Fun fact: Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape in the world. With so many different growing regions and production methods, there is a wide variety to choose from.
Oftentimes when referring to one of the biggest differences in tastes of Chardonnay, wine lovers will talk about how “oaky” the wine is. But what does that mean, and how can that help you identify which Chardonnays are for you, and which aren’t?
Once the grapes are harvested and the juices pressed, the winemaking process goes from the vineyard to the barrel room. With the Chardonnay grape, winemakers have a choice between fermenting or fermenting and aging in oak barrels (new or used), opting for stainless steel or concrete tanks, or some combination of the two. This choice has great impact on everything about the wine, from the color, the texture, the aromas and ultimately, the flavor.
Fermenting and/or aging Chardonnay in oak provides a creamier/buttery texture and introduces new aromas and flavors, including vanilla, coconut and baking spices. Beyond infusing new aromas, tastes and color from the barrel to the wine, oak also allows in a small amount of oxygen during the aging process.
Bottom line: If you like creamy Chardonnays with hints of vanilla, baking spices, and baked fruit, then you enjoy Chardonnays that have spent some time in oak. Sound like you? Try the Coppola Director's Chardonnay.
When a winemaker chooses to produce Chardonnay without any oak, the end result is a crisper Chardonnay, displaying flavors of fresh apple, pear and even pineapple, as well as more citrusy notes. Not to be confused for a description of a light bodied white like Pinot Gris, unoaked Chardonnays are still fuller bodied wines, just not as rich or creamy as their oaked counterparts. Unoaked Chardonnays are often aged in stainless steel tanks, but concrete is also popular in some areas.
Bottom line: If you are in the mood for a fuller bodied white wine, with a focus more on fresh fruit and citrus that feels more crisp than creamy, reach for a glass of unoaked Chardonnay. If this is something that sounds like your fancy, try the Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay.
Some winemakers will split the aging process between stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, or use neutral oak. If you’re someone who falls in between loving oaky and not oaky Chards, it’s worth exploring those on other points in the spectrum.