You don’t have to travel to Burgundy to find complex white wines with distinctive minerality and finesse. California’s northern Sonoma Coast is home to some of the most reputable Chardonnay producers in the world. Unlike most New-World Chardonnay, which is typically rich and buttery, top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay leans toward an elegant, acidic, and earthy profile. These wines have compelling notes of crisp green apple, refreshing citrus, racy acidity, brine, and wet stone—flavors and aromas that develop even greater depth with age.
Sonoma Chardonnay is an excellent choice for collectors who plan on reselling their bottles, as the best vintages and labels increase steadily in value over time. These wines are also ideal for enthusiasts who appreciate multidimensional flavor profiles, particularly minerality and tart fruit. In this guide to the top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay, we’ll dig into which producers and vintages consistently receive the highest scores from critics and which locations within Sonoma produce the best wines.
The Top-Rated Sonoma Chardonnay Producers
Top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay is made in the cool coastal regions of the county. Here, Chardonnay vines are exposed to chilly oceanic winds and fog, which causes the grapes to grow very slowly. The growing season is usually longer in Sonoma than it is in warmer California wine regions like Napa Valley, where the ample sunlight ripens the berries very quickly. However, while the cooler temperatures slow the growth of the grapes and allow them to develop greater acidity, Sonoma Chardonnay also tastes pleasantly fruity, and sugar levels are high enough to balance out the sharp, acidic backbone. The result is a well-structured wine that has enough acidity to age for long periods of time but just enough soft fruit to be enjoyable in its youth.
However, not all Sonoma Chardonnay is equally complex in flavor or has aging potential. Like all wine-growing regions of the world, quality varies by location and producer. If you’re looking for the top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay, here are a few regions. Note that some of the producers listed below have vineyards scattered across multiple AVAs in Sonoma; the wines they produce will vary in style and quality depending on where the grapes were grown.
This American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Sonoma is located at one of the highest elevations in the county. The vines in this area are exposed to more direct sunlight than other Sonoma AVAs due to its elevation above the foggy hills. The wines here have prominent fruit flavors like apple and peach, but cool mountain winds also drive up the acidity, resulting in a perfectly balanced flavor profile. Some of the most notable producers in this region are:
This small AVA is situated on low lying land that acts as an opening in the coastal mountain range, and the winds blow ferociously through this gap. These chilly conditions produce wines with very high acidity, distinctive minerality, and excellent aging potential. The top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay producers in this AVA include:
Russian River Valley (and Green Valley)
This foggy region is known for its Pinot Noir, but it also produces top-rated Chardonnay. The fog keeps the vines relatively cool during the summer, but ample sunlight is able to ripen the grapes fully. These wines tend to be very rich. However, one area of the Russian River Valley, the Green Valley, is much cooler than the rest of the AVA and produces wines that are more refreshing, acidic, and age-worthy. Some notable producers from this area are:
West Sonoma Coast
This area is part of the larger Sonoma Coast AVA, but the wines made here are distinctive in flavor compared to others on the western coast of the county. It’s located at a lower elevation just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. The climate here is cool and dry, so the grapes ripen fully without developing a high concentration of sugar. These are intensely-flavored and fruit-forward. Some reputable producers are:
More Top-Quality Producers
Due to the mountains, slopes, fog, coastal winds, and varying soil composition of this area, there are many different microclimates in Sonoma County. As such, top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay producers can be found in almost every area of Sonoma. A few renowned producers outside of the three regions listed above are:
While Sonoma is home to plenty of other wineries and regions worthy of your time, the producers above make Sonoma Chardonnay that is highly rated by professional critics and experienced collectors. These producers make wine that is not only reliably high in quality, but also has value on the secondary market. However, if you want to start a collection of the very best Sonoma Chardonnay, you should also become familiar with the top-rated vintages of the last few years.
Sonoma Chardonnay Vintages of Exceptional Quality
Although top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay can age for a decade or more, it still doesn’t have the same aging potential as a powerful red wine like Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. For this reason, many collectors choose to buy younger vintages of Sonoma Chardonnay and wait a few years for them to reach peak maturity. You can find high-quality older vintages like 2008 Maybach Family Chardonnay Eterium B. Thieriot Vineyard on the secondary market, but your collection will probably consist mostly of vintages from the past few years. Top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay is known for being approachable in its youth, even when it is high in acidity, so investing in the latest vintage releases pays off in versatility: you can drink these wines now, or let them age for a few years.
Here are the top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay vintages of the past decade:
|Vintage||Vintage Score (Wine Advocate)||Top-Rated Wine to Try|
|2018||Too early to assess, but critics say quality is very high||2018 Maybach Family Chardonnay Eterium B. Thieriot Vineyard|
|2017||94 points||2017 Peter Michael Chardonnay Ma Belle Fille (98 points)|
|2016||94 points||2016 Aubert Chardonnay CIX Estate Vineyard (100 points)|
|2015||96 points||2015 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren Vineyard (100 points)|
|2014||94 points||2014 Peter Michael Chardonnay Point Rouge (99 points)|
|2012||94 points||2012 Kistler Chardonnay Cuvée Cathleen (96 points)|
In the vintage links above, you’ll find many other top-rated wines at varying price ranges. You can also find excellent wines from older vintages or vintages not included in the list above; however, these six recent vintages are a good jumping off point for wine enthusiasts who are new to collecting top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay. These vintages are in high demand on the secondary market and were rated highly by trusted critics.
What You Need to Know About Collecting Sonoma Chardonnay
The most important thing to know about collecting top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay is that these wines typically age longer than other types of New-World Chardonnay. If you enjoy aged wine, it’s a good idea to keep your wine in professional storage for five to ten years before enjoying it, or to buy a bottle that has already aged under the right conditions. Some beginners make the mistake of opening these bottles prematurely, and while young Sonoma Chardonnay can be enjoyable, it also lacks some of the incredibly nuanced flavors that develop in these wines after a decade of careful storage. For example, about five to ten years after release, Sonoma Chardonnay becomes nuttier and earthier. The acidity softens and you’ll find delicious notes of walnut and delicate roasted sesame. Exceptional vintages can age for even longer periods of time—20 years or more. In the coolest climates, Sonoma Chardonnay develops gorgeous stewed apple notes that complement the racy acidity that’s still present in the wine. Some vintages retain this acidity for decades and remain almost as lively as they were in their youth.
Kistler Cuvée Cathleen Chardonnay consistently tops the list of investment wines from Sonoma, meaning this label consistently holds its high value or increases in price.
High-quality Sonoma Chardonnay is also a potentially profitable investment. Many wines from Sonoma make Liv-ex’s list of top investment wines every year. Specifically, Kistler Cuvée Cathleen Chardonnay consistently tops the list of investment wines from Sonoma, meaning this label consistently holds its high value or increases in price. These wines gain most in value as they approach peak maturity (ten to 15 years after release for most vintages, 20 years after release for top vintages), so it’s wise to lay a few bottles down long-term if you’re interested in reselling at some point.
One of the best aspects of collecting Sonoma Chardonnay is that these wines are extremely versatile. For example, you could uncork a bottle of 2016 Morlet Family Chardonnay Coup de Coeur for a special anniversary dinner right now—with some decanting, this wine is already drinking beautifully. However, you could also decide to keep it in storage for another 15 years or so and sell it at its peak. Top-rated Sonoma Chardonnay is simply the gem of the California coastline, with something for every type of collector, from casual enthusiasts to serious investors.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.