Food & Drink

Everything I thought I knew about Chardonnay was wrong. Help

Few wine lovers suffer more abuse than the aficionados of oaky, buttery Chardonnay. Except for the stubborn, foolhardy few who will not relinquish their white zinfandel — courage, comrades! Although I’m not really your comrade because I won’t drink that swill. But I respect dedication.

But back to the butter lovers. You know who you are (me). There are millions of you (us). We go to the grocery store. We reach for the Kendall Jackson, the Estancia, the Clos du Bois. Friends sneer. Sommeliers shudder. We don’t care because you know what? Butter tastes good.

But what if unbuttery Chardonnays taste good, too? What if an unoaked Chardonnay could stun your taste buds into submission and offer a life-altering view of what white wine can be? Could that oaky Chardonnay be pried from your not-yet cold, dead hand at least once in awhile?

We turned to Balletto Vineyards in California’s Russian River Valley to try out this revolutionary idea with some trepidation. Here is a time line of our adventure.


Taste off! Which @ballettovineyards #chardonnay is best, oaked or unoaked? #wines #winelover

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6:30 p.m.: We open two bottles: Balletto’s 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and 2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay (Teresa, by the way, is the wife of owner John Balletto. More than 10 years ago she suggested tormenting some Chardonnay grapes by separating them from oak forever. Now it’s a Balletto tradition).

6:32 p.m.: We try Teresa’s Unoaked. Feel our mouths pucker at the not entirely surprising tart, tangy citrus bite. It’s reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc but without the hateful mineral and/or grassy aftershock.

6:33 p.m.: Because we are savages, we abandon Teresa’s to return to the 2015 Chardonnay. Ahhh. This is easily identifiable as Chardonnay. Smooth, familiar, the friendly fruitiness of pear, that hint of oak, everything we always want.

6:35-7:30 p.m.: We polish off the 2015 Chardonnay. We are delighted.

7:31 p.m.: We dig into dinner, a garlicky, cheesy, lemon asparagus risotto and, out of our oaky first love, we turn dejectedly back to Teresa’s. But suddenly that crisp, clean taste is unbelievably desirable. Delicious. Perfect, even. It cuts through the heavy risotto with ease.

7:32 p.m.: We toast Balletto and vow to end our narrow-minded, provincial ways and drink more unoaked Chardonnay. Will we stick with our plan? Stay tuned...

How much: 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay $28; Teresa’s Unoaked, $20.

Where to find them: Publix, Whole Foods, Stefano’s Liquor Store in Key Biscayne.