With one major exception, I am not usually a fan of unoaked Chardonnay. The variety comes into its own with subtle (emphasis on subtle) oak treatment, whether in the wines of Burgundy, California, or Oregon, to name just a few prominent regions where the grape thrives. Without this oak layer, the wines can be one-dimensional and lacking in depth. (That one exception is Chablis, the northernmost Burgundy outpost where the Chardonnays are defined by a great minerality infused by mainly Kimmeridgian soils of limestone, clay, and fossilized oyster shells.)
But an unexpected surprise came recently as I tasted an unoaked wine from California: the 2019 Stainless Chardonnay from Chamisal Vineyards in the Central Coast. This an impressive and unusual wine that becomes even more attractive with the suggested price of $18.
As the name suggests, the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel. The grapes are sourced from vineyards in various Central Coast regions, including Chamisal’s vineyard in the Edna Valley.
Chamisal points out that all the vineyards are marked by “cool, maritime-influenced climates that retain acidity and prevent overripe characters from developing in the grapes.” That acidity is a hallmark of Chamisal’s Stainless Chardonnay, supporting notes of green apple, apple skin, lime, and orange, as well as touches of green olive, smoke, and salinity. A slightly textured, even “chalky” finish adds to the complexity.
Partial malolactic fermentation and lees aging and stirring add a roundness to the wine, almost simulating some of the qualities barrel aging might bring, but without the typical vanilla and butterscotch notes. There are lots of food possibilities here, ranging from fish and chicken to vegetable dishes. With 15,800 cases of Chamisal’s 2019 Stainless Chardonnay produced, it should be widely available, too.