Wine Challenge, Week 12: California Chardonnay

Photo by Ann Nekr on

If you’ll forgive a brief confession, I did not want to write tonight’s post. In fact, my computer seemed to conspire against my composing it at all, choosing this very day to stymie all efforts by shutting down for updates, the little twerp.

It sensed my anxiety, like the great cats can smell fear. Luckily this puny machine can’t devour me quite so easily. Ha.

Half of this, in fact, was written on my phone. My thumb typing skills, while good, pale in comparison to a real keyboard, thanks to not the weeks of QWERTY-style typing lessons in middle school (BLEH), but instead to hours upon hours of online chat and tabletop roleplay on Instant Messenger.

What? High school bored me, and homework was stupid.

Back to the point, the — responsibility? blame? finger-pointing-at-anything-but-myself? — for a lack of desire to address tonight’s post falls on the wine.

More to the real issue, California wine.

I’m being a good person here and admitting to a bias: I’m not typically a fan of these. Yes, I can hear you putting your hands up in a “huh, what?” gesture, confusion begging for the admission as to my why on this. Truth be told, I … dunno. Truly.

Perhaps it’s the mass-market nature of a large portion of California wine, combined with overblown excitement about what tends to be super-jammy flavors (in the specific case of Pinot Noir), over-oaking and too much flavor fiddling. Not all California wines do this, though. Some are pretty fantastic.

My hope for the “wine challenge” posts holds that, no matter my personal opinion, I can offer readers an objective view of a wine’s quality so that they’re aware of what they’re buying. Personal opinion ultimately means nothing here when it comes to assessment.

Your palate is different from mine.


Now that that little disclaimer has tumbled off my brain, I can get on with it.


You know you’ve heard of this grape, no matter where you reside, for two in-your-face-neon-sign-level reasons:

  • It’s the most popular and prolific grape planted worldwide, including and especially the United States.
  • It can grow just about anywhere successfully.

For week 11, I gave an overview of the fruit flavor spectrum in white wines, with the notation that a particular grape can sit on a singular point on the spectrum, or it can span a short length of it.

Ready for this?

Chardonnay spans the whole freaking spectrum.

Cooler climates? Austere and citrusy, with lots of minerality. Think Chablis, France.

Warmer climates? Pineapple, melon, mango. Parts of Australia and South Africa can produce wines like these.

It can also go anywhere in between. It’s part of the fun with good ol’ Chard.

Tonight we’re zeroing in on the Russian River Valley AVA of California, a subregion of Sonoma County. While much of this greater growing area touts a warmer climate, the “RRV” stays cooler thanks to the Petaluma Gap, the river for which it’s named, and frequent fog.

A few big-name wineries like Rodney Strong have vineyards here; you can also find without really trying many other producers of much lower volume and potentially higher quality. Just know that should you pursue the latter of these two types, you’ll likely find a price tag to match that quality — often $30+ per bottle.

Based on this information about the region, I’m expecting the Chardonnay of the evening to be “cooler,” with a focus on citrus and tree fruits. California loves to oak their Chardonnay, as well as use malolactic fermentation to create that “buttery” texture and flavor profile, so I’m also going to look for those elements.

Week 12 Wine: Greg Norman Estates Chardonnay 2019

Apparently Greg Norman is a golfer from Australia? Had to Google that because I don’t do or follow sportsball.

Lots of celebrities currently have their hand in wine and spirits, from Angelina Jolie to Snoop Dogg to (the late and great) Paul Newman. Keep in mind that the celebrities do not usually have much say in winemaking.

Wine Background

Region: Sonoma County

Subregion: Russian River Valley

Style: Dry white

Grape: Chardonnay


Clear, pale lemon.


Clean, with medium intensity aromas of lemon, lime, wet stones, yellow apple, underripe peach, and a touch of vanilla. The wine has a bit of complexity to it, but it’s primarily fruit-driven.


Dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol, and medium-plus body. Texture is somewhat lush and has a medium finish; I could find medium intensity flavors of lime, lemon, and apple to follow the nose. There’s also a hint of spice and toast that I’d attribute to oak use, but the intense crispness suggests that the winemaker skipped malolactic fermentation — no “buttery”-ness often associated with California Chardonnay.

Final Thoughts

I know, I know, this is meant to be objective, but can I express my surprise? This fruit-driven wine didn’t punch me in the face with oak or malo and instead offered something refreshing.

Balance? Pretty good, considering. Elements spanned from medium to medium-plus.

Length of the finish? Meh, since it’s only at medium and leaves tingling acidity behind on the palate.

Intensity? Again, middle of the road. Fruit notes were fairly clear while the rest faded into the background. Not a bad thing, mind you, but it makes a difference in assessment.

Complexity? Fruit-driven, with hints of oak use, so that rules out “simple,” but I also wouldn’t call it incredibly complex.

Based on the above, I’d rate the Greg Norman at “good quality” wine. With a price point of around $15 per bottle, you get a pretty good deal on a Russian River Valley Chardonnay that ticks the boxes of “fresh” and “crisp.”

If you’re looking for oaky and buttery Chardonnay, this is not the wine for you.

However, that does mean that this particular wine has a wider variety of food pairing options due to lighter oak treatment and crisper acidity. Cheese, seafood, pasta with white sauces, herbed chicken, and even salads with light dressings or vinaigrettes would work well.

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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