According to the Sacramento Bee’s wine expert, Mike Dunne, the practice of avoiding fermentation and aging in oak barrels for chardonnays is on the rise. To determine the effect of this trend, Dunne tried two chardonnays, both from
The 2004 is right out of the mold for chardonnay as it customarily is being made in the Napa Valley — dense, creamy, weighty and sweet with oak. Sure, it’s a veritable basket of ripe Summer fruit, everything from melons to figs, but the butter, butterscotch and sweet vanillin flavors from malolactic fermentation and from fermenting and aging the wine in oak barrels are what take over the palate.
In contrast, the 2005 is a leaner, more delicate take on chardonnay with a subtle but intriguing fruitiness that shifts quietly from pear to apple to lemon, with an alluring hint of the herb lemon verbena in the finish.
Here’s the thing: In contrast to the 2004, the 2005 was made entirely without malolactic fermentation and without any exposure to oak, either during fermentation or aging.
Dunne characterizes the trend as small, but growing, and considers St. Supry’s abandonment of oak for its chardonnay to be a gamble in light of “consumers’ clear preference for oak in chardonnay.” Other California wineries, including