During the summer, Californians tend to eat lighter meals, with fewer heavy foods. Salads, pasta, chicken, veal, and sweet seafood are more popular as the hot weather takes over the summer. And, of course Chardonnay, a medium-bodied wine, is a classic pairing for those foods. But, like in politics, there are passionate and opinionated supporters that insist their favorite is the best. Discussing Chardonnay is like talking politics, it tends to create controversial and overzealous conversations.
As the most popular white wine in the world, Chardonnay is always a good variety with which to start on a white wine journey. Most people will begin by discovering if they prefer an oaked or an unoaked style of Chardonnay, meaning whether it’s been aged in wooden oak barrels or in stainless steel tanks. The un-oaked wine, tends to be clean and crisp, preserving fruit freshness. The major trend at the moment is towards un-oaked Chardonnay. Wine drinkers love it for two reasons, the freshness of the fruit, and the price. But, this may be because California winemakers have a history of making excessively oaked Chardonnay.
However, on the other end of the scale, the oaked Chardonnay is inclined to taste buttery, of vanilla, and with a richer texture. That’s because the wine has undergone a malolactic fermentation, which emphasizes these flavors. In any case, the higher the alcohol content, the bolder the wine will taste. With American consumers demanding a higher alcohol content, California grown Chardonnay will tend to taste bolder than it’s Old World counterparts.
Of course with wines, as in life, balance is everything. But, whichever style of Chardonnay you prefer, know that style is independent of quality, meaning there are great chardonnays and not-so-great chardonnays at any price point along the spectrum. But, with new 60-gallon French oak barrels costing over $1,000 each, California winemakers can charge less for their unoaked Chardonnays. In the end, it’s all a matter of taste. Wine lovers will decide for themselves the style of Chardonnay they like: unoaked, heavily oaked, or something in between.