Food & Drink

Unoaked Chardonnays of Sonoma County

September 7, 2011 12:59 PM

If you’re burned out on the standard table whites but still find a chardonnay to be too heavy, may we suggest checking out the unoaked variety? Bottled in early spring, this charming wine is beginning to make a name for itself – especially among the vineyards of the Russian River Valley. An unoaked chardonnay pairs well with fish, vegetables, fruit and chicken. (It’s also rather delightful on its own, especially while on a warm sunny day.) These varietals have incredible fruit aromas and are slightly spicier than other whites, yet don’t overwhelm your palette like many of their barrel-fermented cousins. Plus because they lack the traditional oaking process, these quality wines can be sold at a significantly lower price point.

The trick, however, to getting the right unoaked chard is to find a quality vineyard that treats this wine as its own varietal and not just something that was bottled early to make extra cash. Well that and finding a store or restaurant that offers it. Fortunately for you, we did the heavy lifting of locating, touring and testing out the best Sonoma County has to offer.

Pellegrini Family Vineyards
4055 West Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Pellegrini Family Vineyards

Pellegrini Family Vineyards specialize in Italian-style wine making and have done so for four generations. Located in the Russian River Valley, Pellegrini offers an amazing unoaked chardonnay at $20. Its green apple flavors and acidity are delightful with seafood. But don’t take our word for it, the winery offers a series of pairing ideas for all their vintages.

Iron Horse Vineyards
9786 Ross Station Rd
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Iron Horse Vineyards

Iron Horse is located just south of the Russian River on an idyllic hill overlooking the farmland and redwoods of Forestville. Their unoaked chard is light and airy, yet with a distinct minerality. It’s priced at $26 and pairs well with Asian cuisine, especially seafood. (And if you prefer a more bubbly version, their Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine is made with the same grapes.)

DeLoach Vineyards
1791 Olivet Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
DeLoach Vineyards

Another gem on Olivet Road, DeLoach features biodynamic gardens, a guest house for wine club members and incredible social events for wine club members. They also are incredibly dog-friendly, and guests are encouraged to enjoy their samples on the gorgeous patio. Plus they offer an incredible unoaked chardonnay whose sales benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank – so while you’re sipping a spicy medium white, you’re actually helping others.

Valley of the Moon
777 Madrone Rd
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Valley of the Moon

Fresh and vibrant, Valley of the Moon’s unoaked chardonnay has won many accolades – including an 87 rating from Wine Enthusiast. Not available in general distribution, the vintage usually sells for about $17. But if you see it, take it. The latest batch sold out fast.

Branham Estate Wines
132 Plaza Street
Healdsburg, CA
Branham Estate Wines

Located inside Healdsburg’s Downtown Wine store, just off the town square, Branham Estate Wines’ incredible unoaked chardonnay is worth the trip north. Sample it in a flight or enjoy a full pour at the very cool Downtown Wine store… especially if you’re looking for a fun, casual and friendly environment filled with vintage vinyl and interesting locals.

Toad Hollow
4024 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Toad Hollow

Starting in 1993, Toad Hollow blazed the trail for unoaked chardonnays of Sonoma County. Consistent, clean, crisp and affordable, this wine is just fantastic – creamy with hints of fruit and spice, it pairs very well with something light (we tried it with a summer salad) and is incredible on its own. Because of the high demand for the vintage, Toad Hollow started growing their grapes in Mendocino County… but their heart and tasting room remain in Healdsburg. When you visit, be sure to ask for Frankie as her stories of founding the varietal are as delightful as the wine itself.

-Lizz Westman

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