Naked Chardonnay

Chardonnay, you may have heard, has become hip to hate, but don’t jump on that bandwagon until you’ve tried the new laser-bright, crisp, un-oaked chardonnays now hitting the market.

To explain: For decades, vintners have heightened the toasty vanilla-bean smoothness of America’s favorite white wine by aging chardonnay in new oak barrels. They’ve also muted its bite through a process called malolactic fermentation, eliminating much of the wine’s natural acidity.

That’s all fine in principle, but balance is not a California forte. Pretty soon the state’s gonzo winemakers—along with imitators in Chile an Australia—were using so much oak and “malo” that they’d turned chardonnay into a massively rich butterscotch candy of a wine that was almost impossible to pair with food. No wonder some wine snobs adopted the “ABC rule”: Anything But Chardonnay.

So now for the good news: The wine-market correction has finally come, with the new category of oak-free “naked” chardonnays showcasing the grape’s more natural qualities. It’s so distinctive a wine-making choice—such a break with the industry norm—that almost nobody does it without telling you right on the label. But unlike a lot of what you read on wine bottles, it’s no mere hustle: If you’re hoping to make a brace of oysters sing or wash down a garlic-lemon roast chicken, check out one of these offerings.

Joel Gott 2007 Chardonnay ($16)

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