Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unorthodox Without Oak? A Glimpse at (Mostly) Unoaked Okanagan Chardonnay

I used to think that wine snobs turned their noses up towards unoaked Chardonnays, that the general demand was for rich, buttery Californians that carried a lot of body and flavour intensity.

But then I googled unoaked Chardonnay, and I was wrong.

Wine writers are taking note of the unoaked, Chablis-style Chardonnays. In fact, a trend in California is now to age their chards in stainless steel vats, toning down the richness and allowing the varietal to show more of its primary flavours.

The Okanagan region is embracing the unoaked style of Chardonnay as well, and my mother-in-law and I spent some time sampling some of these wines to see how BC does it. We tasted three different unoaked Chardonnays from different areas of the Okanagan wine region.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Chardonnay is partially aged in French oak but the natural flavours of Chardonnay stand out with notes of grapefruit, lemon, green apple and zesty acidity. Hints of straw on the finish give the wine body and finesse. 

Blasted Church's 2013 Unorthodox Chardonnay opens with a lovely bouquet of orchard fresh peaches and honeycrisp apples due to small amounts of the aromatic varietals Ehrenfelser and Gewurztraminer blended in. The palate reflects flavours of honeydew melon and a steely minerality that leads into a citrus finish. Pairs well with scallops and lean white fish.

Gray Monk's 2014 Unwooded Chardonnay has a flavour profile that is consistent with the other two wines above, with notes of green apple, underripe peach and a hint of green banana on the palate. Fresh acidity with a zesty finish, this wine is ideal as an aperitif or on its own in pleasant warm weather!

It was interesting to note that none of these wines underwent malolactic fermentation during the winemaking process. The trend here is to showcase the natural fruit flavours that come with the varietal. 

Now that Spring is here, light white wines will surely be returning to the forefront of winelovers' minds when the sun is shining. Why not celebrate Spring with one of these fresh and lively wines? Your tastebuds will thank you.