Lucky Star Chardonnay: To Oak or Not To Oak

“One not only drinks the wine, one smells it, observes it, tastes it, sips it and – one talks about it.”                     
                                                                                                                ----- King Edward VII            

You would think that with the thousands of wine grapes available to pick on (in just Italy there are more than a thousand documented grape varieties) we should be able to harass a different variety each year. But pity Chardonnay. For at least fifteen years, winemakers have singled out the Chardonnay grape. They’ve been telling us we should enjoy only un-oaked Chardonnay. Oak is to be loathed as if it would destroy all the character of the grape.  And like so many statements, if repeated often enough, and long enough, we begin to accept it as true.   To be fair, it did seem years ago that Chardonnay no longer offered any fruit.  It was saturated with vanilla and butter (a result of too much of a good thing).  Who needed lobster? Just open a bottle of Chardonnay for dinner.

I didn’t realize that a lonely Chardonnay grape could hang so heavy on the pendulum of taste so as to cause such wide swings.  Now we have Chardonnay that is not fermented in wood or aged in wood. It’s 100% steel vat fruit. That’s tasty with Sauvignon Blanc, but not appropriate when a mildly oaked Chardonnay would fit the menu like nothing else.  Used judiciously, oak-aged chardonnay acquires lushness and complexity, while maintaining the correct balance of fruitiness.  Can there be a happy medium?  And to make the whole of it even more challenging, consider that “process drives price.”  Aging takes time and it takes space, all of which drives price.  And small oak barrels cost money, upwards of $350 each and are useable for only three to four years.  Can a good, low-cost Chardonnay be made for the 99%?  

While pouring for Premiere Tastings and Heritage Wine Distributors last month, it was my good fortune to pour samples of Lucky Star Chardonnay. As with their Pinot Noir, this wine also is a unique blend: 92% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) and 3% Sauvignon Blanc. It is 100% California grape. The Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) adds floral notes and the Sauvignon Blanc enriches the citrus flavors and crispness of the wine.  After crushing, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks at 60 degrees for up to 12 days with Burgundian yeasts.  This cool temperature preserves the freshness and delicacy of the fruit.  A portion of the blend undergoes malolactic fermentation (during which the tart malic acid is converted into softer lactic acid), making the wine softer and adding silkiness and body. Ah, the winemaker’s art! If he goes too heavy here, the wine loses its tart acidity. But if done well, it is during this process that Chardonnay develops its butteriness. (from a chemical compound called diacetyl which is produced) Yet again, balance must be sought and achieved.

The result in Lucky Star Chardonnay is a wine of excellent balance.  People from both sides of the” oak vs. no oak” debate enjoyed it - so much that my supply was sold out during the tasting.  Lucky Star Chardonnay offers freshness, fruit and mild hints of vanilla without losing crispness.  And you can enjoy it with the lobster because this wine will add only $11.49 to the cost of the meal. At this price, it is a WineMizer recommendation. Enjoy it also with a smoked chicken salad made with apples and walnuts.  Look for a beautiful spring day of blue skies, small puffy, white clouds, and gentle breezes. Then pack the picnic basket with a chilled bottle to enjoy outdoors.

Bon Appétit!
……………………….. Jim
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