30 Second Wine Advisor: Wine Focus - Chardonnay oak spectrum

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 Wine Focus - Chardonnay oak spectrum
We turn to one of the world's most popular white wines - Chardonnay - for our Wine Focus this month, with particular attention to the role of oak in its style.
 Save up to 70% during The California Wine Club's Bountiful Harvest Wine Sales! The last wine sale of the year is here with The California Wine Club!
 Chehalem 2007 "Inox" Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($19.99) Good fresh apple scents, like sticking your nose into a bushel basket of ripe autumn apples. Very tasty un-oaked Chardonnay.
 This week on WineLoversPage.com
WineLovers Discussion Group members join a passionate debate over which wine-grape varieties qualify as "great," versus the also-rans.
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Wine Focus - Chardonnay oak spectrum

Because of the Labor Day holiday in the U.S. yesterday, with so many subscribers receiving The 30 Second Wine Advisor at work, I decided to hold publication until Tuesday morning.

Now, though, we've moved from August into September. There's not much sign of autumn in the air around here just yet, but a new month means a new topic in our Wine Focus feature online. Following up on last month's active discussion of Zinfandel and its many styles, we're switching to one of the world's most popular white wines - Chardonnay - for our focus this month.

While many would argue that Chardonnay reaches its peak in France's Burgundy region, the grape has been planted and made commercially in virtually every world wine region. We welcome your notes, comments and questions this month about Chardonnay from any place where it's grown.

Specifically, though, we plan to pay particular attention to the presence or absence of oak flavors in this variety, and the impact that oak and malolactic fermentation may have on the wine's quality, for better or worse.

At their simplistic base, arguments about oak in Chardonnay tend to break down on a black-white basis, between those who can't get too much sweet, oaky vanilla and full-malolactic butter and cream in their wine; and those who deeply believe that oak is evil and that this grape shows best with no oak at all.

I hope through tasting this month we may discover that there's a broader and more interesting spectrum, including many excellent wines in which oak, as the old saying goes, is properly used "as a spice, not as a sauce."

That's my opinion. We're looking for yours, as we spend September in the Wine Focus forum seeking out a wide range of Chardonnays and, perhaps, draw some conclusions about how much oak (if any) is permissible, and whether any consensus among wine enthusiasts is possible.

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Today's tasting report, featured below, kicks off the month with a look at a tasty Oregon Chardonnay made by the Chehalem winery and named "Inox" after the trademarked name for a particular kind of stainless-steel tank, the only vessel used in this impressive, oak-free wine.

Chehalem 2007 "Inox" Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($19.99)


Transparent straw color with a hint of brass. Good fresh apple scents, as appealing and true as sticking your nose into a bushel basket of ripe autumn apples. Good fresh-apple fruit on the palate, rather full-bodied, with crisp, tingly acidity that provides distinct food-friendliness. Very tasty Chardonnay, among of the better of the no-oak genre that I've encountered. (Aug. 28, 2008)

FOOD MATCH: The maker declares it will go well with "a spectrum of cuisines," and I can't argue with that. It made a splendid match with a Spanish tortilla with potatoes and onions and plenty of good, green olive oil.

VALUE: Pushing $20 moves this into the mid-range of Chardonnays, but frankly, I find that its acidic structure and balance makes it one of the more persuasive un-oaked Chardonnays for me.

WHEN TO DRINK: Although top White Burgundies and some quality New World Chardonnays will reward cellar time, freshness and fruit position this one as a drink-soon choice.

Here on the Chehalem Website you'll find a detailed fact sheet on the 2007 Inox Chardonnay:

Chehalem offers online wine buying where the law permits. Here's a link to an order page:
and here's a list of distributors by state, plus a short list of contacts in parts of Canada, Asia and Down Under:

To find vendors and compare prices for Chehalem "Inox" Willamette Valley Chardonnay, check Wine-Searcher.com:

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This week on WineLoversPage.com

WineLovers Discussion Group: Great varieties ... and the rest
There's no better way to start a passionate debate with a wine "geek" than to diss one of his favorite wine varieties. WineLovers Discussion Group members "go varietal" as they debate which wine grapes unquestionably qualify as "great." Click here to join the fun:

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. Please note that for a summer break, we've put the FoodLetter on a short-term vacation and are skipping some (but not all) Friday editions.

 What's a negociant and why should we care? (Aug. 27, 2008)

 Which wines are worth aging? (Aug. 25, 2008)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: