When Merlot was such a big deal back in the early '90s, I didn't think it was such a big deal. When Pinot Grigio began its run en vogue in the early 2000s, I once again allowed the bandwagon to pass on by. But the latest trend of Chardonnays made with no oak aging (meaning that the wines are aged in stainless-steel casks) is indeed an exciting one. As these wines have entered the mainstream, I have been snatching them up as if they were Members Only jackets in 1985. Delicious, refreshing and crisp … and just in time for summer.
Like the aforementioned Merlot and Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay once held a pretty high place on my list of "stuff I'm not gonna order with my dinner." Those big, burly, buttery, creamy, oaky monsters just do nothing for me, not to mention what they do to a meal (i.e. completely take over the palate, leaving absolutely no chance for any other flavors to come through). For years, Napa Valley was producing throngs of these wines. I feel confident that there were few who were as ecstatic as I to see the words "unoaked" and "unwooded" starting to appear on Chardonnay labels. This legendary Burgundian varietal has much to offer in the way of fruit character (e.g. apple, pear, peach, etc.), and now at last we can actually taste it.
The folks "down under" seem to be the ones who are really leading the way in this trend. One of my favorites, which I have written about before, is the wonderfully crisp Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay from Australia (about $10). This one shows off the fresh apple and pear flavors so often found in Chardonnay, along with some zesty citrus notes. It's so fresh and tasty you'll make it a summertime staple.
Also from Australia is the Bush Bike Unoaked Chardonnay (about $17). The addition of just a touch of Chenin Blanc gives this wine lovely tropical fruit character, along with nutty and citrusy notes. This one is quite unusual … in a good way. I rate this wine 100 percent yummy.
Again from Australia, we have the Currency Creek Unwooded Chardonnay (about $14). This wine is called "The Viaduct" in honor of an 1868 viaduct on their property, which was part of the first Australian railroad. This wine displays delicate peach and melon flavors, with great acidity. I would pair this elegant wine with grilled sea bass in a rich butter sauce. In fact, I'd like to have that combination right now.
My next recommendation is from a winery that probably gets overlooked because it's relatively unknown around here. Louisvale, from South Africa, has come out with an unwooded Chardonnay (about $13) for the first time for the 2005 vintage. Previous vintages of Louisvale Chardonnay were the oaky, buttery, toasty, creamy style. This wine is fresh and clean, with zesty tropical fruit flavors—a great change from the norm.
Of course, Chile has been making this style of Chardonnay for some time, but without highlighting the lack of oak aging on their labels. Using stainless-steel casks instead of oak is considerably less expensive and has been common in this South American country. Aresti Chardonnay (about $8) is a great one to try. Slightly green and herbal, but with fresh citrus and apple flavors, this wine will be great with mild meats and seafood flavored with fresh herbs. It's a bargain and a tasty treat.
Though I'm sure that the big Napa Valley burly Chardonnay-style wines will continue to fly off the shelves, there's always room for a little something different. Here's to tasting fruit in your Chardonnay.