Two Unoaked Chards

The ‚€œAnything But Chardonnay‚€ ‚€“ or
ABC ‚€“ movement has had an impact, not necessarily in reducing the
amount of Chardonnay on the market, but in how it‚€™s made. If you delve
into the winemaking specifics (as I feel bound to do out of duty as
much as curiosity), you probably hear words and phrases like ‚€œpartial
malolactic‚€ or ‚€œseasoned oak,‚€ clues that the winemaker is trying
to avoid the full-barreled approach of new oak and buttered popcorn that
gave California Chardonnay a bad name.
The movement‚€™s success has even created a backlash, led by the Wall
Street Journal‚€™s popular wine columnists, Dorothy Gaiter and John
Brecher, who recently went on a search expedition for ‚€œold-style‚€
California Chards. Good for them, I say: While I don‚€™t particularly
fancy that style myself, on occasion I find one that really knocks my
socks off. And I believe in diversity anyway. Of course, I wish there
was a way to tell what style of Chardonnay I might be opening on any
given attempt.
ABC really could be called ABO ‚€“ anything but oak. The extreme example
of the movement‚€™s success is unoaked Chardonnay. These came
originally from New Zealand and Australia, but some wineries in the US
are now making them and bragging about it. Oregon‚€™s Chehalem
bottles an unoaked ‚€œINOX‚€ (French for stainless steel) Chard that
is a winner year in and year out.
Recently I‚€™ve enjoyed two unoaked Chardonnays from California that are
worth seeking out. Although they are in a sense related by more than
the shared grape variety and their common Monterey appellation (more on
that below), they are notably different in style. And both are
San Saba Vineyards ‚€œBocage‚€ Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 ($13),
shows the lemon-curd and citrus notes that come to the fore when
Chardonnay‚€™s character is not masked by oak. Yet what fascinated me
was the body. Winemakers Jeff Ritchey and Sabrine Rodems aged the wine
on the lees for four months (in tank, not in barrel as is common), which
extracted a richness and mouthfeel that makes the wine entrancing and
seductive on the palate. The wine is unfortunately not widely available,
as it is now in California, Texas, Connecticut and Maine, with plans to
distribute to New York and New Jersey in the near future. But keep it
in mind.
My other example was Clos LaChance 2005 ($15) from the
winery‚€™s hummingbird series. This wine struck me as Australian in
style, overflowing with blowsy tropical fruits (hmm, I think I‚€™m gonna
hear about that one, but I mean it in a good sense!), especially
pineapple. Upfront, flirtatious and downright enjoyable.
And the other connection between these wines ‚€“ Ritchey, whom I‚€™ve written about before on this blog, used to be winemaker at Clos LaChance.

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