Oaked vs Unoaked Chardonnay
Possibly the most famous white grape around, Chardonnay is extremely versatile, the final wine can be anything from light, refreshing and fruit-driven to full bodied, rich and buttery. But what dictates this massive variation in styles? The answer is found in the winery. While climate and terroir impact the grapes at source, the diversity of Chardonnay is heavily influenced by the decisions of the winemaker.
To oak or not to oak? that is the question...
Popularised by Chablis style wine, unoaked Chardonnay is the pure expression of the grape. Green apple, lemon and, in warmer climates, tropical fruit. The wines are fresh, with balanced acidity and the flavours are long lasting. But once the grapes have gone through the relevant production stages in the winery some makers choose to age their wine in oak barrels, the newer the oak the more flavour it imparts on the wine.
Time in a new oak barrel produces oaked chardonnay... The result - the same grape but two very different styles of wine. Some wine-lovers will lap-up rich oaky chardonnay. They believe that the extra complexity derived from time in oak creates a more interesting and exciting wine. Other drinkers feel that the oak detracts from the main flavour of the grape – overuse of oak can lead to an cloying and overbearing wine where vanilla, butter, and savoury notes completely overpower any of the fruit character. But it doesn’t have to be a competition both styles have their merits and there are fantastic producers making incredible wines in both styles. I have pitted the two styles against each other picking two oaked and two unoaked expressions of Chardonnay from the Roberson range.
How to pair food with oaked and unoaked chardonnay
Given the two styles of Chardonnay are very different it should be no surprise that food pairings require careful consideration. Lighter leaner unoaked Chardonnay pairs fantastically with lighter dishes, fresh fish and seafood. Whereas oaked chardonnay calls for creamy dishes, chicken or baked fish, risotto or a mixed cheese board. For an excellent guide to Chardonnay food pairings check out VinYang's 'Chardonnay Food Pairing' blog.
Are you Team Oaked Chardonnay or Team Unoaked Chardonnay?
Karia is the Greek word for graceful and this Chardonnay from Stag's Leap is exactly that. Full bodied and bursting with ripe lemon and apple. Barrell fermented with 30% in new French oak resulting in secondary flavours of buttery croissant. The oak is well integrated and not overbearing - an excellent introduction to oaked Chardonnay.
10 months in 80% new French oak the estate Chardonnay from Smith-Madrone is not a butter bomb but it is pretty close. This is an excellently made bottle of Chardonnay but definitely one for the Vanilla ice-cream fans! On the palate the wine is rich, with a creamy nuttiness - very decadent. The finish remains fresh with enough acidity to balance the oak. This is the big hitter of Team Oaked.
Let the grape sing... Kutch intervenes minimally in both vineyard and winery, trusting the quality of the grape to shine and boy does it shine. 40 year old vines produce fruit of exceptional quality. The wine is pale yellow, floral notes combine with a lemon peel. The wine has a fresh acidity and while no new oak is used some ageing occurs which adds a depth and weight to the wine without oak flavour. Put the new French barrels down and let the grape sing!
A comparison within a comparison! I have also chosen Arnot Roberts Trout Gulch. Chablis-esque, citrus notes, as expected from cool climate Chardonnay, dominate more so than the florality of Kutch. There is a saline minerality to the wine typical of Chablis. Some time is spent in neutral oak barrels which gives some weight to the wine without imparting any oak flavour
This is just a taste of what there is on offer. Check out our complete Chardonnay range - Full on and heavily oaked, the minerality of Chablis and the fruit driven purity of no oak contact - Enjoy!