Chardonnay is just fantastic. It has amazingly versatility and is produced in a kaleidoscope of styles from regions all over the globe. Plus it's easy to pronounce and people generally know what it is. The grape especially from California has taken some heat for being too manipulated and sweet, gooey and oakey. This led to a moderately successful explosion of un- and lightly-wooded examples of the varietal, and a stylistic shift away from techniques such as heavy oak aging and malolactic fermentation, a shift we're still seeing now. Anyway, despite catchy slogans like "ABC" (Anything But Chardonnay) and sour faces from snobby types, Chardonnay from all over the world is selling as well as ever. Not that popularity is an indicator of quality, of course, but it is a sign of relevancy. As part of our monthly wine managers' meeting, we tasted nine top-selling chardonnays. Nobody in the room was quivering with excitement at the chance to taste these inexpensive wines, but it's always important to keep in touch with what people are actually drinking. A back to basics experience. You know what? There wasn't anything wrong with any of them. All nine are easy-to-sip wines that deliver the fruit with no noticable flaws. None are blockbusters, none are mindblowing, but all are good wine for the price:.

Santa Rita 120 Chardonnay $6.99    This mover from Chile boasts a fruity nose, full of pear and orange, with even more tropical fruit on the palate. Okay! Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay $5.99    A value Aussie that I'd call my favorite from this first flight of three. It shows notable char on the nose, soft fruit on the palate, and good oak vanilla balanced in, like a mini-Meursault. It delivers exactly what it should. A consistent favorite. 2009 Coppola Presents Chardonnay Unoaked $7.99 The Coppola Presents Chardonnay is a new introduction from Coppola, priced in line with the Presents Rosso and Bianco. It has a quiet nose of light white fruits. The palate is soft and fruity with no flaws. Everything is dialed back in intensity. An easy drinker from California. 2009 Novellum Chardonnay $10.99 Orangey and tropical! Cherry fruit cocktail on the nose. Very low acidity, with round and orange cream, even the sweet side. Coming from France, I expected it to be more serious or austere, but it really is ripe and round. 2009 Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay $9.99 Light with coconut on the nose. More lean than the others in this flight, with light pineapple fruit and a little cream. The Votre Sante is another from Coppola with dialed back intensity. I was hoping for something bigger. A counterpoint: a friend of mine liked both Coppola chards for their freshness and purity. 2009 Hess Select Chardonnay Monterey $9.99    A classy nose with layers of fruit and charred wood. This is well done, admittedly oaky, with building sweetness. If I were to pick a favorite from all nine wines (why would I do that?) the Hess Select Chardonnay would be it. I like the balance this strikes.   2010 Yalumba Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay $9.99    Light, clean and fresh. Australian reds have a notoriety for being heavy and rich, but many of the chardonnays are the opposite light and fresh, with little or no wood. This is a perfect example that is fruity, easygoing and light. 2009 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay $9.99    From Washington state, this is another another example of nicely integrated wood. Maybe it's a little candied, with vanilla and baking spices on the palate, along with orange and pineapple, with a nice finish. Maybe a little round, or even sweet, for some, but I think it's a great value. 2010 Toasted Head Chardonnay $9.99    Starts with a subtle nose with plenty of fruit. Then the wood comes through on the palate, layered with plenty of fruit. Not bad. Some of us reminisce about big displays of this wine topped with life-sized cardboard cutouts of fire-breathing bears.