When I find a Chardonnay that brings some talent to the table, I am all ears. We are not talking about Mozart here, but this a great Bohemian Rhapsody. I enjoy the way these flavours play together, each one complimenting with a sense of youthfulness. Orofino Winery only 160 cases made and worth the search. This wine won’t last long for the true Chardonnay lovers.
The growing trend with white wine making is to let the purity of the grape to shine through, in other words “keeping it simple”. The grapes are picked and then based on the flavours, acids, and sugars, it is fermented and kept in stainless steel tanks. With talent and passion, a winemaker can recognize specific qualities in the juice that will be complimented with the addition of oak. A talented winemaker will use oak like seasoning rather than an ingredient. Oak lends flavours like: vanilla, coconut, cedar, pencil shavings, cigar box, incense, cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, nuts, toast, bacon, smoke, roasted, coffee, chocolate, etc. Used with restraint, these flavours will compliment and layer with flavours of the Chardonnay grape like: apple, mineral, flint, lime, melon, stone fruits, tropical fruits, etc. We are also seeing less malolactic fermentation keeping the wines crisp and fresh.
If we use music as an analogy, the growing trend is to keep the sound simple, one instrument, hear all that it can offer. It still takes talent to piece together a song the same way a winemaker crafts a wine. When you hear a song that is unbalanced or simply has too much of a certain sound, you can relate that to a wine when it has too much of a certain flavour dominating the other intricacies. Few white grapes work so symbiotically with oak, but when the proportion of flavours are balanced and working in sync with each other, Chardonnay yields a wine that rivals no other.
Back in the late 80’s after seeing the popularity of quality oaked Chardonnays, many new world wineries who were producing chardonnay for the masses were influenced by their marketing department who sold them on “more is better” . We saw this tidal wave of wood and while Mr. Consumer rode that wave for a while, they quickly got tired of the splinters and a new wave began forming; those against the use of oak. Unfortunately they pegged the grape as a co-conspirator and for years Chardonnay has fought desperately to crawl out from under that veil.
In recent years, un-oaked Chardonnay has been winning the hearts of non-chardonnay lovers, and if that’s what it takes to win you back, then baby steps it is. But when your ready to put on the big boy pants back and see what this grape can do, then stay tuned as I search out great examples of oaked BC Chardonnay and share them with you.