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Elin’s Wine Pick: Attractive No-Oak Chardonnay

Winemaker Fintan du Fresne. Credit: Courtesy of Chamisal Vineyards.

Winemaker Fintan du Fresne and wine bottle. Credit: Courtesy of Chamisal Vineyards.

Chardonnay is still the most popular white wine in America, despite the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) movement, which was started years ago by drinkers who don’t like the taste of oaky whites. This fresh, crisp, fruit-driven 2011 Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay, filled with bright citrus and kiwi flavors, should even please them.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2011 Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay

Price: $12 to $16

Region: Central Coast, California

Grape: 100% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 13.5%

Serve chilled:  As an aperitif; with grilled halibut or salmon and corn on the cob.

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Fermented and aged only in stainless steel (hence the word “stainless” on the label), this “naked” unoaked white is fairly full-bodied, under $20, and widely available across the country. I think of it as an attractive white to sip chilled while sitting on your deck and to keep drinking when the salmon and corn on the cob come off the grill.  And it comes with an easy-to-open screwcap.

The American no-oak Chardonnay trend began a little more than a decade ago and has almost become a movement itself. The French precedent is Chablis, the all-Chardonnay white from the northernmost wine district in Burgundy. Though some producers there now opt for a small amount of oak aging, traditionalists use old neutral barrels, concrete or stainless.

In California, more and more wineries have been jumping on the no-oak bandwagon. Many of these wines, sadly, are pretty thin and neutral tasting, lacking not only oak, but character, body and flavor, too. Not so those from higher-end wineries, especially those that specialize in Chardonnay, such as Morgan, Marimar Estate and Lioco. Chamisal, whose vineyards were the first ones planted in the Edna Valley, in 1973, launched this no-oak Chardonnay back in 2006 at the behest of its new winemaker, New Zealand-born Fintan du Fresne. Now it’s the winery’s best-seller. That success inspired them to introduce a stainless Pinot Noir this year.

The property has had various owners since its beginnings 40 years ago. It’s now part of the Crimson Wine Group, whose portfolio also includes Pine Ridge and Seghesio in California and Archery Summit in Oregon.

Chamisal reflects fruit character of Chardonnay

The grapes come from a variety of cool-climate vineyards in the Central Coast. Chamisal’s winemaking — as at all the wineries making good unoaked Chardonnay — relies on whole-cluster pressing of the grapes to retain freshness and acidity. Du Fresne avoids malolactic fermentation, which is de rigueur for oak-aged chardonnay.

Don’t expect a lot of complex minerality in this wine. The 2011 Chamisal Stainless celebrates instead the wonderful fruit character of pure Chardonnay, with aromas of white peaches and zingy citrus and pear flavors. At this price, that’s more than enough.

Top photo composite:

Fintan du Fresne, the winemaker, and the label on Chamisal Chardonnay. Credit: Courtesy of Chamisal Vineyards