Let’s Go on a Chardonnay Adventure!

One of the world’s most planted and recognized wine grape varieties with polarizing palate preferences. From stainless to new oak – lets go on an adventure.

by Jeana and Chad Steiner

One of Chad’s first explorations in wine (in 2001) was gathering with friends from his job at Ste. Michelle. They wanted to taste the difference between the Columbia Crest Chardonnay, the Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay and the Columbia Crest “Grand Estate” Chardonnay. At the time these wines were all in the $9/bottle to $15/bottle price range. But let’s pause here. The point of this week’s blog post is to go on a chardonnay adventure. Well known around the world with significant acreage planted and grown in every major wine region, Chardonnay has likely danced across many of your palates. However, which camp do you fall into…??? Is it the Naked or stainless style or all the way at the other end of the spectrum with the heavier barrel fermented, barrel aged “buttery” style? The beauty of Chardonnay is its versatility and very recognizable varietal characters. Let the adventure begin.

How about we explore three different styles of Chardonnay. Which, we happen to produce at Lagriōth Winery. We’ll talk about them in a general sense to emphasize three distinctly different styles. Here are the 3 styles we’ll adventure into: 1. A stainless steel Chardonnay, 2. More of a Chablis style Chardonnay (aged in used barrels & no secondary fermentation), 3. A heavier but not buttery Chardonnay (think more lemon custard). We’re not going to talk too much about the wine making process, more about end product. But it’s hard to leave out things like – picking timing, if it was aged in new oak, etc..

  1. Stainless Steel Chardonnay (our Naked Chardonnay) fermented and aged in stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. What we’d describe as a “Crisp White Wine”. Not too complex, definitely not heavy or oaky. Served cold can be delightful and easy to sip on. Picked early to preserve natural acidity and keep alcohol lower. Wine nerd note: aging in stainless steel, almost no wine evaporates unlike an oak barrel.
  2. Chablis style Chardonnay (our Estate Chardonnay (sold out)), no malolactic fermentation. Big shout out to the Chablis region – 100’s of years of amazing Chardonnay coming from this spot at the North end of Burgundy. Minerality, complexity, bright almost jumpy acidity (we pick on the earlier side & we think it’s a Lake Chelan AVA thing) wrapped up in a fresh mouthfeel. Drink cold or warm, this wine is an adventure all in its own. Wine nerd note: aging in “used” or most often times called “neutral” barrels doesn’t contribute much oak character to the wine. Think of it like a tea bag used five times, not much is going to come out the 5th time. What a neutral barrel does offer is small amounts of oxygen. Yes, wine does evaporate from an oak barrel – we call the evaporated wine “The Angel’s Share”. The small amount of oxygen can help open the wine up and provide more complexity.
  3. A heavier bodied but not buttery – again think lemon custard – Chardonnay (our Riverview Chardonnay). Barrel fermented and barrel aged in new and neutral/used oak and does go through the malolactic fermentation. Although Jeana chooses a yeast that doesn’t produce the diacetyl or popcorn butter. Typically a much riper full of flavor style. This wine and others like it can still carry a bright acidity keeping the wine refreshing. We age in a combination of new and neutral oak. And the 2023 vintage in the New French Oak barrel is decadent. Wine nerd note: the key learning about this style in your Chardonnay adventures is – Chardonnay can definitely receive oak and new oak without being buttery. The buttery component comes from the malolactic fermentation. So even “barrel” aged Chardonnay can appeal to a palate that is seeking a fresher non-buttery style.

Caption: our personal favorite. Crisp and brith with wonderful complexity. Sure to dress up most meals. Especially like pasta with a cream sauce, seafood or even with a cheese appetizer.

So what did Chad’s 2001 friend group decide on the three Chardonnay’s they tasted? Well, it was the beginning of a life of tasting adventures and there was a definite difference between the three – maybe a bias toward the Chateau Ste. Michelle version at the time. Chardonnay is definitely an adventure. And it appears as people realize there are styles that appeal to their palate, the wines incredible flavors and consistency are still a top choice among white wines. We hope this helps articulate the range of options Chardonnay can be produced in. Create your own adventure by choosing a few bottles from around the Chelan Valley or from a local wine shop – feel free to use the descriptors in this article to describe what you’re looking for. With our upcoming March bottling, we’ll have the Estate Chardonnay back on the menu – allowing us to set up Chardonnay adventures for you all. Cheers to an amazing grape!



  1. I didn’t realize Chad spent time at Chateau Ste Michelle as did I in the 90s. Would love to do a vertical tasting of all three Chardonnays! Great blog

    1. Hi Sharon. Yeah, it really was an amazing experience working there. Would love for you to taste all 3 – its fun.

  2. I still have a place for Chardonnay in my wine palette. Nice article Chad and Jeana. Drinking Chardonnay by itself, I like a Chablis style. With food pairing, some barrel fermented style for me.

  3. Your estate chardonnay is brilliant and you show the knowledge and respect of the grape to bring out its best.

    1. Thanks Joseph. Really appreciate it. Jeana has a great recipe going in the cellar and the clone of Chardonnay seems like a positive contributor as well…

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