Oaked Chardonnay Fights Back

Oaked Chardonnay Fights Back

Oh, its good to be back…. from the perfect 75-degree sunshine of Napa to the 95-degree sauna of New York City. That aside, I was delighted that the last 'un-oaked' Chardonnay piece stirred so much interest, and prompted so many great comments. Now it's time to hear it for the 'oaked' Chardonnay.

Whether we like it or not Chardonnay has great affinity with oak. Its big structure and lack of overt aromatics provide a great canvas on which to lay some oak nuances. Decision made, the winemaker has a wide palette of options to choose from when crafting his style of oaked Chardonnay.

Oak barrel or barrel alternatives such as staves, blocks or chips? New oak or one, twice, thrice used? French, American, or Slavonian? Light, medium or high toast? Small barrique or large oak cask? The newer and smaller the barrel, and the higher the toast the greater the influence of oak flavor on the wine. No surprise that in great vintages the best wines of Burgundy and elsewhere see a lot more new oak than in poorer vintages. Great wines can handle lots of oak.

Given the cost of new oak barrels, barrel alternatives offer producers of the everyday wines that we all love and drink the option, of new oak influence at a fraction the cost.

Oak adds all sorts of aromas and flavors to Chardonnay. Hints of vanilla, spice, coffee, tobacco, toasted hazelnuts, pepper and chocolate can really enhance the character of Chardonnay, adding layers of complexity, depth and flavor. Oak also compliments the buttery character from the likely malolactic fermentation. Winemakers spend enormous amounts of time each year deciding the correct oak regime for any one wine. Getting the match right is part of the art of winemaking, and should result in a wine that is harmonious, integrated and a pleasure to drink and enjoy at the table.

At the table these wines pair with a wide array of dishes. They have a particular fondness for dishes with butter or cream. Try them with a cheese soufflé or gougères, poached salmon with a caper butter sauce, veal piccata, skate with black butter sauce, port tenderloin with applesauce, chicken with a mushroom cream sauce or with hard cheeses such as Gruyère, Provolone or Cheddar.

As ever, the prized and highly sought after Chardonnay wines have prices to match. But there are many excellent bottles available for under $25. And while Chardonnay wines hail from all over the winegrowing world here are a few particularly delicious from some of the cooler growing sub-regions of California.

• 2005 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay, Carneros, California - 2005 ($18) – brim full of apple, citrus and stone fruit with toasty vanilla and spice on the finish.

• 2005 Sonoma Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California ($25) - well balanced with a citrusy nose, creamy apples and toasty flavors. Hints of nuts on the finish.

• 2006 Baileyana 'Firepeak Vineyard' Chardonnay, Edna Valley, California ($18) – Citrus, with tangerine and lemon zest. Full bodied with notes of coffee, toasty hazelnuts and vanilla across the palate.

• 2006 Santa Barbara Winery Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, California ($18) elegant, with refreshing green apple, grapefruit and white flowers. Smooth and creamy with lovely toasty notes on the finish.

Winerz.com (Orange, CA)
Astor Wines (Manhattan, NY)
Fine Wine House, (Pasadena, CA)
K & L Wine (Redwood City, CA)
Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits (Washington, DC)
Total Wine & More (various cities, FL, NC)
Wine Legend (Livingston, NJ)
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PA)
Sam's Wines and Spirits (Chicago, Il)
Harlem Vintage (Manhattan, NY)
Mad Wine (Seattle, WA)

So until next week stay cool and enjoy exploring the diversity of oaked Chardonnay available throughout the country.

-- Mary

Direct Shipping – News from New Jersey
Direct shipment via common carrier is prohibited in New Jersey. That means that a New Jersey resident may not receive wine shipments from out-of-state wine sellers. However, residents may obtain a special permit from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for the personal transportation of alcohol in excess of two quarts of beer, one gallon of wine, or two quarts of other alcohol back to New Jersey.

On a more positive note, news released this week indicates that New Jersey is moving closer to allowing supermarkets and grocery stores to sell wine. While the supermarkets are delighted with this bill signing, the smaller independent wine stores currently operating in the state fear that price competition by the large supermarkets will drive them out of business.

(Images: Baileyana Winery, Edna Valley and Robert Mondavi)

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