For this post, I chose to tackle two chardonnays with the idea of being able to pick out the nuances that oak imparts. I wanted to work with wines I thought would be readily available in most parts of the country and that didn’t cost a lot of money. I got both at my local grocery store.
We’ll start with an unoaked 2009 Coppola Vineyards Chardonnay. I paid $8.99 for it on sale (normally it’s about $10.99.) It has a bright yellow color and actually has lots of teeny bubbles that cling to the inside of the glass. It has a fruity nose. Sort of a tropically pineapple smell. The first sip is lemony tart with a sort of stone fruit flavor following it. I get peaches. It is well balanced and unoffensive. Nothing really to write home about. It’d be nice on a summer evening, but you can probably find something comparably refreshing with a little more going on. The only memorable thing about it really is its tart, subtly fruity flavor. Meh.
The oaked chardonnay is a 2011 Toasted Head. I paid $9.99 for it, but it is normally $14.99. Its color is a little more goldeny yellow than the Coppola, but it is much clearer and brighter. It has a very, very fruity, sweet aroma. Surprisingly complex- it borders on floral and almost reminds me of a Riesling. It has caramel and vanilla notes as well. It smells pretty oaky. Almost like brown liquor (something I am fond of.)
Its flavor is not sweet (the nose is deceptive) and it has everything that the Coppola had in terms of fruitiness and acid balance, but with much more spicy complexity imparted by the oak. It has a toasty, caramel, almost burnt sugar taste that lingers after swallowing.
I personally don’t always love oaked chardonnay, because it can be too buttery (a stylistic flavor imparted by bacteria, actually...) It isn’t my favorite white wine, as a rule. I had a Sonoma chard last year that was bordering on grassy and tasted like asparagus. Not my thing. However, this one has changed my mind a bit! Anyone who isn’t a big fan of oak won’t like this Toasted Head, as it is pretty strongly oaked (it makes me wonder if they used new oak, or lots of oak dust or chips in processing.) However, if you like brown liquor or enjoy a little spice, you’ll likely enjoy this wine. I think it’d be great with food or alone. If you find it on sale like I did, it’d be worth getting a few bottles to sock away (I’ll be looking out for it.)
These flavors are hard to accurately describe without you tasting them yourselves, so go forth! Taste along and feel free to put your thoughts in the comments!
Did you know?
Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world. It is pretty easygoing in terms of viticulture and will grow in many different climates. It is also easily adaptable to a variety of winemaking styles. Consequently, it is hard to pin down just what a chardonnay “should” taste like. You’ll just have to get adventurous and try a bunch!