This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, May. 12, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080512.php.
Oak and Chardonnay
A few months ago, we took a close look at a perennial wine question: Does Chardonnay need oak?
Today let's return to this issue, prompted by recent tastings of an Oregon Chardonnay that expresses the "un-wooded" style with unusual purity; and a higher-end California Chardonnay that's undeniably opulent in the oak-and-butter style but carries it off with grace thanks to its complexity and balance.
The un-oaked example, A to Z 2006 Oregon Chardonnay, takes an unusually pleasant approach to Chardonnay for my tastes. In many New World regions, Chardonnay au naturel can be a bit fat and soft, a combination that can benefit from a kiss of oak to give it structure. A to Z's Oregon model, however, is in no way pudgy. Clean and fresh, true fresh-apple flavors, subtle minerality and crisp acidity comes together in a package that needs no oak.
Today's oaked example, Dutton Goldfield 2004 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, one of this month's offerings from California Wine Club's excellent, high-end Connoisseurs' Series, presents plenty of butter and a dollop of smoky oak in a distinct New World style. But it's made well, with subtle balance and intriguing complexity that brings these flavors together in a stylish combination.
Oak or no oak? With wines as well-made and delicious as these two, there's no reason for debate: I'm happy either way.
Dutton Goldfield 2004 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($45 retail; $40 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)
Clear light gold. Butter, smoke and tropical fruit reveal a New World style, but it's handled very well indeed, rich on the palate but fully dry and properly acidic, complex and textured. With relatively restrained 13.7% alcohol and excellent balance, this is an exceptional California Chardonnay, opulent but balanced, even elegant. A fine match with a thick, pan-roasted pork chop. Only 564 cases were made. Winery Website: http://www.duttongoldfield.com/ (May 3, 2008)
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The Dutton Goldfield 2004 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay is part of this month's shipment in California Wine Club's Connoisseurs' Series and is available for additional orders by Connoisseurs' Series members. Call 1-800-777-4443 to join or learn more.
A to Z 2006 Oregon Chardonnay ($16.99)
"No Wood," the label proclaims, and this transparent straw color wine does present a clean expression of Chardonnay, fresh and subtle apple aromas as pure as the scent of slicing into a fresh Granny Smith. Crisp apple flavors plus a hint of lime and a touch of stony minerality; dry and tart, nicely shaped by mouth-watering acidity. I'm not always a fan of unwooded Chardonnays, which sometimes come across too neutral, but that's no problem with this delicious wine with its good balance of clean fruit and subtle minerality. (May 9, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: A natural match for freshwater fish. It was fine with walleye fillets baked with a topping of cornmeal, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fragrant West African "grains of paradise" pepper.
VALUE: The middle teens represent a fair range for this very good unwooded Chardonnay.
WHEN TO DRINK: No great rush, but I don't see it as a candidate for cellaring.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
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Fine, affordable Malbec (May 7, 2008)
Bits and pieces (May 5, 2008)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
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Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: