25 Best Chardonnay Under $20 | Under $30 | Under $100

best chardonnay

People either LOVE or HATE Chardonnay. However most ppl in the US think of the big, full-bodied, buttery, oaky California Chardonnays. But there are almost complete opposite wines made from this grape based on where the grapes are from and how it was made.

For example, a Chardonnay from California doesn’t necessarily mean this type of buttery Chardonnay. Some California Chardonnays from cooler regions (ex. Sonoma Coast, Ste Rita Hills), don’t use oak barrels and don’t do Malolactic fermentation (a 2nd fermentation that makes the wine buttery). And these wines are more crisp, fresh, and lighter body.

best chardonnay

And even some of the best dry white wine in the world are made from Chardonnay from France (Burgundy white wines, Chablis, Puligny-Montrachet). They are lean, crisp, wines with minerality.

So in reality everyone should LOVE Chardonnay wine, because there are so many different versions of this varietal.  Napa Valley Chardonnay is the complete opposite of the Chablis Chardonnay. 

What is Malolactic Fermentation?

malolactic fermentation

Ever wondered why you taste something buttery and creamy texture in some wines? Malolactic fermentation or sometimes called “malo” or MLF, is the reason for the creamier and richer texture in many wines.

There’s actually no yeast involved in the process, so technically, MLF isn’t a fermentation. Instead, it involves a special kind of bacteria, Oenoccocus Oeni, that converts the tart malic acid into creamier, softer lactic acid.

The result? A wine with a marvelous creamy, velvety texture that glides like oil on the middle of your tongue. 

Oaked vs Unoaked Chardonnay Wines

oaked chardonnay vs unoaked chardonnay is chardonnay sweet

Chardonnays can have different tastes based on the grapes’ origins and whether they are oaked or unoaked.

The next time you pick a bottle, this will help you choose the best one for your tastes.

  • Oaked Chardonnays (aged in oak barrels)rich texture, full-body, a sweet bouquet with butterscotch and vanilla notes, and a buttery, creamy flavor with hints of honey, hazelnut, and caramel
  • Unoaked or Naked Chardonnays (aged without any oak influence, typically in stainless steel vats) – brighter color, lighter body, crisp acidity, with a primarily fruity-citrusy bouquet with notes of lime, peach, and apple

Regions of Chardonnay Wines

  • Burgundy, France – Chardonnay originated in the French region of Burgundy, so it’s safe to say that the best Chardonnays are from here, particularly in the Puligny-Montrachet. Also home to some great unoaked Chards in Chablis.
  • Sonoma County – if you’re in CA, visit the Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is a must visit for Chard lovers. Good Coastal vineyards. 
  • Los Carneros, Napa – a must-visit region in Napa that produces some of my favorite oaked Chards.
  • Santa Barbara – best region for wine-curious travelers. It has a good reputation for world-class Chardonnays.
  • Australia – Good for both unoaked and oaked.
  • Oregon – Great Pinot Noir regions make great Chardonnay (Unoaked). 
  • Washington – Columbia Valley wine is home to many good value wines. 

Quick Fun Facts about Chardonnay Wines

Chardonnay Fun facts
  • Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can grow well in similar climates/regions. If you find a good growing Pinot Noir region, plant some Chardonnay grapes too! Prime example – BURGUNDY 
  • Chardonnay is the daughter of Pinot Noir and the lesser-known grape variety, Gouais Blanc.
  • If you like Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine, you’re drinking 100% Chardonnay
  • Steak and oaked Chardonnay is a great pairing. Think of the many chefs use butter to cook their steaks. Melts into the meat, like a glass of chardonnay.

The “best Chardonnay” doesn’t exist. Every bottle is simply unique. The real question is: what type of Chardonnay do you like? Here are some of my personal favorites.

What are the Best Chardonnays Under $20?

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Yet another California Chardonnay from the heart of the Sonoma. It tastes fresh and elegant with an excellent balance of tartness and creamy depth

Tasting Notes: Apple, ripe pear, citrus, ginger, oak, butter

Medium-bodied with a vivid freshness and caressing texture – one of the Central Coast’s tastiest wines.

Tasting Notes: Caramel, stone fruit flavors, English toffee, butter, pear, marzipan

Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay

Can be found at most wine stores. It smells like warm fruit pie baking in the oven – a delectable taste with oak influence that keeps you reaching for another glass.

Tasting Notes: White peach, vanilla, pear, roasted nuts, baking spice

Gérard Bertrand Chardonnay

A light gold-greenish Chardonnay wine has refreshing quality to it wiht mineral and fruit flavors. For those who want to try some French Chardonnay with New World taste profiles. Give this one a shot. Its from a well-known large French winery that makes good wines. 

Tasting Notes: Oak, pear, citrus, apple, vanilla, toast, minerals, peach

Brown Estate House of Brown Chardonnay 2020

From Lodi, located in the central region of California. This wine is a great-valued Chardonnay wine. It is light, crisp, and fruit-forward (tropical fruit flavors). Yet also smooth and creamy. You can drink this anywhere anytime. It’s just a delicious wine especially for its price. 

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, green apple, oak, citrus, butter, peach, tropical fruit

Buehler Chardonnay

The creaminess of this velvet textured Chardonnay is matched by the natural acidity from Russian River fruit. So it has great balance and a clean and lengthy finish. Again at this price, this is a solid white wine from a winery that is known for their great-valued Chardonnay.

Tasting Notes: Oak, pear, stone fruit, green apple, caramel, citrus, hints of toast & butter

Raeburn Chardonnay 2019

Just another superb Russian River Valley Chardonnay for the price! Creamy, smooth wine with an elegant finish. Its also beautifully complemented with toasted oak and hints of crème brûlée.

Tasting Notes: Butter, oak, vanilla, pear, apple, cream, banana

What are the Best Chardonnays Under $30?

The Prisoner Chardonnay

Full-bodied, rich, and tasty, oaky flavors that integrate into the palate –  from one of the most recognized red blends in the Napa Valley. Now they make some good white wines too! 

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, toasted oak, crème Brulee, vanilla, baked apple, tropical fruit

Bright, fruit-focused Sonoma Coast Chardonnay with restrained oak notes. It has a rich mouthfeel characterized by tasty sugar cookies and vanilla notes – creating a layered and beautiful with a long, full finish.

Tasting Notes: Pear, meyer lemon, lemon cream, oak, vanilla

A Carneros classic Chardonnay fermented in French oak barrels for nine months. It’s a creamy, full-bodied white wine with lively acidity that’s vibrant on the palate – a match made in heaven with almost any savory dish.

Tasting Notes: Apple, oak, lemon peel, lime zest, butterscotch, vanilla, butter

Tyler Chardonnay

Fantastic entry-level Chard from Santa Barbara County. It has excellent balance and delicacy – one of the best wines that almost anybody can appreciate.

Tasting Notes: Apple, peach, pear, lime zest, cream, butter

This bottle is a steal from the prestigious Burgundy winemaking region. It shows how white wine can be pretty excellent at a reasonable price – giving you plenty of flavor and balance to want to finish the entire bottle.

Tasting Notes: Melon, kiwi, apricot, peach, meyer lemon, apple, tropical fruit flavors

It seems many of my favorite Chardonnays are from the Russian River. It is an estate Chardonnay, a white wine that’s plenty nuanced with fresh, floral, and citrus notes – overall, full of flavor.

Tasting Notes: Orange, lemon peel, butter, citrus, floral notes

It has a greenish-yellow hue for this medium-bodied wine. It is refreshing and vibrant as it is ripe. Lots of fruit-forward fresh aromas with delicate citrus and oaky flavors – from the Mendoza wine region in Argentina.

Tasting Notes: Pear, peach, fig, oak


Another favorite Chardonnay from Burgundy, particularly in the Lugny village. The grapes grow under a warm climate and in limestone soil, producing the most coveted white wines in the region. This bottle delivers a clean and lively texture.

Tasting Notes: Honey, apple, nuts

Light, crisp, and extra dry. This wine is an overachiever, showing a captivating yeasty quality, zesty acidity, and solid mineral notes reminiscent of where it’s grown in the famous wine region of Burgundy.

Tasting Notes: Citrus, peach, saline

If you haven’t caught up yet, many of my top favorite white wines are from Burgundy, France, like this classic Chablis with its pure, smooth, clean, but steely pleasure brought to the palate.

Tasting Notes: Peach, stone fruits, apple, citrus

The subsoil where this fine Chablis grows makes an outstanding wine with an attractive freshness and fruitiness, plus a tad of mineral characteristics.

Tasting Notes: White fruit flavors, citrus, mineral, white flowers

Bouchard Pere and Fils Pouilly-Fuisse

Dry, pale, and refreshing – this is a very perfumed Chardonnay with underbrush of yeasty notes. But it also has flavors of golden delicious apples with high acidity and hints of subtle oak.

Tasting Notes: Apricot, citronella, butterscotch, ripe apples, floral notes


What are the Best Chardonnays Under $100?

If the day calls for some splurging on a great bottle of Chardonnay or a gift for a Chard lover, here are five of my top Classic California Chardonnays:

Rombauer Chardonnay

A Los Carneros pride – enticing with mouthwatering acidity and long, smooth finish. It’s a delicious example of a classic Chard, definitely worth the splurge

One of the few Napa wineries known for their well-priced, easy to love Chardonnay that every wine enthusiast loves. Read more…

Tasting Notes: Vanilla, toasty oak, apple, pear, yellow peach, lemon curd

Far Niente Chardonnay

One of the rare Chardonnays from Napa Valley, made from grapes grown in volcanic ash soils. It goes through barrel fermentation that produces a white wine with complex layers of enticing aromas and flavors. A non-MLF, retaining the natural acidity of the grapes that captivates the palate. 

From a winery that produces some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa, they also produce some of the best Chardonnays in Napa! Read more…

Tasting Notes: Toasted oak, stone fruit flavors, honeydew, lemon curd

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay

From a wine legend in Napa Valley – the taste of the greatness that won over the best white Burgundies during the 1976 Judgement of Paris. 

This is the wine varietal from the winery that changed Napa Valley forever. Like every wine enthusiast, you must respect the greatness of this wine! Or at least try it out. 

Tasting Notes: Green apple, ripe melon, fresh citrus

Pahlmeyer Chardonnay

The first sip will greet your nose with a generous aroma of the enticing peach and anise combo. On the palate, it’s deep, rich, and textured with an intensity that tempts you into the second sip. FANTASTIC winery making superb wines!

Tasting Notes: Cider apples, cardamom, lychee, crane apple, graham cracker

Grown in the southernmost appellation in Napa, in a cold climate at an altitude of 1500 feet. The berries are smaller, but the cooler air keeps their aroma and acidity in place. 

This is a FANTASTIC wine for all wine drinkers. You don’t need to be a Chard lover to enjoy this wine. This is just a great wine! Must try!

Tasting Notes: Green apple, tangerine, citrus, apricot, plums, crème brûlée, toasted brioche

Kistler Chardonnay

When you say luxury wine, Sonoma, and Chardonnay, you always end up at Kistler. This well-known, high-end winery makes legendary Chardonnays. 

And this Sonoma County Mountain Chard is what a great California Chardonnay should taste like. If you want to impress Chard lovers buy this wine!

Tasting Notes: Honey, pear, apricot, apple, oak, vanilla, butter, peach, minerals


And if you truly want to impress...

Get a wine from Puligny-Montrachet, make sure it’s a Grand Cru and enjoy it on your yacht in the Med. 

And if you want to check out other white wines varietals => CLICK HERE

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