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A Great Wine for Fall: Unoaked Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes ready for harvest

Chardonnay grapes ready for harvest.

It’s that time of year: the leaves are changing and we’ve traded t-shirts for sweaters and scarves.  Soon, we’ll settle in for a long winter’s nap.  But what to drink in the meantime?

Sure, there are the rich, deep reds that warm you from the soul, like Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  These are the quintessential wines of fall.  But not all the dishes of the season call for something so rich; in fact, wines like these overpower many dishes.  And by no means should you be limited to red wine when the temperature starts to drop.  So let’s talk about a perfect fall wine that’s maybe not so common: unoaked Chardonnay.

Unoaked Chardonnay, if you haven’t tried it, is a great pleasure, and a truly different taste from the Chardonnay you’re probably used to, which is aged in oak barrels to impart that strong, oaky taste to the wine.  What you might not know is that unoaked Chardonnay is a throwback to the way the wine used to be made.  Winemakers of old may have aged their Chardonnay in barrels, but they were usually old barrels that all the flavor-changing chemicals had long been leached out of.  Chardonnay makers today use new barrels that impart the maximum amount of flavors from the wood to the wine.  And so while we might not realize it, what we think of as Chardonnay isn’t much like the “real” thing.

Many wine experts think that modern winemakers have gone overboard with their oaky Chards, and that these flavors overpower the more delicate flavors of a good Chardonnay.  So try an unoaked Chardonnay and taste this great varietal the way it was originally meant to be enjoyed.  You might be surprised by what you find.

Be aware: the vanilla, butter, and creaminess that you might love so much about Chardonnay won’t be present in the unoaked version: they are all flavors that come from the wood.  So what does an unoaked Chardonnay taste like?

A good unoaked Chardonnay should have strong fruit flavors and a bright, refreshing acidity.  Common flavors are pear, apple, and other stone fruits.  The wine might have a mineral taste or even citrusy notes.  Sound like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio? It’s not.  The fruitiness of the Chardonnay grapes keeps the wine bigger and more flavorful.

It’s this tastiness factor, combined with the acidity, that makes unoaked Chardonnay a great choice for fall.  The full fruit flavors make it a big enough wine to be satisfying, but the acidity makes it the perfect candidate to pair with the rich, buttery dishes that are so often served as the temperature drops: the acid cuts through the fattiness, leaving your palate refreshed for each comforting bite.  Try it with a chicken roasted simply with fall vegetables and served with crusty bread: it’s sweater-weather perfection.

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