What Affects the Price of Chardonnay

Does this sound familiar? You’re standing in a wine shop staring at the shelf waiting for a wine to pop out at you. If your selection for the evening is Chardonnay, you may wonder why one bottle is $7 and another bottle is $40. What’s the difference?Here’s all the elements that determine the cost of a bottle of wine:

  • vineyard location
  • oak barrels used
  • wine maker
  • wine making facility
  • the market for fruit
  • work in the vineyard
  • operating and marketing

Take all those elements and throw them into a blender. What pops out is the price of the bottle. Some wineries might use new oak barrels, which can cost upwards of $900 each. Some wineries might use older oak barrels, which reduces the buttery oak flavors, but might cost $400 a barrel. The work in the vineyard is a big consideration. Going up and down the rows of vines tending to the fruit adds up exponentially. One winery may go through tending to the vines 3 times a vintage, whereas another winery might go through the vines 4 times. A $40 Chardonnay is likely to use a higher quality of oak barrels from more desirable vineyards. A $6 Chardonnay may automate much of the grape picking and wine making. It all depends. Vineyard land in Washington state could be $3000 an acre whereas vineyard land in Napa could be $500,000 an acre. Just a guess, but that kind of thing makes a big difference.  No one element affects the final price. The best part is you and I get to experiment with the final product to decide for ourselves what we like and why. Here’s a list of Chardonnay’s I like in different price points:

2006 Hahn SLH Chardonnay - $25 This is an “OMIGOD!” wine. Undoubtedly, someone will have that kind of reaction when they try this elegant Chardonnay made from California Santa Lucia Highland grapes. Close your eyes and image the very first taste you get when you take a sip of an average Chardonnay. It’s probably cold, buttery, a little sweet...maybe with green apple and citrus flavors plus a little acidic finish. If that sip I just described is a Honda Accord, the Hahn SLH is an Acura TL Sedan. Much more refined, much more stylish without being over the top. Imagine silky flavors of creme brulée, Madagascar vanilla bean, nutmeg and various exotic spices moving in slow motion across your palate. After your eyes roll back and a sly smile comes across your face, you swallow the sip with no acidic burn, only a pleasant, sweet finish...”OMIGOD, that’s tasty!” you think to yourself. You don’t have to share :)

2006 Spann Vineyards Chardonnay/Viognier - $20 When I got married last year, my wife and I chose this as one of the wines we wanted to serve at our reception, with good reason. I’ve been to many group tastings and this wine has been chosen as the group favorite many times. Peter and Betsy Spann combine the best parts of Chardonnay with the best parts of Viognier. The Chardonnay provides a rich backbone and vanilla-creamy mouthfeel. It’s perfectly balanced so that when you take a sip, it feels like it reaches everywhere on your palate at once. That alone would make this a wonderful wine, but the Viognier adds another dimension, especially on the nose. The aromatics remind me of being in Hawaii walking through a garden of hibiscus and orchids. Chardonnay is often associated with flavors of green apple, pineapple and pear. Viognier adds peach, lychee and apricot notes...and it’s so aromatic you can smell the intoxicating notes from the glass when it’s sitting on the table a foot away from your sniffer.

2006 Chateau Bianca Chardonnay - $15 Oregon is often thought of as a one trick pony. The Pinot Noirs are stellar. Oregon also makes some great Chardonnays too. Chateau Bianca is a winery that’s pretty much flown under the radar for years, but they’re consistent. This vintage of Chardonnay is medium-bodied, easy to pair with food and has some interesting notes of honey and just a kiss of keylime pie.

2006 Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay - $9.99 We enjoy a bottle of Cycles at least once a week at Chez Bakas. I love the consistent quality and I love the label. California Central Coast Chardonnay’s from the 2006 vintage have been very satisfying. There’s a stylish butteriness that even Mrs. Butterworth would like. The Cycles Chardonnay is medium-bodied but drinks like a wine twice the price. And the 13.5% alcohol ensures you’ll be able to enjoy the robust honey, asian pear and jasmine flavors without the acidic aftertaste.

2006 Pine & Post Chardonnay - $5.99 So far this is the best QPR (quality-price ratio) white wine I’ve found in 2009 (barely edging out the Cycles Gladiator). For 6 bucks you can enjoy this wine every day with a variety of foods. Washington state wines offer some terrific wine values, and the Pine & Post doesn’t disappoint. I’m not a real points guy, but it’s worth mentioning when a $6 wine gets 87 points from Wine Enthusiast. Probably because it has a surprisingly creamy texture with a nice balance of citrus, green apple, honeydew with just the right amount of buttery oak.