleged in a NYT article that the wine and spirits purveyor failed to deliver over $1 million of wine purchases and sold private-storage bottles. S-L principals claimed the delays were due to COVID-era tariffs, 90% already delivered with a fall arrival for the balance. Having dabbled in futures, I can verify a two-year delay from initial purchase is a common occurrence. Wines may be aged after “en primeur” in barrels; others may be bottled and stored prior to shipping. S-L, a famous purveyor with a wonderful reputation, initially came into question when its license expired early this year. It was restored in March and principals claim it will reopen soon; I hope they are correct. Lesson, due diligence especially with futures is critical. As Sam Clemons aka Mark Twain wrote, “A gold mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar.”

Last week's comment regarding price value comparison of Napa vs. Sonoma Chardonnay caused the largest email response I have had in a while. So, as promised, today’s column will be devoted to Napa Chardonnay with 93-96-point ratings averaged from critics who have national and international reputations. These will be followed by 93-point Napa Chards that earn the best price points, which I researched in Wine-searcher, a publication I find to have authentic info on critical scores, availability and if they are in local shops or can be legally shipped into Delaware.

Hyde de Villaine Hyde Vineyard Carneros 2019 got a bunch of 96s at $90. The 2018 scored 94s at $85, and the Commandante 2018, rated 97 by Parker, is offered at $191. I have not sampled these. I have evaluated Pahlmeyer Napa Valley Chard 2020, around $100, average rating 93. I preferred the 2018, 94 McD, selling for $95, on the same scale as 2015. As to the 2018, look for brioche, crème caramel and barrel spice aromas with trop fruit, primarily pineapple and apricot, plus oaken substrate on the creamy palate. If I were a buyer, in this market, it would be my choice. Wine Advocate loved their Napa Savoir Faire 2019 with a 96-point score, but it is not on the market. The 2016 is being auctioned and current ask is $149. Some others of note are Kongsgaard Napa Chard 2020 at $135, 94 McD reviewed last fall. These were easy to describe, but let’s now find top value at lower prices.

Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay N. Coast Mount Veeder Napa 2019, 94 McD under $53, is a top pick. Reading major publications prompted thoughts of a waning memory or taste buds; one said, “closed earthy nose, full body, clear lemon notes, finishes with lemon and chardonnay fruit. Complex and persisting in the mouth and on the finish”; another, “Lemon oil, almond, chamomile and dried flowers”; and a third, “sweet corn accenting white peaches and melon.” At least they agreed on 93-point top ratings, with one 90-point exception writing, “Honeyed pear and grilled peach flavors show notes of honeysuckle and sea salt, with a core of ripe, fleshy melon and a juicy thread of acidity.”  Was it subliminal messaging causing agreement with the winemaker’s own review (edited for brevity): “acacia, jasmine, ripe pear, pineapple and cantaloupe aromas; secondary flavors of lemon oil, almond, and chamomile round out the mid-palate." The finish is long with tropics, orchard fruit and crushed flint. Any who try this, please send your appraisal. It would be much appreciated. Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Chard 2019, 91 McD, in Delaware $38. Raymond Cellars Reserve Selection 2020 under $22, 91 McD, great QPR. This is vintage specific. Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve 2020, 93 McD under $33. Sourced from Gamble Ranch, pale golden, opens to floral aromas with lemon, pineapple, and barrel notes of butterscotch and oaken spice. Flavors repeat butterscotch with ginger, quince, jasmine and more barrel spice, supported by minerally acidity through a long, dry, clean finish. Beringer’s 2019 generic Napa label under $20, 89 McD, is a decent value buy.

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