Ray Isle's Top 12 Value Bottles
2005 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve ($12)
Possibly the most famous and probably the most popular California Chardonnay, this rich wine is sourced from Jackson Estates vineyards around the state, including those in Santa Barbara and Mendocino.
2005 Simi Sonoma County ($17)
The fruit for this wine comes from the Carneros and Russian River regions. The result is a lush but beautifully balanced Chardonnay that's an altogether excellent value from a reliable name.
2005 Waterstone Carneros ($18)
The Waterstone Winery sources grapes from the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley. The 2005 vintage is the winery's third Chardonnay. It's less about oak than it is about the fruit, which has a compelling crisp green apple character.
2005 Morgan Monterey Metallico ($20)
This vibrant wine was created by Morgan as a means of showcasing top-quality Monterey fruit. It's got great acidity and pure bright apple and pear flavors that are unobstructed by oak.
2004 Navarro Première Reserve Anderson Valley ($21)
Long a secret among travelers to Mendocino, tiny Navarro still sells most of its wines directly to its fans. This is a terrifically elegant cool-climate wine with blossomy pear and tropical fruit flavors, tempered by a judicious use of oak.
2005 Saintsbury Carneros ($20)
Saintsbury owners Dick Ward and David Graves, winners of two American Wine Awards this year, make this Chardonnay with the same graceful lift as their standout Pinot Noir.
2005 MacRostie Carneros ($22)
Though Steve MacRostie founded his winery in 1987, his wines rarely get the publicity they deserve, which makes them one of the rare bargains from the Carneros region. This wine is all about rich, viscous fruit with a wonderful clarity of expression-a straight-ahead wine beautifully executed.
2004 La Crema Russian River Valley ($24)
La Crema has been a source of excellent-value Sonoma Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for some time. This wine is one of winemaker Melissa Stackhouse's best; a substantially oaked and well-concentrated wine.
2004 Lucia ($35)
Central Coast Pinot maven Gary Pisoni (Pisoni Vineyards & Winery), together with sons Mark and Jeff, produces this Chardonnay from 24-year-old vines on his family's vineyards. Full of sappy, juicy peach and yellow apple flavors, it has a refreshing palate-clearing acidity.
2001 Mount Eden Estate Bottled ($35)
High up in the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking Silicon Valley, Jeffrey Patterson produces some of California's most authentically Burgundian Chardonnays. This wine is lively and intensely flavored yet wondrously delicate.
2003 Chalk Hill Estate Bottled ($36)
The Furth family's winery, founded in 1972, enjoys one of the best views in Sonoma County. It also produces a rich, plush-textured Chardonnay with notes of spicy pear.
2004 Ramey Russian River Valley ($36)
Sonoma's David Ramey was one of the first winemakers in California to use native yeasts and to bottle his wines unfiltered, which has resulted in full-flavored wines like this luscious but not over-rich example with crisp fruit notes.