A Range of CA Chardonnay: Napa, Sonoma, SLH, Lodi, SB, Ventura

what do these wines have in common? CHARDONNAY!

What do all of these wines have in common?

They are all made with CHARDONNAY grapes!

And while they all share certain Chardonnay characteristics, each one is different and resonant of the vintage, place or origin, and the winemaker’s intent.

Following our foray into Burgundy with the Winophiles (where we were sadly flummoxed by premox), we decided to explore six different regions in California– Sonoma, Napa, Santa Lucia Highlands, Lodi, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties– for this year’s Chardonnay Day extravaganza today.

For the past few years in May, we’ve focused on Chardonnay from France and Oregon, with a particular fascination for dry farmed wines. For example:

So this year we figured it was time to stick closer to home with wineries from the length and breadth of California paired with finger food for a gathering at Camarillo’s Cantara Cellars where Sue and I were joined by Mike and Chris Brown of Cantara, and Gretel Compton of Clos des Amis, and we all brought some of our favorite foods to pair with chardonnay.


  • Oysters
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Pate
  • Potato Chips
  • Brie
  • Pear
  • Goat cheese (blue!)
  • Goat cheese
  • Green Olives
  • Ceasar salad
  • Pink Paper Heart’s Rustic Loaf

Chardonnay Wines with Grapes from– 

  • Sonoma
  • Napa
    Flora Springs
  • Santa Lucia Highlands
  • Lodi
    2015 Cantara Cellars
  • Santa Barbara
  • Ventura
    Clos des Amis


Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay with Pink Paper Heart’s rustic sourdough loaf in the Cantara Cellars barrel room

2019 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay Sonoma Coast
ABV 13.9%
sample for our review 

Celebrating their 40th anniversary! We have two more wines with which to celebrate! We found ourselves really surprised with this wine. It went extremely well with the food. Great wine for food, and very affordable. Great restaurant wine.

Color: Light in color, pale lemon

Aroma: Tropical fruit, banana, pineapple, valley meadow, light grasses and wildflowers,

Palate: Tart and acidic, but the acidity drops off rather quickly,  deeper and richer than Gretel thought it would be. Sue felt it yearned for food.

Pairing: Would be great with a lemon cream sauce over four cheese ravioli, or chicken Cesar salad. Fried calamari on a Cesar salad would be great with the wine. Nice with the potato chips, these were really fat potato chips. The wine washes away the starchy oily mouth and is beautiful with the wine. At times a wine will fight with a cocktail sauce, but the wine really likes the cocktail sauce and the shrimp. Have this wine with a bit of Sand Dabs.

And: Sonoma-Cutrer Scholarship deadline extended to May 31st! For those of you studying wine and not just enjoying it, Sonoma-Cutrer offers a Scholarship for the CMS Certfied Exam, Advanced Course and Advanced Exam.This application applies to students planning to sit for the CMS Certified Exam, Advanced Course, or Advanced Exam in 2021. Certified scholarship amount is $595, Advanced Course Scholarship is $1499 and Advanced Exam Scholarship is $1195. Nice!

And no I’m not sitting for any of those– at least I’m not planning on it! I am leaning toward repeating the Italian Wine Ambassador Course (the test is in the end of July in SF) and I plan to go back to work on my WSET 3, possibly taking the test in the fall but more likely in the spring.

Smith-Madrone Chardonnay

2017 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
ABV 14.6%
sample for our review 

These steep dry farmed vineyards high above Napa Valley yield wildly expressive, acidic Chardonnay grapes which Stu Smith coaxes into something extraordinary. The name reflects the partnership that the Smith family finds with the majestic madrones and other trees that embrace the vineyards. Read about the impact of the Glass Fire on the vineyard as well as more about their farming and cellar practices here. 

When I think Napa chardonnay, this is what I want– something that tastes like this. It has plenty of new French oak to tame the acidity but it’s not like sucking on a chunk of wood or drinking straight citric acid. This wine is a well crafted delight and I’m grateful to have enjoyed it three times now– first on avast to the winery, second we received samples in the fall, and recently on a. ZOOM with LA wine writers– more on that coming up.

Just. Go. Get. Some.

Color: Lemon yellow, bright and clear

Aroma: For Sue it was all about the grass, Gretel found lovely brioche, for me there was a sense of being on top of a mountain top. Mountain meadow, chaparral, warm mountainside lazy days in the sun.

Palate: Oak, alcohol, and fruit are beautifully integrated in this wine. Nicely acidic. Sue found a slick mouthfeel, it rolls around nicely in the palate, smooth.

Pairing: So fantastic with oysters, Chris loved it with the green olives, loves the salt, and richness, Mike had it with the brie and pate and did not appreciate it as well as others did. Fabulous with the anchovy in the Ceasar salad.


2018 Morgan Santa Lucia Highlands “Double L Vineyard” Chardonnay ABV 13.6%
SRP $44
sample for our review 

Made with organic grapes. Lots more to come about Santa Lucia Highlands!

Color: Lemon, clean and clear

Aroma: The nose lemon curd, pine or redwood, gravely, a bit of oak

Palate: Clean on the palate, golden delicious and ripe pair, pineapple, enjoyable sipper, nice amount of fruit and flavor, juicy, Mike ” A chardonnay that a red wine drinker would be happy drinking”

Pairing: Very rich with the Ceasar salad.

Chris: “Those olives and the wine really rock my world.”

I absoutely loved the potato chip with the wine. It was by far the best pairing with this wine. Like a rich buttery baked potato. Would love this with a crab topped baked potato. It was fine with the shrimp, but did not appreciate the cocktail sauce. The pate and the brie brings out the spices and the complexity of the food, when going back to the food all is elevated. What a fabulous pairing.

Cantara 2015 Chardonnay is aging well.

2015 Cantara Cellars Lodi
ABV 14.5%
sample for our review 

No oak, permeable toast, ML, sur lie; Sur lie translates to “on the lees.”

Color: Pale lemon

Aroma: Green apple, River moss

Palate: Round rich mouthfeel, lemon, apple, nice flavors, but bring me the food, tart, bright,

Pairing: I wanted some shrimp sautéed in butter with this wine. Rich wine with a rich dish would be so nice together. With the goat cheese it was a bit gummy, but loved the ash rind. With the Cesar salad it was interesting with the salad, but so much better with the anchovy and crouton. Fantastic with the boucheron and the wine. Lovely with the spice of the pate and loves the creaminess of the brie. Super good with the spicy cashews.

Winemaker Mike Brown also brought out a 2010 Cantara Cellars Library Chardonnay from the cellar but unfortunately, it was corked– one of the reasons why Mike chose to move to a stelvin closure for his chardonnay and rose (which you can read about here), and sugar cane corks for his red wines.

Santa Barbara 2014 Labyrinth 
ABV 14.3%
sample for our review 

Helen and I made a first stop at Labyrinth for Chardonnay Day a few years ago, when they had a tasting room in Downtown Ventura and the owners passed this bottle along to us via Diane, but we were so busy with Oregon Chardonnay we didn’t get to it until this year. Integrating nicely and still plenty of life to it, but enjoy it soon.

Sadly the tasting room in Downtown Ventura was a victim of COVID and did not survive the pandemic. The winery is doing fine, fortunately; you just have to travel further north into Santa Barbara County to do a tasting.

Color: Lemon yellow with some golden touches

Aroma: Oak, underlying lemon curd and pineapple, a bit of mint, butterscotch, ponderosa pine

Palate: Understated fruit, nice mouthfeel, the fruit has receded, the oak has integrated, has a long rich finish. If you have this in your cellar drink it now as it is not going to get any better. Not a pool pounder, it is a richer wine that yearns for food maybe due to the oak and toasted finish.

Pairing: A big bite of Ceasar salad with anchovy completely changes the way this wine preforms. The olives also go well with the wine. It wasn’t good with the pate and cheese, or the potato chips. Rich and rich just did not work as well with this wine. Think salty and acidic to pair with this wine. Calamari with capers and lemon. Great with the spicy cashews. On a subsequent evening, it was delicious with local ridgeback prawns in butter, garlic, and wine.

Clos des Amis Chardonnay

Ventura 2016 Clos des Amis
sample for our review 

Color: Yellow daffodil, lemon not quite gold

Aroma: Lemon, lemon blossom, lemon curd,

Palate: Lemon curd, beautiful viscosity, clean, fresh, lemon finish, no oak is present, essence of the fruit, apple,

This wine was the winner of the bunch for Cantara’s winemaker Mike Brown: “It is varietaly correct, and a beautiful representation of what the wine is supposed to taste like.”  It was his wife Chris’s favorite as well — and she is really into Chardonnay!

Pairing: Oysters don’t make the wine shine as much as the wine makes the oysters shine. The potato chips make me want fried chicken with the wine. The boucheron  was absolutely fabulous with the wine. The wine softens the cheese. With a strong blue cheese, the wine makes the cheese almost floral. It was a lovely combination that Mike turned us on to. Sue and Chris loved it with the bucheron cheese. Fantastic with the shrimp cocktail.

Sue: “So flipping amazing with the Delice and the pate! What a treat!”

Today is the Thursday before Memorial Day which means it’s Chardonnay Day so Happy Chardonnay Day! What’s in your glass?

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