Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #36: Unoaked Chardonnay

Welcome to the 3rd Anniversary of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the online tasting event dreamed up by Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, who is (appropriately) hosting this special birthday edition. Dedicated to "naked" or unoaked chardonnay, it's a tasting that I've been looking forward to because these wines made me rethink what had become a strong aversion to the varietal. Turns out it wasn't the chardonnay, but the style of chardonnay that was the problem. After years of feeling like I'd drunk a bucket of overly buttered popcorn and followed it up with a mouthful of toothpicks, it was a delight to have winemakers step away from the oak and let the varietal characteristics of the grape shine through. While it was hard to find unoaked chardonnay in the past, it is becoming more and more common to see "naked," "unwooded," and "unoaked" on labels these days.

I wanted to drink something local and historic for this month's event, and so my choice was easy: the 2006 Toad Hollow Francine's Selection Chardonnay from the Mendocino County AVA ($13 direct from the winery's tasting room in beautiful downtown Healdsburg). Toad Hollow founders Todd Williams and Rodney Strong saw that the future of chardonnay was unoaked back in 1993, when everyone else was making oak chip tea bags and going for new American barrels. The Mendocino County fruit that provides 90% of the grapes for this wine helps to keep it focused, and provides enough acidity to provide a good structure for the fruit. That's because the swings between warm days and cool nights in Mendocino County helps to keep the fruit from over-ripening. The remaining 10% of the juice comes from Sonoma County.

I found the 2006 Toad Hollow Francine's Selection to be a fresh and lively unoaked chardonnay, that smelled of golden delicious apples. Soft and food-friendly, there were apple and citrus flavors that were never harsh or acidic because the juice underwent 100% malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks and was left on its lees for 8 months. The result was a wine that had a full-bodied mouthfeel without the oakiness. At 13.7% alc/vol, I was surprised to get a little bit of alcoholic heat in the aromas and a bit of afterburn in the finish. This is a new release, and I wonder if the wine still needs to settle down a bit. What will it be with 6-9 months of bottle age, because giving it a little time to open up really diminished the alcoholic sensation? Very good QPR for a wine that was easy to drink and easy to pair with food.

Toad Hollow Vineyards was started up by friends Todd Williams and Rodney Strong. Their motto is "fine wine at a reasonable price" and I certainly felt they lived up to that with this bottling. Their 2006 unoaked chardonnay was just released a few months back, so keep your eyes open for it in your local wine stores this fall.

Thanks to Lenn for hosting, and for getting us into all this trouble--I mean fun--with his Wine Blogging Wednesdays. As usual, I'll let you know when the roundup is posted and when WBW #37's theme is announced.


winedeb said...

Ah Dr. Debs you have picked one of my favorite winery's. I will really look forward to this new release and will start looking for it now. I think their Rose' of Pinot Noir grapes is tops. Actually I have a bottle chilled now. But I have also tried all of their other wines and enjoyed each and every one!

Orion Slayer said...

Two questions: one general about Chardonnays and the other specifically about the Toad Hollow.

I'm trying to learn the various styles of French wines and had 3 Pouilly-Fuisse wines last month. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Chardonnay flavor I remembered: oaky. I know the tend today is away from over oaked, but that's the very flavor I associate with Chardonnay. Is the French style to oak strongly? I haven't tried a Chablis, but intend to try several next.

You mention that the Toad Hollow has 100% malolactic fermentation. How does it compare to Rombauer?

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Deb. I like Toad Hollow, too, and will have a rundown of all of their new releases soon.

Orion Slayer, here are the answers to your questions to the best of my ability, keeping in mind that I don't drink a lot of French wine! French wines, like US wines, differ by maker and region. Chablis and Pouilly-Fuisse come from different regions, one to the north and one to the south. Pouilly-Fuisse wines usually are aged in oak barrels but not always, and Chablis can be but not always. In general I think you will find more oak in southern Burgundy wines from the Maconnais, and less oak in northern Burgundy chardonnays from Chablis.

What gives the wine oakiness is less the fermentation method than where it is stored. So both Rombauer and Toad Hollow do 100% malolactic fermentation, which gives both wines creaminess. BUT the Rombauer is put in oak barrels for 10 months; the Toad Hollow never sees any wood at all. The oak is what gives Rombauer the rich, vanilla, butteriness that I associate with that wine.

Did I help?

Dr. Debs said...

Sorry. Pushed publish before I was through. More importantly for those reading this who actually make wine, or drink French wine, did I get those answers right? If not, chime in and correct me!