Perhaps no other wine has such a flavor-forward reputation than American Chardonnay. It is often many wine drinkers’ first experience with a white American wine, and that experience is typically punctuated by a mouthful of oaky flavor.
Not gentle, dulcet tones of oak, but so much oak that one might find themselves inspecting their glass for wood splinters.
Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much. Some of those white wines coming out of California are just too much oak for many of us. And Chardonnay is just a scapegoat; in fact, the grape is just a fantastic conductor of flavor from its growing conditions, so it’s the winemakers at fault for overpowering it.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 5 Chardonnays from the good ol’ USA that aren’t overpowering of oak, and in fact, will be the perfect compliment for your next dinner party or evening meal.
Phelps Creek Unoaked 2011 Chardonnay (Oregon) – $22
Phelps Creek Vineyards is located in the Columbia River Gorge, located on the border of Oregon and Washington. I always find wines from this region interesting, as the area is full of microclimates and dramatic weather changes; one of my earliest wine mentors told me that rough weather stresses the grapes and results in good flavors. This is true for Phelps Creek’s “Unoaked” Chardonnay – the wine is so bright, you’ll have to wear shades and you won’t believe it’s a Chardonnay. Pings of lemon and crisp fruit make it feel more like a sunny Tuscan blend, but it’s just tasty Oregon grapes in this glass.
Desert Wind Chardonnay 2012 (Washington) – $15
Located in Prosser, Washington, Desert Wind is one of Washington’s most unique winery locations. If you can’t make it to the Yakima Valley, get a sample with Desert Wind’s Chardonnay. Don’t let the name fool you – this isn’t a dry wine at all. In fact, it feels like someone squeezed a bowl of fresh peaches and pears during the fermentation process, making this wine super easy to pair with dinner menus and party appetizers. Fun Fact: this wine is from Washington’s Wahluke Slope, which is one of the warmest, driest wine growing spots in the state of Washington (and only became an officially AVA in 2006).
Cupcake Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay (California) – $11
Looking for a casual cool sipper? Then you can’t go wrong with Cupcake Vineyard’s value-priced Chardonnay. While some of their wines can be a little too sweet for my likes, their Chardonnay is the exception. Grown on the California Central Coast, this wine has that classic “buttery” Chardonnay feel to it, but Cupcake seems to evoke other strong flavors of melon and apples – maybe even a nutty bite there at the end. This is unusual because this wine is aged in oak barrels, but only for 9 months, so those oak flavors are kept to a minimum.
Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2011 (California) – $15
Another lovely choice from the California Central Coast, Chamistal doesn’t want you to have any worries about oak in this wine – they put stainless right on the label. A great wine for Netflix bingeing or movie night, I love two things about this wine: the bouquet, which is flowery white peaches, and then the taste, which waves from those peaches to honeydew to pear. This wine tries very hard to be unfussy, and it succeeds. You can’t beat the price either.
Heron Hill Ingle Vineyard Chardonnay Unoaked 2012 (New York) – $18
We end our tour of non-oaky Chardonnays on America’s east coast, in one of my favorite wine regions – the Finger Lakes. Heron Hill’s Ingle Vineyard services a Chardonnay Unoaked, with a flavor profile in stark contrast to our other contenders featured here. That’s because the Finger Lakes is a very cold growing region in the winter compared to the west coast, so this wine is much lighter, crisper, more subdued – think more mint and melon sorbet. The winemaker has a special plot on the vineyard dedicated to the wines in the Chardonnay Unoaked, which is farmed sustainably, like many of the higher quality upstate New York winemakers.
All photos courtesy of winery featured except Phelps Creek photo by Cari Gesch.