Chardonnay is not usually the first white wine I reach for. Even when I’m eating fish or chicken in a rich and creamy sauce, I often prefer a wine that offers a cleansing contrast to the dish.
That’s why I’m intrigued by some of the unoaked Chardonnays released in recent vintages by California winemakers. These are wines aged in stainless steel, not the standard French oak barrels. Some of the initial unoaked Chardonnays were rather dull, frankly, but when the winemakers knows what they’re doing, the wines are fresh and exciting.
Case in point is Williams Selyem’s 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. It’s bright and crisp, with complex white peach and apple fruit and lush, lingering flavors. I rated it 90 points, non-blind, and it sells for $37.
Winemaker Bob Cabral blended the wine from some classic older Chardonnay vineyards like Allen and Olivet Lane and allowed the fruit to shine. Some unoaked Chardonnays go through at least partial malolactic fermentation—a second fermentation that adds softness, texture and complexity—but Cabral skipped it to retain the vibrant core of fruit.
WineSpectator.com members: Read other reviews of unoaked California Chardonnay.