Chardonnay, no oak please
After all those sinewy Sauvignons and monster Malbecs at the wine festival last week, let’s turn to good old Chardonnay: just the grape, please, no wood.
There are two distinct camps when it comes to what is still the world’s most popular white-wine grape—the oak faction and the unwooded folks. Not much by way of middle ground there, either, the operating principle being you can’t have one foot in each. It’s all or nothing, or so they say.
Lots of heated discussions, arguments, shouting matches, even, have centred on which is tastier. In the end, it comes down to personal preference: some like the creamy, richer taste of Chardonnay that’s had some oak aging, with its attendant vanilla aspects; some like it plain and simple, stainless steel all the way, with just the unadorned taste of the grapes. Of course, it could be said that oak treatment is capable of covering a multitude of possible problems in the process, but that’s another story entirely.
Let me help you out here: I, for one, can’t make up my mind. And won’t. Depends on the day, the weather, the mood, the company, the food on the table; I like the stuff both ways.
Four domestics and two Aussies are on the table, ascending by price.
Naked Grape Unoaked Chardonnay n/v ($8.25)
This is one of those “bottled but not necessarily vinified in B.C.” wines that caused a big kerfuffle last year. The result was that these wines are now listed in a separate category and shelved separately from made-in-B.C. wines in the government stores. Which is how it should be, and about time too. I do wonder why this one isn’t available in the three-litre bag-in-a-box, like the same label’s Pinot Grigio (which, at $27.99, is a terrific party buy). You’ll want this in the fridge when it comes ’round to patio and picnic time. There’s lots of fresh, bright fruit; full body; and a nice, clean, and simple finish. Nothing very complicated, but the right stuff for hearty and simple food.
Ganton & Larsen Prospect Winery Townsend Jack Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 ($9.99)
This is just a step or two up from the previous. If you want to be led by the palate, the label invites you to look for “citrus, pear and apple fruit, with a touch of minerality”, so go ahead and seek those out. This, too, is fresh and bright; one of the panellists likes it a lot for pre- and after-dinner sipping. It’s one of those clean, crisp wines that can keep you company all afternoon and evening. In case you were wondering, Townsend Jack is another name for the white-tailed jackrabbit, which, as the label also points out, is unfortunately now gone from the area.
Peter Lehmann Weighbridge Unwooded Chardonnay 2008 ($12.99)
A long-time favourite with B.C. wine drinkers, this Australian best buy introduces itself as showing “vibrant but smooth flavours of peach and citrus in a well-rounded, easy-drinking style”. It’s soft and full, with big fruit and a neutral but long-lived finish. A solid favourite with all the tasters.
Wolf Blass Red Label Unwooded Chardonnay 2009 ($13.99)
The other Australian in this tasting calls forth “zesty mango, peach, passion fruit and melon, balanced with a refreshing, crisp finish”. So if you sip all of the wines so far, you have a mega fruit basket to tickle the tongue. Those who like their Chardonnay tart and crisp and a little on the edge will find much to like here. Good everyday buy.
Gray Monk Chardonnay Unwooded VQA 2008 ($16.99)
In the explosion of new labels and wineries out of the Okanagan, Gray Monk sometimes gets overlooked, which is a shame. This wine proves the Heiss family operation (In The Wineries of British Columbia [Whitecap, 2009], John Schreiner calls it “the only winery in British Columbia and likely in Canada that boasts a fourth generation of the founding family involved in the business”) continues to produce outstanding wine. Yes, it costs more than anything we’ve tasted here so far, but it is well worth it. In fact, at $17 this is an outstanding wine and represents outstanding value. Softer and way classier than most of the Okanagan unwooded Chardonnays out there, it’s rich and mellow and presents deep, ripe fruit at its purest expression.
JoieFarm Un-oaked Chardonnay VQA 2009 ($22.90)
The costliest wine was tasted last, and—who’s surprised, then?—was the hands-down favourite with all the tasters. JoieFarm Un-oaked Chardonnay is simply superb—rich but minerally, very French (think Mâcon, Chablis), and very good. It’s Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble’s second-biggest-volume varietal at 1,210 cases of production; only the Riesling tops it, and just by three cases. If supplies are still holding (and you’ll be wanting to contact the winery to find out) and if you have the budget and storage space for it, acquire a case or two and pour yourself a succession of sipping and dinnertime treats all spring and summer long. Just for fun, tuck a bottle or two away somewhere to see how it hits your taste buds in six months or a year. It’s not the sort of wine you want to lay down for future generations, but it’s always an interesting experiment for when wine-loving friends drop in.
Given what you’ve read, the three-star selection won’t come as any great surprise.
2. Gray Monk
3. (tie) Peter Lehmann and Naked Grape (just for price advantage)