Wine Ambassador, Dave Lofstrom, is out and about tasting Chardonnay, considering the ever-present question of new oak and putting in his two cents on the matter.
There is a story that many of my friends and compatriots have heard me tell dozens of times about my “A-ha!” moment with wine. I will spare everyone the gritty details, but my “A-ha!” moment involved a warm and cheap bottle of Chardonnay. I promise, I’ve come a long way since then! Since that moment I have thought about Chardonnay a lot, and coming from a wine retail background, I have heard all of my former customers’ opinions on Chardonnay. Particularly, how oaky it should be.
For the first part of my wine-drinking career, I liked Chardonnay with a fair amount of new oak character and flavor coming through in the wine. I never really wanted it to be over the top or super buttery, but I liked the vanilla and toasty elements that new French oak adds to Chardonnay. I then quickly became a wine snob and was too cool for new oak. I wanted only fresh, stainless steel fermented and aged Chardonnay. Then my snobbery faded, and I became a wine geek who wanted to be too cool for school. I started drinking only white Burgundy, but looked strictly for producers that used only neutral oak or stainless steel. Then I matured a little more and looked for Burgundy producers that used neutral oak, some new oak, or stainless steel. I like to think that I’ve become less uptight, started drinking Chardonnay other than Burgundy, and no longer am trying to be too cool for school – the beauty of growing up. I am now trying to be very sensible about my Chardonnay drinking. I want balance. New oak is great, if it makes sense in the wine. Stainless steel is awesome, if it fits the wine. You get the idea.
As of late, I have been drinking Chardonnay that have a lot of minerality and a healthy bite of acidity. All of my friends and coworkers can attest to the fact that I love high acid wines. Chardonnay is no exception for me. I recently tasted the 2011 Qupé Bien Nacido Reserve Block 11 Chardonnay, a new release to our wine club members, and I was very impressed. It had a fantastic balance of acidity, fruit, oak, and minerality. It’s no surprise that the acidity is what I noticed first – especially given how cold 2011 was. Block 11 at Bien Nacido is planted on a North by Northwest facing slope. This exposure gives the grapes less sun, which adds to acidity and minerality. I, like many, was surprised to find out that this Chardonnay sees a lot of new oak – two-thirds of the 2011 was aged in new Burgundy oak barrels and the remaining third was aged in a combination of one and two-year-old Burgundy barrels. The wine was then aged for 6 months in neutral oak. There is a lot of new oak on this wine, but it’s completely in balance with the wine.
On the nose the 2011 Qupé Bien Nacido Reserve Block 11 Chardonnay shows toasty crème brûlée, pineapple, vanilla, and white flowers. On the palate the wine is bright and fresh but has the weight I expect from Chardonnay. Bob has been making a reserve Chardonnay the same way since 1986. He uses tried and true practices with top-notch fruit, yielding fantastic results. For once, I don’t care about the oak. The wine is beautifully balanced. It makes sense. And I’m into that.