eWine of the Week

Unoaked Chardonnay
Vibrant, pure, intense
Hello Everyone,
This week we’ll look at a new style of wine that’s starting to, at least partially, redefine an old favorite.  As always, we’re blazing new wine trails.
Don’t miss the upcoming wine dinner at Bordino’s in Fayetteville. My friend and co-worker James Cripps will serve as host for a menu created specially to complement the great wines of Kenneth Volk Vineyards, including the newly arrived Jaybird Chardonnay. The date is for the dinner is Tuesday, October 14.

Go to bordinos.com to see the menu.
Try a new wine this week!

Jaybird Unoaked Chardonnay
If the title were, “Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc” or “Unoaked Riesling,” it would sound curious, but the term “unoaked chardonnay” is one that we are beginning to see on wine labels and hear mentioned in the wine press now and again. And, it’s not a totally new idea.
Winemakers have bottled chardonnay without aging it first in oak barrels for as long as they’ve made wine from this grape. What has changed to make it now something of a badge of honor? And, for that matter, why did they ever age it in oak barrels in the first place?
Let me give you “Bruce’s Condensed History of Oak Aged Chardonnay.” First, everything was once stored and shipped in barrels. Even eggs were (one of my old farming books mentions this, plus a farm magazine from 1950). That’s what we had. That’s where names like “Cracker Barrel” and “Pickle Barrel” came from.
Greece’s most infamous wine, Retsina, is named for the resinous taste the wine picked up from storage in pine barrels. I think it’s an acquired taste.
In the 1970’s, before wine scores, a wine gained fame by winning gold medals, and the chardonnays that stood out at competitions were the biggest and the oakiest.
About 1981 two of the terms on everyone’s tongue were: “nouvelle cuisine” (French), and “food wines.” To me, the plates had a lot of empty space on them, and the wines were thin.
Around 1990, vineyard maladies in California caused grapes to be more expensive than barrels. The term of that time was “toasty.” That meant “Not much fruit so how about some oak instead?”
Recently the term I’ve heard a lot is “I don’t like chardonnay.” As the United States’ collective palate has matured, it has become dissatisfied with all of the over-cropped, tropical fruity, seemingly, and sometimes actually, sweet versions of the wine.
Now, there’s a purity movement, with winemaking beginning in the vineyard. Vines are trained, pruned, thinned and harvested with quality in mind. Yeast strains, acid levels, even a soil’s mineral content are considered and discussed.
Chardonnay really is the greatest grape when given the chance. Can you name a great single vineyard sauvignon blanc? And with vibrant, pure, intense and concentrated fruit flavor, do you really want to cover it with oak?
Oak is more of a seasoning, to complement the flavor of the grape. But if you want to taste the flavor that made chardonnay famous, try a great unoaked version, like the newly-released 2006 Jaybird (as in “naked as a …..”), from Kenneth Volk. It’s from Santa Maria Valley’s perfect climate, and one of America’s finest winemakers. It retails from around $20.

Categories: Legacy Archive