Before the traditional die-hards track me down and lynch me, I would like to say that Chardonnay is not quite my favorite wine, oaked or unoaked, so this is not an indication of preferences either way. This is merely an exercise in exploring the possibilities.
In truth, I have tasted good unoaked Chardonnay that has nearly changed my mind.
It's a bit late in the season to talk about a summery white, but we have to soldier on in logical progress after our last column on the ubiquitous Chardonnay.
As we have already established, the sensitive Chardonnay responds to the slightest tampering at various vinification processes, responding particularly to the barrels.
Young oak, French oak and aged oak barrels all leave their mark on the Chardonnay, which soaks up the characteristics of the wood like liquid sponge.
Similarly, it can respond to stainless-steel vats, which the experts say allow the grape to push forward fruit flavors that are normally overcome by the tannins in the new oaks.
This may explain the friendly unoaked that almost changed my mind.
Of course, it is a purely personal preference, which is no fault of the wine. My palate is pure Asian, and it is one uncomfortable with heavy wines that sit on the tongue and palate. It especially dislikes weighty tannins that interfere with my appreciation of more delicate flavors.
Unoaked Chardonnay is only now gaining popularity with younger drinkers, as opposed to an original gang of faithful quaffers that first experienced the lush Chardonnays which started appearing in the '80s and '90s from Californian and Australian vineyards.'
In all fairness, the "new" unoaked trend actually allows the original flavor of the grape to come through - characteristics which the enthusiastic vintners of the 90s had dismissed and thrown aside as they played like happy children with the infinite possibilities of creating their own signature Chardonnays through processes that included barreling in a variety of barrel options and playing with the malo-lactic fermentation process that produced the Chard's buttery notes.
Thankfully, the tampering finally tapered off and vintners returned to nurturing the natural characteristics of the grape, and started the "unoaked revolution", which strangely enough, simply means allowing the grape to do its own work without too much human interference.
It really depends on what you are looking for. If you want a heavier white, go for traditional Chardonnay readily available on the shelves.
But if you are looking for a fruitier wine, hunt down the unoaked Chardonnay, the best of which are still from the younger vineyards in Australia and New Zealand.
Kim Crawford, the New Zealand leader, is especially good and its wines consistently win awards, which takes some doing considering the grape's natural frivolity.