30 Second Wine Advisor: Oak and Chardonnay

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 Connoisseurs' Series
This exceptional program brings you the kind of rare, limited-production California jewels that are often available only on tightly allocated mailing lists. Call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 to join or learn more.

In This Issue

 Oak and Chardonnay
Today we take another look at a perennial wine question: Does Chardonnay need oak?
 Dutton Goldfield 2004 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($45) From Connoisseurs' Series: From Connoisseurs' Series: Butter, smoke and tropical fruit reveal a New World style, but it's handled very well indeed.
 A to Z 2006 Oregon Chardonnay ($16.99) Delicious Chardonnay presents an oak-free balance of clean fruit and subtle minerality.
 This week on WineLoversPage.com
Jorge Eduardo Castillo offers ways to make wine with dinner more exciting; Randy Buckner reviews 100 new releases; and our WineLovers Discussion Group debates the value of vacuum wine-preservation accessories.
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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)

Dutton Goldfield

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)

A to Z

"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.

For the winery fact sheet on this Chardonnay, click

Unfortunately, because of its single letters, "A to Z" does not appear to be searchable on Wine-Searcher.com. To locate distributors in many states of the U.S., see the winery Website,

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This week on WineLoversPage.com

Vino 101: Thinking Out of the Box
People want to have fun when they go out to dinner. Jorge Eduardo Castillo suggests some creative ways to provide his guests an unexpectedly fun experience.

Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wines
With warm spring and summer days around the corner, our attention turns to crisp white wines and friendly reds. Randy "Bucko" Buckner reports on wines from $6 to $105, sure to fit any occasion and pocketbook.

WineLovers Discussion Group: Vacu-Vin: Does it work?
A reader's question about the Vacu-Vin (and other wine-preservation systems that work by using a plastic pump to remove some air from a partially consumed bottle) generates a spirited discussion on our WineLovers Discussion Group. Read the conversation, and join in, at this link:

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:

 The World of Wine in 2058 (May 9, 2008)

 Fine, affordable Malbec (May 7, 2008)

 Bits and pieces (May 5, 2008)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pork chops Liègoise (May 1, 2008)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: