Nothing has more polarized the wine world over the last decade than the issue of super-buttery Chardonnay: Is it super ultra-yummy or the devil’s own invention?
For a lot of Americans, oaky, buttery Chardonnay is the best thing in the world, and it’s never more appropriate than at Thanksgiving, when it flatters neutral turkey and cozies up to sage-flecked stuffings.
Of course, there’s no actual butter in a buttery, ice-cream creamy Chardonnay. Those flavors come from two winemaking processes. The vanilla and toast flavors come from aging in new and toasted oak barrels. In the same way that cedar-planked salmon or a bay leaf in a soup adds flavor to a dish simply by being in contact with it, storing fresh wine made from Chardonnay-grape juice in oak barrels fills the wine with good toast, vanilla and sometimes even cinnamon flavors. (Though no actual cinnamon is used.) The creamy, fat, buttery mouthfeel comes from a process called malolactic-fermentation, a natural process by which yeast creates lactic acid in wine. Yes, the same lactic acid we know in milk which is how wine gets that buttery characteristic.
If you’ve never had a buttery Chardonnay, how will you know if this is the wine for you? Ask yourself this question: Do you like butter-brickle ice cream and brown butter sauce? If so, here are some great picks in every price range:
Red Diamond Chardonnay, $8
All apples and cream, this inexpensive big-box store wine from Ch. Ste. Michelle is a true bargain, offering grace and indulgence at an everyday price.
La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $15
Creamy, round, nutty, with butterscotch and vanilla in its opulent plush depths, the La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is one of America’s most reliable wines, offering a well-crafted blend of butter and graceful fruit, year after year.
Butternut California Chardonnay, $18
It’s got an easy-to-remember name that says it all—creamy butterscotch, praline and toast, big and rich.
Landmark Overlook Sonoma County Chardonnay, $25
Brioche, cream, white chocolate and pear make this a gosh-darn elegant wine, both crowd-pleaser and connoisseur-delighter.
Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay, $35
The American gold standard of buttery Chardonnays, this is the wine to bring the buttery Chardonnay fan before you ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Creamy vanilla and gorgeously velvety caramel notes highlight the pretty white-peach fruit of the wine, like silk showcasing a jewel.