By Celia Strong
It’s interesting to look at some of the cycles we’ve been through with wines and wine styles over the years. Several times we have learned about and tasted what are called “unoaked” wines, particularly chardonnays, and, more particularly, New World chardonnays.
Over the last 20 years or so, the California “oaked” style of chardonnay has been very popular. And profitable.
But it has also been heavier: heavier flavors, heavier textures, heavier in our mouths.
In case you haven’t noticed, sometimes with our weather it is easier to enjoy a lighter-style wine. Some of us turn to other varieties, like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, albariño, and some of us just change our style of chardonnay to “unoaked.”
The Chablis subregion in northern Burgundy, France, is most likely where chardonnay wines without any barrel fermenting.
About two decades ago, Australia made some unoaked chardonnay wines. Their style was usually with oak, following the commercial success of California-oaked chardonnays. Once Australia tried unoaked, California pretty quickly had to try them as well. Clearly, “unoaked” is not a quality of wine, just a style, like filtered or unfiltered, like with malolactic fermentation or not.
Our personal likes and dislikes just need enough information for us to be able to choose which style we like and when we might like it.
In the world of chardonnay, since that is predominantly where “unoaked” is used, the wines become lighter and crisper. With unoaked chards, we usually lose the creamy, buttery, vanilla components that come from time in wood barrels.
Since many chardonnay lovers like those particular aspects of these wines, winemakers tried making unoaked chardonnay with malolactic fermentation done. Malolactic may not be able to add in vanilla and buttery, but its whole purpose is to soften the acidity in a wine. This does give it a creamy texture.
So, less crisp, tart and acidic unoaked chards are available.
Aging in stainless steel or cement tanks is still an option for unoaked winemakers. By letting their wines sit on their lees in tanks, additional flavors and textures can be augmented. Unoaked chardonnays may not have the flavors and textures of wood, but there is no reason to expect unoaked to be plain or dull or boring. Just different.
Unoaked Chardonnay wines have green and yellow apple flavors, citrus notes, especially lemon and Meyer lemon, honeydew melon and lots of tropical fruit flavors like pineapple, mango, passion fruit and star fruit.
Our winery this week is Four Vines. Located in Paso Robles, Four Vines was one of the original, successful unoaked chardonnays from California. This winery was established by a younger generation, with three goals: Get spectacular fruit, make incredible wine, enjoy much-deserved rock-star status.
Here’s your chance to go naked for just $8.99! Enjoy!