Six-Pack of 2012 California Chardonnay: Butterfly Kisses, Creamsicles

Posted on: May 15th, 2014 by

butter stickDid you once love California Chardonnay, but were dismayed by too much toasty oak and buttery bombast? Yeah, me too. I turned my back on the white wines that weaned me during the salad days of my drinking.

But now I’ve returned. And I’m finding that I like oak on my Chardonnay. I just don’t want a ton of it. Which is why it was serendipitous to accumulate six sample bottles from California’s 2012 vintage all in a relatively short time span.

So let’s check ’em out.

The first round of wines have all touched what I consider an acceptable amount of new oak barrels that give them some toasty flavor. What one winery calls “a mere butterfly kiss of oak”.

Plus, each Chardonnay has a little pat of butter. Or rather, buttery texture. And you’ll find fruit and zip to balance these flavors out.

These wines are ordered in what I perceive to be the most toasty to the least:

  • Sequoia Grove Napa Valley
  • Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Karia” Napa Valley (giver of butterfly kisses)
  • Gundlach Bundschu Estate Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County
  • Jordan Russian River Valley

2012 Caliornia Chardonnay

All are worth a shot to decide for yourself if there’s a sea change in the use of new oak. (As in, using less.) You might also note another stylistic shift of not making Chardonnays so buttery-tasting you’d think they came from a dairy.

Now if you want wines a little more austere and steely, where oak shows up as more a component for richness and texture than flavor, here’s a duo from the Russian River Valley to look out for:

  • Lioco (where you’ll find orange creamsicle aromas)
  • Inman Family

Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Interestingly enough, the Inman Family was the only one of the bunch sealed with a screwcap rather than a cork. Also, get a bottle of their fantastic rosé. Now.

Curious about Jordan? Here’s a photo. Check out my podcast from the winery, too.


My advice when it comes to California Chardonnay? DO NOT FEAR THE BARREL! It comes in peace, and in the names of flavor and/or texture.

Still thirsty for more? Kick back with my podcast featuring California’s First Family of Chardonnay.

Butter stick via Eric Eisnor.

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2 Responses

  1. I can’t wait to try these wine when I start work in Napa Valley this August. I have had a hate love relationship with California Chardonnay for sometime now due to the reasons you mentioned (over oak-ed, too strong malolactic), but every once in a while I find a Chardonnay with the perfect balance, and I get overly excited. I am currently in Chile, and have been consuming their Chardonnay like crazy. You can get quite an amazingly aged Chardonnay for under $10 (US) in the markets in Santiago. They seem to be slightly meatier than the commercialized over oak-ed California Chardonnay’s.

    • Jameson Fink says:


      Thank you for your comment. I checked out your blog; your photos are fantastic. I think you’d dig Inman and Lioco. Also check out producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains like Varner and Mount Eden.

      I look forward to keeping up with your adventures. And I love Chile! Seafood and Sauvignon Blanc, forever!



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