Not a Chardonnay fan? It’s time to give the popular wine another taste.
Many non-fans of the dry white wine dislike the strong oak taste that is not actually a character of the grape varietal itself, but introduced during its fermentation process. A rising trend is to age Chardonnay in stainless steel tanks rather than in traditional oak barrels. The result? Unoaked Chardonnays with flavors that better express the true nature of the grape.
In Michigan, many winemakers are handcrafting steel-fermented Chardonnays, although popular oak-aged Chardonnays are still exploding through wine country. You can sample several un-oaked styles along wine trails across the state. Here are a few suggestions:
On Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, try Unwooded Chardonnay at Bowers Harbor Vineyards featuring flavors of apple, pear and citrus. The $14 per bottle wine is fabulous on its own, though Vintner Spencer Stegenga suggests pairing it with sea bass or chicken enchiladas.
Nearby, winemaker Coenraad Stassen of Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery is handcrafting another delicious option called Naked Chardonnay, which took a silver medal at last year’s Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition. Citrus flavors lead the way to a crisp, clean finish. Watch for its release in the spring as previous vintages are sold out.
A brief, idyllic drive south, Peninsula Cellars crafts Unwooded Chardonnay with flavors of honey and citrus zest for $13.49.
Across the bay on Leelanau Peninsula in Suttons Bay, Black Star Farms‘ Arcturos Sur Lie Chardonnay is a great food-friendly wine that pairs lovely with cheese, chicken and fish. The wine is $15.50, and according to winemaker Lee Lutes, “This may be the perfect expression of Michigan Chardonnay. There is no oak used in the fermentation or aging, so what you have is the pure expression of fruit and soil in one of the great grapes of the world.”
In Baroda, winemaker Mike de Schaaf of Hickory Creek Winery is crafting his version, a tasty wine called Zero Oak Chardonnay, for $22 a bottle. In nearby Berrien Springs, Lemon Creek Winery has a $10 steel-fermented Chardonnay offering flavors of lemon and peach.
Along the Pioneer Wine Trail in southeast Michigan, Burgdorf’s Winery in Haslett took a silver medal last year for its steel-fermented Chardonnay, which sells for $21.99. Vintner Deb Burgdorf says, “A little hint of citrus makes it a wonderful wine to pair with fish or any seafood.” Though, Deb also shares that she enjoys the Chardonnay on its own as a great summertime sipping wine.
Also along the trail, watch for the upcoming release from Lone Oak Vineyard Estate of Grass Lake. Winemaker Kip Barber describes the wine as soft and buttery with ripe melon flavors. When available, the wine will retail at $12.95.
So, what are you waiting for? Get to wine country and try a Michigan steel-fermented Chardonnay!
* Sur lie literally translates from the French as ‘on lees’. ‘Sur lie’ wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine). In the case of great Chardonnay, such as Montrachet, this adds a toasty, nutty “hazelnut” quality and additional depth and complexity, especially on the finish. Chemically this can alter the oak flavor molecules increasing the integration, and making the oak seem less obtrusive to the palate. This is desirable because oak tannins are a polyphenolic acid, and can be harsh. This process can also give an added freshness and creaminess to the wine, and improve color and clarity. Muscadet is made in this fashion. The effect of the lees during bottle fermentation for at least 5 years on champagne is considerable. The “bready” toasty notes associated with some of the greatest sparkling wines made are the result of ‘sur lie’ aging.
~The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition by Jancis Robinson (via Wikipedia)