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Chardonnay, Hold the Oak

Un-oaked chards let the grape shine through


Big oaky chardonnays tend to taste a lot alike. When the wood dominates, you lose the sense of place and all the different flavors that terroir can impart. Cut the new oak and the chardonnay grape comes shining through, reflecting the wide variety of styles and tastes that diverse regions bring out, as the week's top picks prove.

2009 Joseph Drouhin Chablis, Vaudon, $22

While the other two wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel, this one spends time in old, neutral oak barrels. Because of that, you don't taste the wood, but it does add texture and structure. There's a nice minerality to the pear and melon fruit aromas, while the flavors are ripe and round, with honeyed melon and crisp apple that turn creamy on the persistent finish. This one is an elegant delight from France.

2009 Rayun Chardonnay, $7.99

This wine from Chile definitely reflects its terroir with a richness that is surprising for an unoaked chardonnay. Creme brulee and dried apricot work beautifully together on the nose. On the palate, the flavors are full and ripe, filled with rich stone fruit, blood orange and apple, and balancing citrus on the finish. The Rayun is an intriguing bargain.

2009 Ryan Patrick Naked Chardonnay, $8.99

Love sauvignon blanc but not so crazy about most chardonnay? You need to give this wine a try. It opens with bright tropical fruit aromas marked by grapefruit, ripe lemon and lime. Lean and lively on the palate, its crisp citrus is balanced by creamy mango and melon flavors that linger nicely. This is a great value from this Washington winery.