Oak-Free Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the great white grape of Burgundy, that part of France where modern winemaking was essentially born. In Burgundy, Chardonnay is either aged in oak barrels, which gives the wine flavors of butter, vanilla, smoke, and toast, or, if it’s from the region called Chablis, it’s made in neutral barrels which preserve the wine’s natural zingy minerality. Outside of Chablis, the worldwide trend has been for oak and more oak, leading many to complain that Chardonnays are only butter bombs that can’t pair with food. Not so! The clean, oak-free style of Chardonnay is coming back. Careful shoppers can now find some phenomenally pretty and zippy Chardonnays that work beautifully at the table. Here’s the best of the best.
 

2007 Brewer-Clifton Rancho Santa Rosa Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay

A breathtakingly pretty wine in which a lacy bouquet of fruit and flower notes, including honeysuckle, tangerine, candied lemon, and apple blossom, dance over a zippily energetic structure. Available: Try Thomas Liquors in St. Paul, and the Wine Shop in Wayzata. ($49)
 

2007 Mer Soleil “Silver” Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay

Mer Soleil makes one of the most famous buttery Chardonnays, but this oak-free version (first made in 2005) proves how good meticulously cultivated fruit can be. Light and juicy, but chic and well-knit, too. Available: Try France 44 or Hennepin-Lake Liquor in Minneapolis. ($27)
 

2007 Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Petit Chablis

This racy, mineral, absolutely charming and yet absolutely proper and traditional Chablis is a wine to delight the most traditional collector or the newest wine fan. Pair its steely lemon lilt with oysters or a perfect spring night. Insider’s tip: It’s on the wine list at this year’s hottest restaurant, Bar La Grassa, and sings alongside the restaurants’ lobster with soft eggs. Available: Try Thomas Liquors in St. Paul. ($22)
 

2008 Chamisal Vineyards Domaine Alfred Central Coast California Unoaked Chardonnay

A little fat, a little louche, this wine gives you a little of the blowsy opulence that people love Chardonnay for, but in a naked, easier style—think supermodel on the beach, not supermodel on the red carpet. Available: Try Surdyk’s in Minneapolis or Pairings in Minnetonka. ($14)
 

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