Buttery. Vanilla. Charred. When I read these words on a bottle of Chardonnay, I put it right back down. The label might as well read “Oaky, with a hint of oak, and a mouthful of wood.”
Big oaky Chardonnays (California is especially guilty) need to join the other 1980’s trends like shoulder pads and slap bracelets and die a quick death.
When used correctly, oak is critical to the wine making process and nearly as important as the grape itself. When used incorrectly, it overpowers what could have been a beautiful wine. I also suspect it is used to cover the flavor of not-so-great wine (lazy winemaking).
Before you @ me and send angry emails, let me say that there is nothing wrong with liking oaky Chards. They are just not for me and the reason is that unoaked or unwooded Chard can be magical. They can burst with tropical fruit, melons, and similar lush happy mouth stuff.
Go forth and ask your wine retailer for lightly wooded, unoaked, or unwooded Chardonnays and let me know what you think.
Pro Tip: A lot of French white table wine is actually Chardonnay and rarely involves oak.
The big guys are very protective of their brands and the big dollars they command for a bottle that come along with it. That’s in its self isn’t really news, just ask anyone at BMW, Prada or Armani. But here is a little gem about the wine industry big boys. It’s not unusual for them to press too much juice, or press a second lot of juice.
There could be any number of reasons why they decide not to use the juice. But some have speculated they don’t want to flood the market with too much premium product so not to devalue their brand. We don’t know about this for sure, but here is what we do know. The excess juice is sometimes sold to another winery in secret or wine is made by the winery and marketed under a different label. Here’s where it gets interesting.
These wines are often nearly identical to their much more premium relatives, but can cost up to half the price. It’s hard to know when this will happen, or where grapes come from. But sometimes the rumors are just so strong that word gets out, and sometimes the writing is on the wall.
And we found one (kinda)!
In the case of Tangley Oaks and Rutherford Hill it’s not a big secret that they are owned by the same company. The Tangley Oaks Merlot from 2003 is exceptionally good stuff. It shares a lot of characteristics from it’s big brother Rutherford Hill 2003 Merlot which is $10 more a bottle. This is likely a second pressing from the same vineyard, or a blend. But who cares! At $17.95 a bottle this is simply too good to pass bye. See the Tangley Oaks Review.
So you have a couple of special bottles you’ve been hiding for that perfect dinner. Dinner is served and you break out this gem you’ve been so patiently waiting for. The wine was great, but went really fast. People are enjoying the food, conversation and the wine. Next your guests shout “Grab another bottle, that first one was great!”. This is a critical moment for your little collection you’ve been selectively building for the last couple of months. Go ahead and grab something good, but not your best. After having a meal and the first bottle of wine most people can’t differentiate between good and great wine. Every collection, no matter the size should have Back of the Door bottles. These are the bottles that are the 3rd and 4th soldiers in line after the first great bottle of wine. You don’t want to wake up the next morning and realize your 4 bottles down and $80 went with it. In the end, no one really remembered the great subsequent bottles. Just make sure the first one really counts.