Schrader: Oaked vs. unoaked, the multiple personalities of chardonnay
By Caroline Schrader Wine Columnist August 29, 2012 1:16PM
Updated: October 1, 2012 3:54PM
Chardonnay is a favorite among white wine drinkers, and one of the most popular white wines in the world. The full-bodied wine has a reputation for making a statement with its butterscotch aromas and audacious oak flavors. But not all Chardonnays are heavy, oaky and overpowered with vanilla. Some Chardonnays break trend and bring fruit forward, showcasing an array of flavors such as green apple, tropical fruit, lemon and pineapple.
It all comes down to the origin of the grape and winemaking techniques. Both are factors that influence the multiple personalities of Chardonnay. Chardonnay grapes grown in cool climates generally boast flavors of citrus fruit, while warmer climates emit tropical fruit flavors.
In most parts of the world, Chardonnay is fermented and aged in oak barrels. The barrel fermentation and aging are what gives the wine its rich butter flavors and creamy textures. When oak is bypassed, the wine is considered “unoaked” or “naked” as some winemakers have described it, and left to ferment and age in stainless steel, ridding the wine of butterscotch and toffee flavors that are associated with Chardonnay. Instead, the grape’s delicate fruit flavors and aromas take over; offering a different twist on one of the world’s most notable white wines.
When deciding on a Chardonnay to try, determine what style and personality you prefer. It is best to pair oaked Chardonnay with roasted meat dishes, while unoaked Chardonnay is suitable for green vegetables, poultry or fish. Regardless, the versatility of Chardonnay can entertain wine drinkers of many types. From full-bodied oak notes, to crisp citrus flavors, Chardonnay pleases the palates from one end of the spectrum to another.
Below are recommendations for full bodied Chardonnays, fermented and aged in oak; highlighting bold flavors of toasted oak and vanilla with creamy textures for a long finish.
◆ 2010 Cambria Chardonnay Katherine’s Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley), $16
◆ 2010 Ferrari Carano Chardonnay (Alexander Valley), $20
◆ 2010 Sonoma-Cutrer (Sonoma Coast), $24
◆ 2010 Sebastiani Chardonnay (Sonoma County), $12
Below are recommendations for unoaked Chardonnays that haven’t had contact with wood. As a result, the fruit comes forward in these wines.
◆ 2011 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay (Marlborough) $15
◆ 2009 Joel Gott Unoaked Chardonnay (Monterey), $16
◆ 2009 Louis Michel & Fils Chablis (Burgundy), $30
◆ 2011 Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay (Western Australia), $13
These wines can be found at your local wine retailer. To distinguish between oaked vs. unoaked Chardonnay when shopping, look to the label. “Unoaked Chardonnay” is most commonly used to indicate a non-wood Chardonnay. If the label does not specify style, then it is best practice to assume that the Chardonnay is oaked.
Caroline Schrader is a wine writer and wine consultant serving the Chicago area.
Follow her on Facebook and visit www.carolineschrader.com.