Taste: Rich and lush texture, with aromas and flavors ranging from citrus and stone fruits, to tropical fruits, depending on the climate of the region. Butter and a creamy / yeasty richness accompany these flavors, as well as toast and vanilla imparted by oak.
Dry / Sweet: Dry
Age: Most are best drunk young (especially those from warmer regions), but better quality wines need up to five years and the finest require up to ten.
In comparison to unoaked Chardonnay (shar-doe-NAY), with its delicate fruit, light texture and minerality (see Chardonnay in the Crisp style), oaked Chardonnay is rich and full bodied with extra flavor dimensions of toast and vanilla imparted by oak, and further complexity develops as it ages. Similar to unoaked Chardonnay, the flavors of oaked Chardonnay range from green and citrus fruits in cooler regions (apple, pear and lime), to stone fruits in moderate regions (apricot and peach) and tropical fruits in warmer regions (banana and pineapple).
However, it is important to note that, because of the subtlety and delicacy of its fruit, many of the flavors in Rich style Chardonnay derive from wine production techniques: butter flavors from malolactic fermentation which softens acidity, or creamy texture from stirring dead yeast cells (lees) through the wine, and the considerable impact that oak aging has on the flavor profile of the finished wine. Consequently, Rich style Chardonnays have more structure and weight than those made in the Crisp style, as well as having greater potential to develop complexity as they age and mature.
Obviously, not all wines are made to the same standard and, as Chardonnay is relatively easy to grow and to make, much of it is indifferent and mass-produced to hit a particular retail price point. To find the good wines you will have to move a little up the price scale and look for smaller producers, as well as some information on how their wine is made. The back labels on wine bottles, especially those from progressive winemakers, can provide a great deal of useful information.
The best winemakers strive to make great Chardonnay and in the Rich style their benchmark is Burgundy in France. For Burgundy is the spiritual home of the Chardonnay grape, and produces the finest expressions of oaked Chardonnay, and some of the greatest white wines in the world. At their best, these wines are superb and have prices to match, but there are still bargains to be had and many fine Burgundies are available at moderate prices. Fortunately, there are also plenty of talented winemakers around the world producing excellent quality oaked Chardonnays.
Keep in mind that the best Chardonnay can really only be made in cool climate regions, and there are many of these to discover and explore.
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