Browse the Chardonnay shelf on the wine aisle, and you’ll probably spot words like “liberated,” “virgin,” “stainless,” and “naked.” All are poetic ways of saying that the wines in the bottle are free and pure—or, more specifically, they’ve seen no oak during the winemaking process.
Certainly, with hallmark flavors of vanilla, spice, caramel and butterscotch, oaked Chards have their time and place.
But June is not that time and place. To go with the bright days and warming sunshine of the season—as well as the fresh, vibrant foods of summer—keep an eye out for bottles that have never met a barrel.
In the best unoaked Chards, you’ll enjoy pure fruit flavors, from bright lemon to ripe pineapple, with luscious orchard treats, like pears, peaches, apples and apricots, popping up often. More good news: The best bottles deliver the generous plentitude we’ve always loved in Chardonnay—but the opulence is all in the fruit.
- Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2010 (Central Coast; $18): This stellar sip starts with a tingle, but ends on a smooth, round note—a little like the effects of Key lime pie.
- Carmel Road Liberated Chardonnay 2010 (Monterey; $16): Revel in lively pear, citrus and orchard-blossom notes framed by bewitching mineral tones.
- Layer Cake Virgin Chardonnay 2009 (Central Coast; $13): This chard comes on as crisp and lemony, amidst a pleasant backdrop of wet stones after a spring rain.
- Cave de Lugny “Les Charmes” Chardonnay 2010 (Mâcon-Lugny, Burgundy; $15): A lilting hint of spice adds a little something extra to this fresh, fruity, full-bodied bottle.
- Joel Gott Unoaked Chardonnay 2010 (Monterey; $16): Zesty lemon and drippingly ripe pear/melon notes meld in this beautifully balanced bottle.
—By Wini Moranville