There’s a bit of a backlash with oaky, buttery Chardonnays now. A newfound love of the unadorned version — labeled “Unoaked”, “Virgin”, “Naked” or “Stainless Steel” — can be witnessed on retail shelves and on restaurant wine lists. The taste difference between oak-aged and/or fermented Chardonnay and those that don’t see wood can normally be summed up in one word: minerality. It’s a fancy word that indicates an underlying crispness on the tongue. It smacks of slate rock after a rain, granite or stone. The grape literally pulls these flavors from the soil and Chardonnay has an incredible ability to showcase this characteristic. It’s also makes the wine a helluva lot more food-friendly than it’s oaked cousins. (Read more about unoaked Chardonnay here)
Wine collectors around the world pay big bucks for minerality-ladened wines crafted from France — Chablis mostly. The U.S. can deliver it, if only the wineries could get over their fascination with oak and malolactic fermentation (what’s this?). But Buried Cane in Washington State has firmly embraced the No Oak theme.
This winery coined its name after a cold climate wine region practice that protects grape vines from frigid winter temperatures — burying vine canes (shoots) under the soil until after winter freeze threats pass. In Washington State, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape varietal and Buried Cane must have their pick of the best vineyards. Out of the 20 or so Chardonnays I tried for a recent column, it was my favorite.
Buried Cane 2009 Whiteline Chardonnay strikes a perfect balance between creamy mouthfeel and bracing acidity with green apple and apricots doused in lemon flavor. Lime and, yes, minerality, also enter the game on the finish. It’s light-bodied and would pair quite nicely with a lounge chair by the pool. And a straw.
Sweetness: 1 out of 10
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Occasion: Tasted at a restaurant.
Availability: High-end grocery stores and independent retailers
Food pairing: Triple cream cheeses like Saint André, Sauteed shrimp toppedwith lemon butter sauce, roasted Cuban pork
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