Simple Hedonisms suggests: “Cool off this summer with some naked chardonnay … and expand your palate” (psst! It’s under $20)

What’s your perspective on Chardonnay? Love it? Avoid it? Or do you regularly try new wines and winemaking styles? If you shun Chardonnay as I did for many years, you may identify as an ABC drinker – “Anything But Chardonnay”. Simple Hedonisms has used this term to describe the backlash against overly oaked “butter bombs” popularly known as “California-style” Chardonnay. Whatever your motivation may be to explore, your understanding and appreciation is sure to benefit from trying new wines and styles.

Food Friendly
If you enjoy a crisp, palette-cleansing white wine with your asian spicy dishes, rich or “stinky” cheeses, oysters or seafood – don’t pass up the “new” Chardonnays made without oak aging or malolactic (ML) fermentation. You won’t recognize these wines as Chardonnay if you’ve only been exposed to the heavy oak and butter style. Think of them more like a new white varietal, and a possible alternative to dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, if you are like me, you may begin to recognize an intense varietal character that you can distinctly identify as Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Grapes, Kopriva Vineyards

Kopriva is a family-owned single-vineyard producer of unoaked, no ‘ML” Chardonnay in the Carneros region of Sonoma county. I first wrote about their wine in my blog, VitaeVinoNote: If you’re in the Sonoma area, meet the winemaker and taste Kopriva Chardonnay at Big 3 Wine Bar, 6pm Friday July 16.

The Carneros Region
One of the charms of Carneros is the growers and smaller producers hidden down country lanes, who grace the landscape with their vineyards. Some of the acreage has been in cool climate fruit or grape crops for decades. Despite being one of Sonoma County’s most southerly appellations, Carneros is one of the coolest. It borders San Pablo Bay, and is subject to marine air movement between the Bay and the Pacific Ocean (a phenomena known as the Petaluma Wind Gap). Carneros AVA is home to 75 growers, 22 wineries, and over 7500 vineyard acres. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes flourish in its’ cool climate, resulting in a concentrated fruit said to represent a “true expression of the varietal.”

So what does that mean in plain English? Also known as “un-wooded”, “stainless” or “naked” — unoaked Chardonnay reveals what the grape itself tastes like minus the oak and butter effects. At 13.5% alcohol, Kopriva’s Chardonnay doesn’t overpower food. Yet its bright acid and crisp minerality can cut through the richest cheesy pasta, the spiciest entree or oiliest fish dish.

Kopriva Unoaked Chardonnay, Carneros Sonoma CA

Hadley Larson in the Kopriva Vineyards

Last week Simple Hedonisms visited the Kopriva vineyard at Cassidy Ranch, and was greeted warmly by Hadley Larson. She and wine-maker partner Myles McMonigle live on the property and perform all duties from running tractor, harvesting and hauling grapes, to marketing and delivering local orders. Myles studied geology and enology and has worked for MacRostie, Domaine Carneros and B.R. Cohn wineries. He is currently Enologist at Groth Vineyards in Napa. His parents purchased the property about 10 years ago. Myles’ father was influenced by an early friendship with the Benziger family (of Benziger, Imagery, and Tribute label fame). At Cassidy Ranch, they maintain the vines using sustainable practices, including minimal tilling of the land to preserve minerals and moisture and allow native cover crops – which return nitrogen to the soil — to thrive. Thus the rustic look of what they call their “shabby chic” vineyard.

The New Unoaked Style
Kopriva started making their unoaked Chardonnay 5 years ago, joining a handful of producers such as Mer Soleil with their “Silver” Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, and Toad Hollow Vineyards of Healdsburg. It was challenging in those days to overcome the stereotypes of California style. Some restaurant and retail buyers didn’t believe they were tasting Chardonnay. Kopriva resorted to introducing their wine by likening it to Chablis.

About 2-1/2 years ago Kopriva’s task became a little easier as recognition grew for the unoaked style. Acclaim for producers Kim Crawford of New Zealand and Toad Hollow helped build awareness. Coverage in Food & Wine magazine of the new style chardonnay and its suitability for food pairing continues the momentum. There is now a thriving community of unoaked chardonnay drinkers centered around a delightfully irreverent blog dedicated to the style at Unoakedchardonnay.com. The labor of love for these bloggers has resulted in reviews of 68 wines from 10 regions and countries. Readers regularly suggest new wines to taste, which the bloggers promptly seek out. As well, a few wine competitions are introducing unoaked Chardonnay as a category — the Sonoma County Fair is one.

Get Naked
The vineyards aren’t open to the public, but you can taste Kopriva at Big 3 Wine Bar at Fairmount Sonoma Mission Inn. Big 3 focuses exclusively on Sonoma wines — by the taste, glass and bottle. Several, like Kopriva, are not available elsewhere for tasting. A few retail and restaurant outlets, mostly in the SF Bay Area, carry Kopriva (see the website for a list). In and around Carneros, the wine is available at Whole Foods Market in Marin, Napa and Sonoma.

If you’d like to explore this new style further, another Carneros example is Roche Winery’s “Stainless Steel Chardonnay” ($15.99 suggested retail) available at their tasting room on the Sonoma Square. Kunde Estate in Kenwood produces “Chardonnay Nu,” or what they call their “naked” chardonnay — available for tasting at the winery ($15.99 at Bottle Barn). Using grapes from Lodi, CA, an award-winning producer of Chardonnay in the unoaked style is Passaggio ($11.99 on their website or at Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma). Simple Hedonisms writes periodically on this emerging style – search for “unoaked Chardonnay” to find out more.

At under $20, these wines fit the budget — and the menu as well.

Kopriva Chardonnay

WINE REVIEW

Color: Pale metallic straw, mirror clear

Aroma: Citrus, hint of lactic, with a splash of dry straw

In the Mouth: The appeal of this wine is in it’s tactile complexity – fruity at the front, mouth-filling at mid-palette, with a crisp flourishing acid finish at the back. Leaving the wine in contact with its yeast lees (wine sediment) for 4 months gives this chardonnay its pleasurable mouth feel.

Flavors: Grapefruit, pineapple, and hints of other fruits ranging from tangy to tropical, in concert with mineral notes.

Price: Retail $14-19. Wholesale: $120/ case. (media sample)

Vintages: 2008 currently, 2009 launches in Fall 2010.

WINE GEEK INFO
Acres planted: 12
Case Quantity: 299
Harvest: September 11, 2008
Alcohol: 13.52%
Average Chemistry: 3.31 pH, .576g TA
Residual Sugar: 0.033
Fermentation: 100% Stainless steel
Aging: 4 months sur lie
Malolactic Fermentation: 0%

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5 Responses to “Simple Hedonisms suggests: “Cool off this summer with some naked chardonnay … and expand your palate” (psst! It’s under $20)”

  • Joe:

    Chardonnay really is a chameleon, and can manifest itself in so many different ways! Good to see you’re fighting the good fight to get someone to maybe try it one more time and key in on a style he/she likes (for me, oaked vs. unoaked/malo vs. no malo, etc. just depends on my mood :)

    • VitaeVino:

      So true Joe, Simple Hedonisms could write another article about Chardonnay as the chameleon … and maybe we will! You got the message: keep an open mind toward wines and styles. This article is especially for those Chardonnay “burn outs” … of which I was a member ’til quite recently. Thanks for chiming in – your thoughts are welcomed.

  • Christina:

    Thanks for the naked Chardonnay suggestion, as I too prefer the unoaked versions, although malolactic fermentation definitely helps with the smoothness. There’s definitely nothing new about it though – we just needed to get more Americans to drink Chablis, Macon-Villages, and other lightly-oaked or unoaked Burgundian whites! :-)

    • VitaeVino:

      You’re welcome Christina and yes, getting more of US wine drinkers- or any wine drinkers – to try new wines and styles is a win-win. Hopefully in some way we are contributing toward that in our writing and educating.

      PS I was very interested how keeping grapes on the lees for 4 months or so seemed to compensate for the lack of ML. Others are doing this too (see Simple Hedonisms Wine Review – Branham 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (no oak or ML)) as another example of this technique.

  • [...] Over time I discovered what diversity chardonnay has, and learned to appreciate styles from other countries such as Australia, and of course France, whose diversity of chardonnay styles is almost overwhelming, and few others resemble the old California style. I also became a fan a few years ago of unoaked or ‘naked’ chardonnay – when done right, such as Kopriva. [...]

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