Upgrade Your Happy Hour Chardonnay

Chardonnay Drinkers, You'll Want to Try These Wines

By Peyton Whittington Published March 2024

Chardonnay is, without a doubt, the world’s most popular white wine varietal, and it’s easy to see why: Chardonnay grapes can grow in a vast variety of climates and soils. It’s a hardy, versatile grape, meaning winemakers can manipulate its flavor expression to their liking. Chardonnay can be vibrant and fruity or buttery and rich depending on where it’s grown, whether it’s oaked or unoaked (more on that later) and many other variables in the winemaking process. This kind of flexibility and range means that pretty much everyone can find a bottle of chardonnay to suit their taste preference and budget.

But just like playing a beloved song on repeat so much that you eventually grow sick of it, always ordering chardonnay during happy hour can leave you longing to branch out. If you dearly love a buttery glass of chard but want to explore other white wine varietals, this article is for you. Keep reading for the white wine varietals you should try based on the type of chardonnay you like, as suggested by ABC wine expert, Nathan Dale.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this video of our team blind tasting upgraded happy hour white wines:




Chardonnay 101

Before you meet your new wine bestie, let’s establish some foundational knowledge about chardonnay.

What is chardonnay?

Chardonnay is both a wine varietal and a type of green grape. Chardonnay wine is made using chardonnay grapes, of course, but the grape is used in plenty of other wine varietals, like Chablis, Champagne and more.

What is chardonnay’s tasting profile?

As we mentioned, chardonnay can be made in many ways thanks to the grape’s versatility, but it’s generally a dry, medium-bodied white wine with moderate acidity ranging from bright straw to saturated gold in color. Common tasting notes are apple, pear, lemon, stone fruit, white flowers and vanilla. In oaked chardonnays, you’ll get notes of butter, toast and spice.

What is oaked chardonnay? What is unoaked chardonnay?

The greatest distinction in taste usually depends on if a chardonnay is oaked or unoaked. Some winemakers who wish to preserve chardonnay’s fresh, bright and clean flavor will choose to ferment and store their wine in stainless steel instead of wooden barrels; thus, the wine is unoaked. However, winemakers who wish to add notes of vanilla, butter and spice to the wine will ferment and/or age it in oak barrels; thus, the wine is oaked.

Both styles yield phenomenal wines, it just depends on whether you’re in the mood for a fruity, acidic pour or something with rich buttery notes.

What varieties taste like chardonnay?

If you like unoaked chardonnay, select another highly acidic white wine, like a tempranillo blanco, riesling, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio. If you prefer oaked chardonnay, go for something less acidic and more rich and spicy, like Gewürztraminer or viognier.

What you should try next

As you can see, chardonnay is a wine that can do it all: rich or fruity, value or luxury, light or bold. In order to give you the best recommendations, ABC wine expert Nathan Dale has broken down his suggestions based on whether you like oaked chardonnay, unoaked chardonnay or a mixture of both.

If you like oaked chardonnay, you should try...

Château Gigognan Côtes du Rhone White Vigne Du Prieuré

Chateau Gigognan Cotes du Rhone White Vigne Du Prieure

If you’re a fan of oaked chardonnay, chances are that you enjoy a wine with some levels of complexity. This 91-rated (James Suckling, 2021 vintage) French white blend delivers beautifully balanced taste for its price point. The grapes used in this wine are hand-harvested and fermented in stainless steel vats at low temperature, then finished in barrels to add depth. It has subtle notes of white flowers, apricot and citrus fruits with a dense palate that’s tempered by the natural freshness of the wine. Serve it with grilled chicken or pork, fish or sushi.

Black Pearl Chenin Blanc

Black Pearl Chenin Blanc

This South African wine was chosen because of its weightiness, which is comparable to a typical oaked chardonnay. It’s 90-rated (Decanter, 2021 vintage) with zippy flavors of guava, creamy pineapple, Pink Lady apples and melon, followed by lime and apricot on the palate. This wine has the texture you want from a good Chenin with a long finish and just enough acid to keep it vibrant. Pair it with many different dishes, including Thai food, curries and pulled pork.

If you like unoaked chardonnay, you should try...

Monte Zovo Le Civae Lugana

Monte Zovo Le Civae Lugana

On the nose of this 90-rated (James Suckling, 2021 vintage) Italian wine, you’ll get notes of tropical fruits and orange, followed by hints of white pepper and aromatic herbs. The taste is pleasant, round and well balanced with the bright acidity you’d expect from an unoaked chardonnay. It’s ideal as an aperitif when paired with freshwater fish appetizers like trout, perch and whitefish. It’s also excellent with pasta dishes, white meats and soft and fresh goat cheeses.

N de Nivarius Rioja Blanco

N de Nivarius Rioja Blanco

You can smell the intense freshness of this 91-rated (James Suckling, 2022 vintage), 100% tempranillo blanco Spanish Rioja right on the nose. Its citrus and stone fruit aromas are accompanied by a splendid and expressive palate, thanks to the wine’s impressive soil quality. This Rioja is grown in mostly clay soil, which gives it a solid weightiness, followed by sand, which gives it that fresh salinity you can smell as soon as you uncork it. Enjoy it with charcuterie, shellfish, grilled squid, salmon or a flavorful curry.

If you like oaked AND unoaked chardonnay, you should try...

Chateau De Chantegrive Graves

Chateau De Chateau De Chantegrive Graves

This 91-rated (Decanter, 2019 vintage) French sauvignon blanc delivers on both the richness of an unoaked chardonnay and the freshness of an unoaked chardonnay. It has a pure, citrusy aroma, accompanied perfectly by the buttery notes imparted by the golden Sémillon grapes used to make it. Pair it with virtually anything you’d enjoy with a bottle of your favorite chardonnay: seafood, shellfish, poultry, creamy sauces and dishes with herbs and spices.

We hope we’ve given you the courage to try something new, but if you need more guidance, stop into your local ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and chat with one of our team members to get a personalized recommendation. (Seriously, us wine nerds live for that sort of thing.)

Interested in learning more? Visit our ABC Blog page.