The world of Chardonnay is divided into those who love wooded or at least a barrel fermented chardonnay such as the famous wines from Burgundy and those who love “unwooded” such as Chablis from France. We at Boucheron love both!
The winegrower’s decision to involve oak is a personal one, especially in South Africa. The decision depends on growing conditions (terroir) and winemaking inclinations. The “unwooded” Chardonnay will be fermented and matured in stainless steel tanks and the wooded version will be fermented and matured in oak barrels. There are even hybrid methods where both steel and wood are used but let’s keep things simple for the moment ...
These two different fermentation and maturation methods result in different flavour profiles of wines made from the same grape. One shouldn’t generalise, but most Chardonnays that have been oaked will be more concentrated, weighty and complex than their counterparts. These wines will have flavour profiles of butterscotch/caramel, pears, apricots, hazelnuts, white flowers, lemon and mineral nuances.
The “unwooded” Chardonnay flavour profile offers fresher flavour attributes such as fresh gooseberries, limes, green fig and good minerality, depending where they were grown. These wines are lighter in body but may offer more fruit as there is no oak to compete with.
The question you should be asking yourself is: does the weight of the occasion match the weight of the Chardonnay? An un-wooded Chardonnay is a much easier drink and is a lot fresher if the occasion is simply soaking in the sun in your back garden or being social with friends. Wooded Chardonnays, however, offer a better pairing solution when it comes to heavier foods.
We have recently bottled our Boucheron “un-wooded” Chardonnay and it’s delicious! This wine offers fresh but intense fruit of gooseberries, figs and limes. The wine is so accessible that it does very well as a social wine too, but also has a touch of “minerality”, making it a great accompaniment to oysters, prawns and other fresh seafood.
Our Marklew Chardonnay is the wooded variety and exists on the other side of the spectrum –a weighty wine that calls for food to help finish the bottle! This wine has great body and stands up to the darkest of your roasted chicken and all the starchy vegetables that go with it; a great lunch or dinner wine but not as accessible. This is not a wine to be served for drinking on its own.
The idea is to choose the appropriate wine for the appropriate occasion, not to be a hard-line wooded or “unwooded” Chardonnay drinker. Assess the weather, the body of the food or lack of food body or perhaps no food at all. Then decide on “unwooded” Chardonnays for warmer days with lighter foods and wooded Chardonnays with heavier foods as it gets cooler.