Chardonnay is a crisp white wine that features a fruit-forward character. But what is unoaked Chardonnay? How is it different from an “oaked” option? How can you tell when you’re looking at it? Perhaps most importantly: what in the world do you pair it with?
What Makes Unoaked Chardonnay Different?
The barrel that a wine spends time in influences its taste. Oak barrels have been historically used, but the French region of Chablis started using other storage methods. These include stainless steel and neutral oak. Literally, unoaked Chardonnay hasn’t been stored in classic oak barrels. This makes it a less traditional, more modern wine. Its character isn’t better or worse, it’s simply different.
What Other Differences Are There?
Chardonnay is famous for its buttery feel because it goes through malolactic fermentation (MLF). This changes the acids in the wine. As a result, Chardonnay shifts from evoking a tart character to a buttery character. Malic acid (found in apples) changes to lactic acid (found in milk). Both have their strengths. Most oaked Chardonnays go through MLF. Many unoaked Chardonnays don’t, retaining more of that crisp white wine feel and tart mouthfeel.
How Can You Tell the Difference?
When you look at the shelf, or online, you’re looking for certain keywords that tell you a Chardonnay is unoaked. Look for the following terms: unoaked, no oak, inox, acero (in Spanish), and sans chene (in French).
By taste, an unoaked Chardonnay retains many of the flavors that make Chardonnay great. It simply presents a version that’s more mineral-intense and dry, and less creamy. It’s Chardonnay with an attitude.
What Do I Pair with Unoaked Chardonnay?
Despite their different flavors, much of what will go with a Sauvignon Blanc will also pair well with an unoaked Chardonnay. Soft and semi-soft cheeses with mild flavors complement unoaked Chardonnay beautifully.
For meals, fish with herbs or that feature oily characteristics are delicious. Fish with a moist, flaky texture are ideal (halibut, trout, and whitefish).
Chicken and turkey are also good choices. Unoaked Chardonnay brings out the herb flavors and seasonings and can make you taste those flavors more sensationally.
For vegetarian options, asparagus can be a tricky match, but unoaked Chardonnay is one of the few pairings that truly elevates it. Try zucchini, yellow squash, dishes with almonds, or for an exceptional treat – truffles.
If you love a crisp white wine, try an unoaked Chardonnay!