Chardonnay, please. Oh, and hold the oak.
When most of us think of Chardonnay, we think of an oak-aged wine, whether a delicately balanced Burgundy or a full-bodied California wine. But Chardonnays that have never touched oak aren’t a new thing – think of the steely, slate character of Chablis, for example. In recent years, though, unoaked Chardonnays have had an upswing in popularity, and wineries all over the world have withheld their wines from the barrel.
Our tasting panel sampled a variety of unoaked Chardonnays and were surprised by the variation in flavor. True, we expected plenty of fruit and bright, clean acidity. But we also detected qualities that in another wine we might attribute to oak: hints of rich, buttery caramel, for example, and even butterscotch. It was another reminder of the myriad possibilities in each bottle of our favorite beverage.
Here are our tasting panel’s recommendations:
Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay, 2012 (Central Coast); $14.99
Lovely floral and honeyed aroma with lush mango notes; beautiful flavor and balance, loaded with vivacious fruit; luscious full finish.
Chehalem “Inox” Chardonnay, 2011 (Willamette Valley); $19.99
Opulent butterscotch and honey aroma; concentrated, lush notes of cling peaches and honey with undercurrents of caramel and nut brittle.
Clos du Bois Unoaked Chardonnay, 2011 (North Coast, California); $11.99
Enticing aromas of lemon, lime and hayfield; very flavorful, with notes of fresh figs and a spicy, lingering finish.
Coto de Hayas Chardonnay, 2013 (Campo de Borja); $8.99
Appealing honeydew and pear aroma; crisp, clean and refreshing with melon notes and a zippy finish.
Jean-Marc Brocard Kimmeridgian Bourgogne Blanc, 2011; $16.99
Pleasantly earthy aromas of freshly mown hay, herbs and sage; beautiful tart fresh apricot and peach flavor with a hint of spice and a lingering finish.
Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, 2013 (East Coast, New Zealand); $16.99
Seductive aroma of honey, fresh figs and lime; vivacious, with zingy pineapple, mango and guava flavors; a touch of buttery caramel toffee on the finish.
Estancia Unoaked Chardonnay, 2011 (Monterey County); $9.99
Subtle aroma of peach and Mandarin orange; very fruity with hints of white cherry and a lush, mouth-puckering finish.
Four Vines Naked Unoaked Chardonnay, 2012 (Santa Barbara County); $9.99
Airy honey and floral aroma; pleasant and light with fresh peach and apricot notes and a touch of tangerine on the finish.
Independent Producers Chardonnay, Dionysus Vineyard, 2011 (Columbia Valley); $15.99
Distinctive Granny Smith apple aroma; bright and tart, with zippy acidity and notes of honeyed apple, pear and tropical mango.
Laurello Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay Reserve, 2012 (Grand River Valley); $24.99
A touch of warm spice and richness on the nose; full flavored and concentrated, with notes of mango and toasted coconut.
Mer Soleil Unoaked Chardonnay, 2012 (Santa Lucia Highlands); $19.99
Delicate Yellow Delicious apple aroma; hints of Fig Newton on the palate – fruity and bready – with full flavor, good depth and a lingering finish.
The Path Chardonnay, 2011(California) $11.99
Slight apple orchard aroma; smooth and almost creamy on the palate, with melon and Honeycrisp apple notes and a touch of richness on the finish.
Shoofly Chardonnay, 2011 (Adelaide Hills); $12.99
Alluring aroma of minerals, slate, honey and pineapple; creamy with rich overtones and lovely ripe white peach and tangerine flavors.
Simply Naked Unoaked Chardonnay, 2012 (California); $8.99
Bright, clean aroma of Red Delicious apple; tart and fruity with hints of kiwi and a refreshing finish.
Yalumba Unwooded Chardonnay, 2012 (South Australia); $11.99
Aromas of lemon, lime and wet slate; lively and vivacious with vibrant citrus flavor; almost Chablis-like with fruity tartness and mineral overtones.
Prices may vary.
Mionetto “Il” Prosecco DOC, NV; $10
Lemon and mineral aroma with a touch of peach; lush and fruity with delicate floral notes and crisp apple flavors.
Re Midas Soave DOC, 2012; $10
Light, pleasant aroma of tangerine and lime; crisply acidic and full of bright tropical flavors of mango and pineapple.
Steak House Chardonnay, 2012 (Columbia Valley); $10
Fresh pineapple and honey aroma with a hint of florals; clean, bright and easy to drink with hints of Yellow Delicious apple.
Washington Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (Washington State); $9
Brambly, wild berry aroma with a hint of eucalyptus; juicy and bright, with fresh berry flavors and a cherry skin finish.
Prices may vary.
Sparkling – Italy
Mionetto Brut Prosecco DOC Treviso, NV; $14
Bright lemony mineral aroma with a floral note; very pleasant and lively with lemon chiffon creaminess and a lingering finish.
White – California
Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc, 2012 (Sonoma County); $13
Delicate aroma of honey and orange blossom; vivid lemon zest flavor with vibrant acidity and a lingering, full finish.
Chateau St. Jean La Petite Etoile Vineyard Fumé Blanc, 2012 (Russian River Valley); $22
Subtly grassy aroma with a touch of spice and white peach; bursting with vibrant, complex flavors of tangerine and ripe apricot.
District 7 Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 (Monterey); $12.99
Bright, grassy aroma with undercurrents of hay and white grapefruit; mouthwatering acidity and vibrant, saucy flavor of lemon and Mandarin orange.
Souverain Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 (North Coast); $13
Grassy haystack aroma with grapefruit overtones; pleasantly herbal and bright with zesty acidity and a touch of stone fruit.
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay, 2012 (Sonoma Coast); $20
Deep aroma of apple and spice; concentrated, bright fruit and beguiling caramel with beautifully integrated oak, great depth and restrained richness.
Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Vineyard Chardonnay, 2012 (Alexander Valley); $25
Full, fruity aroma of white peach and butterscotch; delicious, with mouthwatering acidity, lush ripe fruit and a hint of spice on the finish. Beautiful balance.
Chateau St. Jean Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay, 2012 (Sonoma County); $30
Alluring, refined aroma of lemon and spice with mineral overtones; sumptuous and full bodied with concentrated, ripe stone fruit and honey/lemon notes.
District 7 Chardonnay, 2011 (Monterey); $14.99
Ripe apple aroma; bright and zippy with hints of butterscotch and tropical pineapple and mango.
Souverain Chardonnay, 2011 (North Coast); $13
Subtle butter and toast notes with a touch of spiced pear; vivacious and vibrant with rich tropical fruit flavor and balancing acidity.
White – Idaho
Sawtooth Estate Riesling, 2012 (Snake River Valley, Idaho); $13
Appealing aroma rich with apricot, honey, minerals and petrol; dry, delicious, full flavored and loaded with fruit and zingy acid.
White – Italy
Franco Serra Gavi DOCG, 2013; $10.99
Fresh honeydew and honeysuckle aroma; clean and lively with vivacious lemony flavor and notes of Granny Smith apple.
White – Washington State
Browne Family Vineyards Chardonnay, 2012 (Columbia Valley); $30
Rich, buttery toast aroma with hints of cider and spice; judicious oak lends depth and richness with hints of crème brûlée and peaches flambé.
Wild Meadows Chardonnay, 2012 (Columbia Valley); $11
Lush fruit aroma with hints of ripe mango and peach; creamy and very flavorful with fruit bowl freshness and a crisp orange zest finish.
Red – Australia
Penfolds Bin 9 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (South Australia); $24
Big, juicy black fruit aroma with a touch of dark chocolate and violets; beautiful balance and acidity with clean, ripe fruit and solid tannins.
Red – California
Souverain Merlot, 2011 (North Coast); $15
Appealing aromas of violets, dark chocolate, black raspberry and black tea; smooth and velvety, with hints of Black Forest cake; good balance and good acidity.
Waterbrook Merlot, 2011 (Columbia Valley); $13
Bing cherry aroma with undercurrents of rose petal and earth; peppery and tart, with cherry/cranberry notes and a tannic bite.
Mettler Family Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 (Lodi); $24.99
Dark purple with aromas of smoky cherries, cinnamon, vanilla, anise and a touch of bacon; classic Lodi Cab – big and in-your-face – with giant tannins, loads of thick fruit, chocolate, currants, baking spices and blueberries.
Mettler Family Vineyards “Epicenter” Old Vine Zinfandel, 2011 (Lodi); $19.99
Inky, almost black and opaque, with aromas of eucalyptus, prunes, raisins and clove; brawny and powerful, with big fruit, big flavor and big alcohol.
Buena Vista “The Count” Founder’s Red Wine, 2012 (Sonoma); $20
Aromas of cedar, brambleberries and anise; rich and powerful on the palate, full of concentrated ripe black fruit.
Gifft Red Blend, 2011 (Monterey); $14.99
Earthy aroma of black licorice, cassis and a touch of smoke; rich, powerful fruit – bordering on jammy – with bold blueberry flavor and earthy notes.
Red – Spain
Zerran Red Wine, 2010 (Montsant); $17.99
Spicy aroma with earthy, woodsy notes and a hint of black licorice; powerful fruit with flavors of cherry, berry, vanilla and cloves and a lingering finish.
Red – Washington State
Canoe Ridge “The Expedition” Merlot, 2012 (Horse Heaven Hills); $15
Deep aroma with rich notes of blueberry and cedar; lovely fruit, rich but clean, with solid tannins and a touch of baking spice.
Wild Meadows Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 (Columbia Valley); $11
Aromas of cassis, new leather, smoked cherries and baking spices; bright and nicely balanced with clean berry/cherry flavors.
Prices may vary.
A Trio from North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley
These wines aren’t currently available in Ohio, but give them a try if you’re traveling south this summer. Yadkin Valley is an up-and-coming region that’s producing some very nice wines.
Shelton Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, 2012 (Yadkin Valley); $17.99
Delicate buttered toast aroma with a mineral undercurrent; Yellow Delicious apple flavor balanced with subtle oakiness.
Shelton Vineyards Riesling, 2012 (Yadkin Valley); $13.99
Sweet apple aroma with mineral undercurrents and a touch of peach and honey; sweet and fruity with pleasant acidity and rich honeyed pear notes.
Shelton Vineyards Two-Five-Nine Tannat, 2011 (Yadkin Valley); $20
Luscious dark chocolate aroma with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, dark berries and cherries; pleasantly woodsy, brambly notes underlining Bing cherry and dark berry flavors.
Prices may vary.