To Oak or Not to Oak: That Is the Chardonnay Question

    We have grown so accustomed to drinking big, buttery, oaky Chardonnay that some people have never experienced what the grape variety actually tastes like.

     So, the first sip of an “Unwooded” Chardonnay – as Australians like to call their renditions that see no time at all in oak barrels – can be somewhat confusing.

     “Unwooded Chardonnay is a bit like a chip without salt or a sausage without sauce,” observes Michael Fragos, the chief winemaker for Chapel Hill Winery, which is located atop one of the McLaren Vale’s majestic hills. “It can taste as if something is missing -but not with this wine.”

     Fragos urges wine drinkers to “ignore the grape variety and the lack of wood.” Instead, he suggests trying it on an occasion when you’d otherwise opt for Sauvignon Blanc.

     “There’s plenty of aroma and flavor, tempered and restrained by all-encompassing acidity.”

     Fragos knows what he’s talking about. Well known in the international wine arena, he was named Winemaker of the Year in 2003 by Australia’s Winestate Magazine. Fragos is assisted in the cellar by a dynamic vintner named Bryn Richards, who has worked harvests in the United States, England, Portugal and New Zealand, in addition to Australia.

     Even with their vast and varied experience, Fragos and Richards prefer to practice their craft in the McLaren Vale, where cooling breezes from the Indian Ocean provide a perfect climate for grape growing.

     And it shows in their 2007 “Unwooded” Chardonnay, a refreshing, flavorful, food-friendly wine that will make you think differently about Chardonnay.

Posted in Wine Cellar Notes
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