A blog I once read described unoaked Chardonnay as being like a beauty queen without lipstick - I'm sure the denizens and afficionados of Chablis would have something to say about that, but I can see the point.
Good, oaked Chardonnay has a wonderful richness and food-friendly complexity that can only come from time spent in new oak. It is a relatively easy grape to grow and some many parts of the world do so that it is no longer particularly associated with any one region (in the way one talks of Argentinean Malbec or Chilean Carmenere, just to give two examples from South America), but its spiritual home is Burgundy where styles range from subtly oaked to rich, buttery-toasty wines with flavours of oatmeal and nuts.
Australia, by contrast, pioneered a much riper, more overtly crowd-pleasing style with tropical fruit and buttery spice and it is these alternatives of restrained old world and up-front new world that have become the key distinction for Chardonnay styles. Until recently, it seems.
Unoaked Chardonnay has always existed - and not just in the wines of Chablis; Styria (in Austria), New Zealand and Chile all produce varying amounts of it, and numerous other places do too. However, as a recent tasting I organised showed, people seem to have gone off that oaked Chardonnay style in a big way in favour of something crisp and aromatic that has never seen the inside of a barrel.
The popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon and rise-and-rise of Pinot Grigio in the last few years is a testament to that. Inexplicably (to me, at least) this swing towards crisp, minerally wines has by-passed Riesling completely, which I fear is destined to remain a niche interest forever. Well, at least that keeps the price down for those of us who do appreciate its wonderfully complex and food-friendly charms.
In the glass it is a pale gold colour, the nose is full, fresh and citrussy with restrained tropical fruits and hints of pear and nectarine on the palate, good, balanced acidity and a smooth finish. Overall, it has a light crispness that belies the 14.5 alcohol level.
At £5.99 it's good value, too, as either a light quaffing wine for the garden or even a picnic. Sadly, summer is finishing in Cambridge and the last few days have felt more wintry even than autumnal, so picnics may well be few and far between for a while, but it will also serve either as an aperitif or with dishes made from salmon, cream or soft cheese - or maybe all three.
Vina Indomita - http://www.indomita.cl/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
"Unoaked Chardonnay - A Beauty Queen w/o Lipstick" by Kelly Brown, http://allthingsliquid.com/?p=301