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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Some dishes call for oaked Chardonnay and some call for unoaked Chardonnay. I find it really hard to find out which Chardonnays are oaked and which ones aren't. Is there any way of finding out?
—Debby, Issaquah, Wash.
Well, there's no universal labeling for oaked and unoaked Chardonnays, but you can look for clues. Some wines will clearly say "un-oaked," "unwooded" or "oak free." Other clues are more subtle, such as "pure" or "virgin," as well as mentions of "stainless" or "inox" (a shortening of the French word for "stainless steel", in which the wine can be aged without oak). Sometimes there are also visual clues of silver on the label.
In general—but with many exceptions—Chardonnay from certain regions will usually be unoaked (such as Mâcon-Villages and Chablis), while others generally show the influence of new oak (such as California and Australia).
But the range of oak influence is broad. When reading tasting notes, look for descriptors such as "crisp," "refreshing" or "vibrant" to suggest unoaked Chardonnays, while oaked wines might be described with "toast" or "vanilla."
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