Chardonnay: Unoaked vs Oaked


Parents & Origin: Pinot Noir + Gouais Blanc, Northeastern France
Grape: Green-skinned, sturdy
Flavors: Apple, pear, peach, melon
Notable Regions: Australia, Italy, California, New Zealand, and more
Sweetness: Dry
Body: Medium
Tannins: Low
Acidity: High
ABV: 12-14%

Chardonnay is a white wine grape variety grown in almost every wine region around the world—and one of the most popular too. In fact, 93,148 acres of California vineyards planted Chardonnay in 2018.†

The History of Chardonnay

Originating from Pinot and the nearly extinct Gouais Blanc grape varieties in northeastern France, Chardonnay’s history goes back to the middle ages. Chardonnay is loved by winemakers for the blank slate it allows them to create with. The wine is incredibly dynamic and will take on a variety of different characteristics depending on the soil, terroir, how it’s aged, and much more.

Chardonnay is the first truly international varietal, as its versatility allows it to grow in almost any climate. Flavors will vary depending on where your wine was grown and what sort of aging process it was taken through.

Anything but Chardonnay

Big business almost ruined Chardonnay for everyone, sparking The Anything But Chardonnay movement in the 1980’s. Large wineries put profits over taste and what once were refined Chardonnay wines turned into creamy, buttery, overtly sugar-filled wines. Consumers began associating Chardonnay with “ignorant” wine drinking, and spawned the ABC movement, removing Chardonnay from wine experts consideration for at least 10 years. Thankfully, wineries responded by experimenting with different ways to prepare and present the grape, leading to its mass popularity today!

Interesting Fact: Chardonnay was first blended with its parent grape Pinot Noir in Burgundy to produce Champagne, causing Chardonnay total acres grown to skyrocket. Today, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape variety in the world.

Unoaked vs Oaked Chardonnay Tasting Notes

The difference between unoaked and oaked Chardonnay is relatively straight forward. One is aged in oak, while the other is not. Instead of fruity flavors, when Chardonnay spends time in oak it expresses flavors of vanilla, caramel, and even butter.

Unoaked Chardonnay

Unoaked Chardonnay is closer in style to Sauvignon Blanc than oaked chardonnay, though Chardonnay has less “green flavors.” Unoaked Chardonnay typically has a more “refreshing” taste and flavors of apples and lemons shine through.

If you prefer your wine to be more minerally and on the dryer side, then you should consider unoaked Chardonnay over oaked Chardonnay.

Oaked Chardonnay

Oaked Chardonnay is what sparked the ABC revolution of the 1980’s, but since has found itself to be more balanced and drinkable. Cooler climate oaked Chardonnays will espouse citrus flavors while warmer climate Chardonnays will show tropical fruit flavors.

Those who enjoy a smooth and rich wine should go for an oaked Chardonnay.

Malolactic Fermentation

Oaked Chardonnay undergoes a natural chemical process called malolactic fermentation that happens when the wine is stored in oak barrels. This fermentation causes the malic acid found in unoaked Chardonnay, that produces fruity flavors, to change into lactic acid, a quality usually found in milk. This is how we get the buttery qualities that make oaked Chardonnay a better companion with heavier dishes.

Chardonnay Food Pairings

Due to the wide range of styles that Chardonnay comes in, it has the potential to be paired with a variety of foods.

Unoaked Chardonnay Food Pairings

Chardonnay is most commonly paired with roasted chicken and other light, white meats. Unoaked Chardonnay goes well with delicate fish, seafood dishes, and really just about anything. But, if you have a heavily oak influenced Chardonnay then you risk overwhelming the delicate flavors found in delicate dishes. Unoaked Chardonnay also pairs well with cheeses, specifically Alpine-style. Gruyere and challerhocker are two great Alpine-style cheeses you can use.

Interesting Fact: Alpine-style cheeses are hard cheeses made with milk from cows that grazed on seasonal flowers, herbs, and grasses at higher elevations.††

Oaked Chardonnay Food Pairings

Oaked Chardonnays are typically heavier in “butter” and will pair with more intense dishes than unoaked Chardonnay. Turn to smoked fish and guacamole with these wines. Another approach is to go with simply-prepared seafood like seared scallops. The simplicity of the food will actually allow the Chardonnay to shine and the flavors in the dish to pop.

Shop Chardonnay Wines

Our Selection of Unoaked Chardonnay

  • California: 2017 OM Lodi Chardonnay - From the Wine Enthusiast 2015 Wine Region of the Year, this mellow Chardonnay has flavors of apple and pear.
  • Italy: 2018 Belfiore Chardonnay Trevenezie I.G.T. - A customer favorite, notes of apple and bread crust make this an easy-to-enjoy white wine.
  • Chile: 2019 Pajarito Reserva Chardonnay - Chile is an up-and-comer in the international wine scene, and this Chardonnay proves why. Tart and dry, hints of lemon, pineapple, banana, and toasted almond round out this fruit-forward white. You can also try 2018 here.
  • Australia: 2017 Starlight Ridge Chardonnay - From the famed Barossa Valley region, this ripe and rich Australian white is smooth and easy to drink.
  • South Africa: 2018 Trebuchet Chardonnay - One of the most dry Chardonnays that we carry, this unique wine has hints of pineapple and comes all the way from South Africa!

Chardonnay in a Nutshell: The Gateway Grape

Chardonnay is at its core developed into whatever vinters want it to be. Almost no other grape varietal allows the winemaker the level of control in deciding what the flavor profile will be.

Ready to learn more? Don't forget to check out our other wine guides:

Learn About Sauvignon Blanc Wine
Learn About Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris Wine