Vintage Panther 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($17) Sales benefit the Santa Rosa High School agriculture program. What a difference since my school days, the aggies now all la-di-da with their Chardonnay. And this wine is different, with a honeyed scent more like rich, vintage sparkling—Gloria Ferrer's Royal Cuvée comes to mind—and appealing, baked-in butteriness like nothing so much as Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies, while the oily mouthfeel mimics some crazy Roussanne. The finish may be as directionless as a recent graduate with lax college counseling—but no, it's not bitter. Order from www.srhsagboosters.com.
Paro 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30) In this lineup, you'd think that caramel had gone out of style, but this 160-case bottling shows that a little can add a lot of charm. The aroma is cool, subdued and enticing, like caramel chews and lemon merengue pie inside a snow cone. Crisp acidity brings the sweet caramel core into focus, and oak doesn't get in the way.
Landmark 2012 Overlook Chardonnay ($22.50) Oaky, lemony aromas of high-quality polished furniture and sliced apples in Eureka lemon juice open to baked apple and walnut. Tart, tongue-tingling apple and lemon drop flavors finish long and sweet. Good with Pt. Reyes Toma.
Folie à Deux 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($18) Serviceable Chard with Muscat-like aroma, oxidized apple juice and a hint of cinnamon. Flavors of apple cider and blanc de blancs.
Jordan 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30) Frankly oaky—a stave thinly brushed with an aroma that might be called "Frosty Pear" if it was a Martha Stewart paint swatch. But the finish leaves an impression, and as the woody, lemon-tart wine warms it brightens up; even with a simple pairing like cheese and crackers, this restaurant-favorite "food wine"—a term that always strikes me as inelegant as, if more economical than, "wine for when you got somethin' to eat on"—dances around the tip of the tongue like it was the star of the show all along.
Rodney Strong 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($17) Nice oak, really fine quality oak, but more body that the nose suggests, and sweet, tongue-coating flavors of candied lemon and baked . . . lemon. Definitely Chardonnay-ish, no mistaking it. Zingy finish—it just needs fried chicken or breaded tilapia with creamy lemon sauce.
Arrowood 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($25) More of the lumber yard than the orchard or dairy, but this does have moderately creamy and sweet apple-pie flavors, spicy acidity; a bitter, green grape finish.