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THE VINE Chardonnay ... Oaked or Un-Oaked C hardonnay is easily the most recognized type of white wine in the world, and the grape that fi rst comes to mind for most people when they hear the term “white wine.” This diverse grape grows in a variety of climates; from cool and crisp to warm and humid. In cooler climates the wines commonly exhibit characteristics of lemon, with tree fruits such as apples, pears and some white peach. As the temperature rises the wines become more tropical, leaning towards pineapple and guava with notes of fi g and yellow peach, but we do still fi nd lemon or citrus characteristics as well. There are two main styles of Chardonnay: Oaked and Un-Oaked. Oaked Chardonnay is referred to as such because it spends some time — you guessed it — in oak wine barrels. There is a secondary fermentation that occurs that changes the acid structure of the wine and essentially create the butter flavor (think buttered popcorn) that many people associate with Chardonnay. These wines will still have some of the fruit characteristics we love, but they will also showcase toasty oak notes such as baking spices, vanilla, or caramel. It is important to note however, that this is not characteristic of all Chardonnay. On the other side of the spectrum, we have Un-Oaked Chardonnay. These wines are typically produced in stainless steel tanks, and avoid the secondary fermentation. This leaves the wines with a more crisp acid structure, and more varietal charac- teristics. Chardonnay is also a commonly used as a base wine for Champagne and other sparkling wines, and is the basis for some of the most sought after sparkling wines in the world. When made in this style, chardonnay is fermented into a still wine, and a secondary fermentation is initiated to provide the bubbles we love so much. We see this grape growing in France, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, South America, Italy, and more. In the United States it is one of the oldest modern wine grapes to be cultivated, with records dating back into the 1800s. After the Prohibition era devastated the U.S. wine industry that was Prohibition, only two real commercial Chardonnay vineyards remained: Wente in Livermore and Paul Masson right here in the Santa Clara Valley. To this day, many American Chardonnay vineyards are grafted to this day with the Wente Clone of Chardonnay. However, the grape traces its roots all the way back to Burgundy, France, and the name Chardonnay is said to come from the village of Macon specifically. In these regions we still see it produced in the famous wines of Chablis, and other white Burgundies, as the only allowed grape variety. Locally, we see several examples of Chardonnay on both sides of the oak spectrum. In Gilroy we can try Miramar Winery’s 2013 Chardonnay, which is an Oak Chardonnay that does not overpower with toast or spice. Crisp acid with a nice structure and stone fruit elements makes this one of my favorite local examples of Chardonnay. I have tried a few different vintages as well, and they always have a great balance of oak, acid and structure. Sarah’s Vineyard, also in Gilroy, is another Chardonnay superstar; with examples that range from a little to a lot of oak, depending on your preference. Their 2011 Estate Chardonnay is a complex GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY / AUGUST 2016 By Alicia Cuadra example of great quality Oak Chardonnay, with ripe citrus and peach elements as well as the toasty vanilla characteristics you would expect, without overpowering the palate. If you get a chance to try their 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay I do recommend that as well. This is more of a cool climate style of wine-making, and the citrus fruit with apple and pear resemble more a Burgundy than a California Chardonnay. Guglielmo’s 2014 TRE Chardonnay is also more of a restrained oak style, with notes of ripe pineapple, citrus and green apple with peach elements and a very gentle oak spice. This is a contrast to their 2014 Chardonnay from Monterey, which is a heavier use of oak but still shows complex tree and tropical stone fruit flavors. In addition, Clos LaChance produces an un-oaked Chardonnay, their 2014 Reserve “Pure” Chardonnay. This is a great example of ripe tropical fruit with minerality and a crisp acid structure, which makes this wine great for pairing with seafood. Oysters anyone? If you get the chance to taste a single producer’s oak versus non-oak styles of Chardonnay, go for it! I love comparing styles from individual producers, and this is a great way to explore more the style of wines you prefer and understand how winemaking impacts the flavors of a grape variety. Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy Chardonnay. Cheers! Alicia Cuadra is a Wine Educator and Consultant in the Monterey Bay. She is a certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine and Italian Wine Professional. Follow her blog at and on social media @AliciaSeesWine. 65