Recently, a new acquaintance asked me: “What’s an oaky Chardonnay I don’t have to feel guilty about liking?”
It’s a version of a question I get asked a lot.
First of all, if you like it, it’s good wine. No guilt required.
And you certainly don’t have to feel guilty about liking Chardonnay: it's one of the noblest grapes. Nor does winemaking in oak signify anything bad; many of the world’s great Chardonnays “see some oak,” as they say.
But if all you taste is oak, there’s a problem. Like anything else, it can be used the wrong way.
But a practical answer to the question is: How about some Chablis?
Chablis, from France’s Burgundy region, is known for its flinty, dry style and minerality. The wines are 100% Chardonnay and generally aged in oak. If you haven’t paid attention to these lately, the time is now. I suggest some Premier Cru Chablis, which means it comes from 40 of the best vineyards in the region—only Grand Cru has a higher status.
Laurent Tribut Chablis Premier Cru Cote de Léchet 2013 ($55) is a great introduction to the region, with a pleasant apple character, great acidity, and a lovely finish. It’s what the French call “correct.” Oysters are the cliché match for Chablis, but you need to embrace the cliché on this one.
A step up the richness scale brings you to Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2013 ($28), which delivers mega citrus flavor including what tastes to me like a super-ripe grapefruit. And the palate perfectly follows the nose, always a good sign. How about some lobster in a tarragon cream sauce with this?
And when you are ready for some heft, Patrick Puize Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons “Les Minots” 2013 ($55) is a structured, serious wine that did not stint on the oak aging and because of that gives you big-time tarte tatin character edging over into pineapple and beyond.
It would be great with some age on it, but if that’s not in the cards, open it up and decant it for a few minutes, or simply pour it into glasses in advance. You’ll be rewarded, especially if you serve it with a roasted Bresse chicken, which hails from the same area as the wine.
Ted Loos is the Wine & Spirits Contributor for Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @LoosLips.