Wed 29 Aug 2007
In the July 31st issue of The Wine Spectator, MaryAnn Worobiec had an article called “Moving Beyond Oak” that discussed the trend toward not only producing chardonnays with little or no oak influence but promoting the wines an “unoaked” on the labels. The trend is a reaction against the tendency of so many wineries in California to heap oak on their chardonnay through barrel fermentation and extended aging in toasty new barrels, thus, some feel, erecting barriers of wood between the drinker and the purity and intensity of the chardonnay grape.
In response to Worobiec’s story, Bob Chick, of Spring, Texas, writes, on the WS’s “Letters” page (September 30): ” … a soft, fruity wine may be good for some, but I’ll stick with my rich, oaky Chardonnays — no matter how hard to find they may become.”
As if the only choices where chardonnay is concerned are Soft and Fruity versus Rich and Oaky. As if chardonnay can’t age for a period in oak and emerge silky and supple and subtle, not oaky or woody, or, as I commonly write in my notes, “Stiff and unwieldy with oak.”
I guess Bob wouldn’t appreciate the chardonnay we had last night at home with our turkey tonnato and a spinach and heirloom tomato salad. It was probably our third bottle this year of Olivier LeFlaive’s Rully Premier Cru Vauvry 2004. It’s a lovely wine but anything but soft or wimpy. In fact, its mineral component, composed of soul-stirring strata of limestone and shale, edges close to being formidable but opts, by the time of the wine’s finish, for crisp elegance. Is there oak? To be sure, but oak at its most flexible and scarf-like, acting as a drape of spice and toast and a hint of cream over the wine’s essential structure of scintillating roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors (flecked with candied lime and a touch of pineapple) and electrifying acid. No, this is not as sizable or deep or layered as its potentially sublime chardonnay cousins from the appellations of Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet and Meursault a few miles north; I mean, this is the Cote Chalonnaise we’re talking about. But for its location and its price, this chardonnay is close to perfect. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. About $22.
And I suppose that Bob would pay no heed to the Terlato Chardonnay 2005, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, that we drank with swordfish a few nights ago. This is so clean and fresh, so not seeming to have anything to do with oak or wood or oakiness or toastiness, that it’s well-nigh miraculous that the wine was fermented 100 percent in oak and aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 20 percent of which were new. That takes skill and thoughtfulness in the winery. The wine offers pure and intense lemon scents and flavors with an overlay of pineapple and grapefruit. It’s spare and elegant but infused with the grape’s inner richness in the form of lemon drop and a touch of honey. It opens beautifully in the glass, yet remains vibrant, even taut, with acid and resonant with mineral elements. The alcohol level is a sensible 13.8 percent. A delightful chardonnay with substance and a hint of seriousness. About $24.
So, Bob, you might want to try one or both of these wines to see how pure and intense chardonnay can be without being “oaky.” On the other hand, if you’re happy the way things are, don’t bother. That will leave more for us.