The Ultimate Guide To Unoaked Chardonnay
When you hear the word “Chardonnay,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Do you think of that rich and buttery feeling and that intense aroma of vanilla? If that’s the case, you have a clear definition of what traditional styles of Chardonnay wines are like. But interestingly enough, there is a different style that is quickly becoming a favorite among consumers around the world – the unoaked Chardonnay.
Traditionally, Chardonnay wines are aged in oak barrels to add richness, depth, and complexity to the wine. Unlike many other white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, Chardonnay doesn’t naturally have layers of intense aromas and flavors. It is quite a neutral wine, which is why most winemakers have opted for barrel-aging to allow more aromas and flavors to come forth in these Chardonnays.
The problem is that many winemakers used too much oak, and in the 80s, there was a massive backlash from consumers who joined the “ABC” club – Anything But Chardonnay. More consumers rejected the idea of Chardonnay and opted for more light and fresh wine, shunning Chardonnay and its richness.
Fast-forward to 2021, and unoaked Chardonnay has taken the market by storm. These styles are equally as light and refreshing as their oaked counterparts. While oaked Chardonnay wines have not died out, they are significantly less oaked, buttery, and vanilla-focused than forty years ago.
Aromas and Flavors of Unoaked Chardonnay
You can expect a bright, light yellow color with these unoaked styles, which is an excellent contrast to the dark, golden oaked styles. The aromas are fresh, often with dominant citrus aromas and beautiful minerality. These wines are also considered lean, meaning that there is no fatness or richness to the wine, making them ideal for easy-drinking occasions.
Depending on where the wines are grown, you can expect aromas like lemon, orange, green apples, chalk, and even floral notes. The acidity of Chardonnay is naturally relatively high, so these wines will offer a fresh, crisp feeling. In many instances, winemakers allow the wine to go through malolactic fermentation, which is essentially a process of changing the acidity in the wine so it tastes less tart and more rounded. This process doesn’t make the wine heavy but does add some body.
How Unoaked Chardonnay Is Made
The winemaking process for Chardonnay is pretty standard. Like most white wines, the grapes are harvested, crushed, separated from their skins, and fermented in steel tanks. These steel tanks preserve the freshness and natural aromas of the wine.
The wine will then either be put through malolactic fermentation (a process where a bacteria called Oenococcus oeni is used to convert some acid in the wine into lactic acid creating a creamy, buttery texture) and then bottled or simply bottled immediately.
This process is a stark contrast to the oaked styles of Chardonnay. These oaked wines can be fermented in oak barrels, which add intense oak characteristics. Or, for a less oaky feel, the winemakers ferment the Chardonnay and stainless steel and then transfer it to oak barrels for a few weeks or months for a touch of oak aroma.
Unoaked Chardonnay You Have to Try
Toad Hollow Chardonnay Francine’s Selection – This is a beautiful Californian example of what an unoaked, but rounded Chardonnay is like.
River Road Chardonnay – Another Californian beaut, expect beautiful floral notes and a hint of sweetness with this wine.
About The Author
I’m Patricia, and I have a healthy obsession with wine. So much so that I started a YouTube Channel called “Understanding Wines,” which is dedicated to teaching others about wine. My wine journey began when I was only 19. I completed our local Cape Wine Academy Certificate and went on to do WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) level 3 and ISG (International Sommeliers Guild) Intermediate and Advanced Certificate. My focus has always been on helping others better understand wine, so I became a full-time wine copywriter and continue working on my channel.