California Chardonnay is often marked by the influence of oak aging, delivering a wine with a veneer of buttered toast, caramel and crème brûlée flavors. But when the use of oak is bypassed, the grape’s true personality has a chance to shine. Despite having a reputation as a neutral-tasting variety, Chardonnay offers a spectrum of fruit flavors, ranging from citrus in cooler climates to tropical in warmer climates, with apples, pears and peaches in-between. Here are eight unoaked California Chardonnays that scored 90 points or higher, proving that Chardonnay with scads of oak flavor isn’t the only way to enjoy the varietal’s natural full-throttle richness.
92 Marimar Estate 2009 Acero Unoaked Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $29. There’s no oak on this beautiful Chardonnay, but it’s so rich, you won’t even notice. Enhanced with crisp acidity and minerality, it’s potent in lime, citron, green apple, pear and honeysuckle flavors, with a vanilla sweetness.
91 Williams Selyem 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $37. Shows the racy acidity and brilliantly ripe flavors of the winery’s finest Chardonnays. The pineapple, mango, pear, lime and green-apple fruit purity is massive and impressive. There’s a sweet vanilla note that must come from the grapes, as no oak ever touched this lovely wine.
90 Chamisal 2010 Stainless Unoaked Chardonay (Central Coast); $18. So rich in flavor, you won’t miss the absence of oak. The fruit carries the wine all by itself, offering waves of pineapples, limes, peaches, pears, apricots and vanilla bean. Zesty Central Coast acidity makes the mouthfeel crisp and brilliant.
90 Mer Soleil 2010 Silver Unoaked Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands); $24. Mer Soleil’s Chardonnay grapes dependably get so ripe, they offer explosive flavors even without oak. The pineapple, orange and golden mango flavors are delicious on their own, and even offer a hint of vanilla. A mouthwateringly fresh squeeze of acidity makes everything bright and clean.
90 Morgan 2010 Metallico Unoaked Chardonnay (Monterey); $20. The pure, natural flavors of ripe Chardonnay grapes star in this wine, which is a combination of Santa Lucia Highlands and Arroyo Seco fruit. It’s potent in pineapple, tangerine, peach, papaya and pear flavors that burst in the mouth with the most brilliant acidity. Defines the unoaked Chardonnay style at its best.
90 Joel Gott 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay (Monterey); $16. Believe me, you won’t miss the oak barrel influence on this wine. It’s so good all by itself. Brightened with crisp Monterey acidity and totally dry, it’s rich in pineapple, tangerine, Meyer lemon, lime and vanilla flavors that will satisfy your Chardonnay tooth.