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Howie Hart

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The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Howie Hart » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:20 pm

This past weekend, I flew to Florida for my aunt’s 90th birthday party and took along a few of my home made wines to share with the relatives. After the big party, several of us gathered in one of the suites at the resort hotel we were all staying at. Always wanting to see how my home mad wines compare with “the store-bought stuff”, I poured myself a glass of 2004 Clos du Bois North Coast Chardonnay to compare with my ’05 oaked Chardonnay. Very different animals, so to speak. It was very difficult to tell they were from the same grape variety. My version is about 12% abv and was aged in glass with a small dose of oak chips, is bone dry, but a decent acid balance and fruit on the nose. The Clos du Bois, on the other hand, tasted of wood and alcohol. I looked on the label, but the alcohol content was not listed. I could not imagine pairing this with any typical “white wine” dish. In fact, to me it almost seemed like I was sipping whiskey. This lead me contemplate the appeal of such a wine, as I’m sure they sell tons of this stuff. A recent TV show on the History Channel about the “Little Ice Age” documented a cold spell from about 1400 to about 1850. During this period, grape harvests failed in the northern climates of Europe and the general populace of these areas switched from drinking wine to drinking beer and distilled spirits. It was people from these same areas that were the settlers and immigrants to North America during this period and they brought their drinking habits with them as they settled the New World. This, the program claimed, is why there is such a large preference for beer and whiskey over wine in the USA. If this is the case, then I can see how a wine that tastes like whiskey can have a mass appeal. Just my thoughts and observations.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Paul B. » Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:49 pm

Howie, I think that you have the gist of the situation - namely, North America's drinking habits until very recently, and possibly still to a large degree, being formed by Northern European traditions. However, I also distinctly recall someone somewhere somewhat¹ controversially claiming that internationalized wines were being favoured by "critics raised on candy bars", or something to that effect.

Frankly, I believe that this is a deciding factor, still, for many people - I see it among my own non-wine friends and family members: many just aren't habituated to appreciating the crisp acidity and palate-cleansing texture of a dry, food-friendly wine. I liken it to an almost juvenile distaste (pardon the pun) for adversity - we all have to overcome adversities of some kind, whether it be the fairly unpleasant taste of brussels sprouts or, for some, learning to like broccoli, etc.

The most famous example of this disdain for the non-smooth-and-easy for me was seeing someone mixing Grape Crush soda into a glass of fine South African Cab Sauvignon. I'm normally "live and let live", but that just had me wanting to yell heathen really bad ... :roll:

¹ Pardon the sudden alliteration.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Jeff Yeast » Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:45 pm

I'm not sure who is drinking them, but for a long time during my early wine experimentation, oaky, buttery California chardonnay had me convinced that I didn't like chardonnay. It wasn't until I had a few french un-oaked varieties that I realized it wasn't the grape that I disliked, but what they were doing to it.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Florida Jim » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:03 pm

Howie Hart wrote:This lead me contemplate the appeal of such a wine, . . .


I hear many domestic reds being referred to as "cocktail" wines; undoubtedly, it is likewise for whites. How many people simply ask for chardonnay when they ask for white wine?
And vanilla is a scent and flavor many enjoy.

You know, about the only place I ever hear complaints about over-oaked wines (red or white) is in internet wine forums. We are a very small minority.
Best, Jim
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by wrcstl » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:05 pm

Howie,
I agree with you but there are a lot of wine drinkers out there that think this is what chard is supposed to taste like. On several instances I have been in my favorite wine store and heard people ask for an oaky chard with buttery flavors. Doesn't make sense and it seems to be on the decline but many of the mass market drinkers have been taught that this is the expected taste profile.
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"Oaky Buttery California Chardonnays"....

by TomHill » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:14 pm

Add that to my cliche list.
If I hear that term tossed out one more time, I'm gonna...... :-)
I don't at all dislike all Calif Chards that have a lot of oak to them. The ones I DON'T like are the wines seriously deficient in acid. The Hanzells, the Mayacamas, the Ridges typically have a pretty strong oak component. Yet I like those a lot. In their place, they are good wines. Great to drink w/ the proper food.
As for buttery, I seldom find Calif Chards that have a strong diacetyl component, that pervasive character that you get in movie theatre popcorn from the artificial butter they use. Hardly ever.
There are plenty of unoaked Calif Chards out there for the oak adverse. I don't necessarily find them better. Sometimes they seem rather lean and ascetic in character.
What I do miss in Calif Chard, most of the time, is that mineral character you get in Chablis or Arbois Chard or Dolomite Chard. Now THAT'S what makes for an interesting Chard. And if it has a bunch of oak...that's OK too.
Sorry, Howie...you jerked the wrong chain. And...I must point out...the last Ice Age WAS afore my time..believe it!!
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Re: "Oaky Buttery California Chardonnays"....

by JC (NC) » Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:49 pm

Howie,
Funny that the example you picked was a Clos du Bois Chardonnay. The last Cal Chard I tried and enjoyed was also from Clod du Bois but was a slightly higher end entry from the Russian River Valley. See my previous posting:

2003 Clos du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

I liked this at the Pinehurst Wine and Food Festival and bought a bottle to take home.

14.5% alcohol
Medium straw color. Pear and kiwi fruit on the nose. Fruit and a touch of creamy vanilla on the palate. Also a touch of white pepper spice. I paired it with fried chicken one night and chicken enchiladas another night. Crisp enough to pair with Dungeness crab or other shellfish.
Back label indicates the wine blends from the best vineyards in cool-climate area with sufficient hangtime to ripen the grapes while retaining acidity. Barrel fermented and sur lie aged for 9 months in French oak barrels. Back label further describes it thusly: "This year's Calcaire is aromatic and flavorful with fresh apple blossom, pear, citrus and a touch of spice. The wine has a creamy and silky texture, complete with a long finish. This wine will continue to develop additional complexity with extended bottle age." I would recommend this as a "non-flabby" and appealing California Chard.
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Re: "Oaky Buttery California Chardonnays"....

by Howie Hart » Mon Nov 06, 2006 3:13 pm

Tom -
Far be it from me criticize anyone's wine preferences (well, perhaps the heathen PaulB referred to with the Grape Crush), as I don't feel I have most refined palate around and in no way did I intend this to be a reflection on CA Chards in general. I've had several I've enjoyed. It just seemed to me the syle of wine I tasted over the weekend might appeal to someone who wanted to switch from whisky drinking to wine drinking.

JC -
Actually, I did read your post before I posted to start this thread and I thought, "Well, the wine I tasted didn't resemble what JC described, but then again, its both a different vintage and it is their lower end entry".
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Ian Sutton » Mon Nov 06, 2006 3:32 pm

Paul B. wrote: I also distinctly recall someone somewhere somewhat¹ controversially claiming that internationalized wines were being favoured by "critics raised on candy bars", or something to that effect.

Yes it does get the odd airing, especially on non US boards and in part as a subtle side-swipe at the 'Parker palate'. Perhaps there's truth in it, perhaps not. It is a bit of a wind-up comment though.

How many of us didn't like sweet/candy when we were young I wonder? I reckon there will be one or two on this board who didn't like them and everyone else will have tucked into them with gusto. I recall one guy at college who never liked sugar or sweets/candy. Quite a shock for the nurse responsible for polio vaccine apparently when this child told her he wasn't going to take his medicine because of the sugar cube it was soaked into! she ended up giving him the vaccine medicine on a spoon apparently and he was much happier!

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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Dan Smothergill » Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:13 pm

Howie:
A recent TV show on the History Channel about the “Little Ice Age” documented a cold spell from about 1400 to about 1850. During this period, grape harvests failed in the northern climates of Europe and the general populace of these areas switched from drinking wine to drinking beer and distilled spirits. It was people from these same areas that were the settlers and immigrants to North America during this period and they brought their drinking habits with them as they settled the New World. This, the program claimed, is why there is such a large preference for beer and whiskey over wine in the USA.


I agree with you entirely about overly oaked-high alcohol Chardonnay. But to attribute preference for it to a cold spell that happened 700 years or so ago seems quite a stretch. Yeah maybe, but ...
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Victorwine » Tue Nov 07, 2006 12:45 am

It all comes down to “balance” and how one interprets it. One might say the wine is over oaked and out of balance and another (one who has repeated exposure to such wines and accustomed to drinking them) might say it’s in balance. (There is no right and wrong answer).

Salute
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Howie Hart » Tue Nov 07, 2006 10:07 am

Dan Smothergill wrote:...But to attribute preference for it to a cold spell that happened 700 years or so ago seems quite a stretch. Yeah maybe, but ...

Well, in a culture that has a preference for beer and hard liquor and a wine that has whiskey-like tasting qualities, is it that much of a stretch? Perhaps if that little ice age didn't happen, and the same migration patterns took place we'd be a nation of Riesling and Gewurtz drinkers. :?
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Howie Hart » Tue Nov 07, 2006 10:16 am

Victorwine wrote:It all comes down to “balance” and how one interprets it. One might say the wine is over oaked and out of balance and another (one who has repeated exposure to such wines and accustomed to drinking them) might say it’s in balance. (There is no right and wrong answer).

Salute

Agreed. I could appreciate that the wine with the heavy oak and alcohol was sound and balanced in it's own way, but it was just so different I couldn't imagine pairing it with food. As a social beverage to sip, it seemed appropriate. I finished the glass I poured for myself, contemplating its appeal.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Mark Lipton » Tue Nov 07, 2006 1:08 pm

Florida Jim wrote:
Howie Hart wrote:This lead me contemplate the appeal of such a wine, . . .

You know, about the only place I ever hear complaints about over-oaked wines (red or white) is in internet wine forums. We are a very small minority.
Best, Jim


That's not my experience, Jim. Many of my friends, none of whom (so far as I know) participate in Internet wine forums, have turned away from CalChards in favor of NZ SB. Several of them remarked to me that they didn't think they liked white wines until trying an unoaked Sauvignon. I helped one of them in particular pick the wines for her wedding reception. In the whites, she chose as her top wines a Kiwi Sauvignon, an unoaked Macon blanc and a QbA Riesling. When I recently showed up at my in-laws' with a 2004 Pepiere in hand, it was sucked down with gusto and my father-in-law later asked me for its name so he could get more.

FWIW, I see much less movement in red wine preferences, with gobby Shirazs, flabby Merlots and overextracted Pinots still quite the rage. I also find, even with myself, that new oak is easier to tolerate in reds than most whites (excepting the reds made from Valence to Dijon): I can still manage to choke down claret and Ridge Geyserville :D

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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Carl Eppig » Tue Nov 07, 2006 4:05 pm

My take on CA and other New World Chard is more modern and probably too simplistic. Somewhere in the period when CA "Chablis" was being taken over by CA Chard, the word got out that the best Chard in the world was from N. Burgundy and that the wines were aged in old oak. This planted the idea that Chad=Oak. Many wine writers fanned this flame to the point where hundreds of thousands if not millions of North Americans came to believe that white wine should taste like a tree. Several decades later this concept has spread to most New World Chard to the point where even the most inexpensive versions are treated to a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of toasted oak sawdust.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Dan Smothergill » Tue Nov 07, 2006 9:33 pm

Howie wrote:
Perhaps if that little ice age didn't happen, and the same migration patterns took place we'd be a nation of Riesling and Gewurtz drinkers.


I'll hoist a glass of Riesling or Gewurzt (or Steuben, Dutchess, Delaware, Diamond, Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc) to that!
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Paul B. » Tue Nov 07, 2006 10:00 pm

Dan Smothergill wrote:... or Steuben, Dutchess, Delaware, Diamond ...

Dan, when you raise that toast, you can be sure that I'll be doing a simultaneous one. :o
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by David Creighton » Tue Nov 07, 2006 10:14 pm

just had a lovely wine - restrained oak, moderate alcohol, just delicious:

roux pere bourgogne 2005 and only $15
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Covert » Wed Nov 08, 2006 6:14 am

Howie,

I disagree with many of the theories put forth re the whys and correlations about big chard preference, because I prefer them over all other whites, but do not like big cabs, candy, coke, whiskey or beer. Don't even eat desserts. And I prefer the un-parker Bordeaux wine years, such as 1999 and 2001, way over super ripe years of 2000 and 2003. And I can't even drink any of the California or Aussie reds. Love refined Loire whites and white Burgundies, but like huge cal chards more for a steady diet.

It's not the high sugar content per se that I like in the rich, concentrated, creamy, oaky chards, but the taste of the Chardonnay grape presence itself that comes along with this presentation. There is not another taste in America that I know of that even comes close to the taste of this Chardonnay.

I might add that I never get a sense of wellbeing, grandeur, class, profundity or transcendence from a California chard, like I do from many French Bordeaux and some French whites, especially the whites from Loire. It's simply a matter of taste for me.

Best,

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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Howie Hart » Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:53 am

Covert wrote:.....There is not another taste in America that I know of that even comes close to the taste of this Chardonnay.

I might add that I never get a sense of wellbeing, grandeur, class, profundity or transcendence from a California chard, like I do from many French Bordeaux and some French whites, especially the whites from Loire. It's simply a matter of taste for me.

Best,

Covert

Of course its a matter of taste, and as I implied in my replies to Tom and Victorwine, I am not trying to criticize anyone's taste here. I should add that I come from several long lines of whiskey drinkers, most of whom came over during the potato famine (with the exception of my French-Canadian Grandfather). What kind of meal would you pair a highly oaked, high-alcohol Chard with? That's what I had a problem with. I could sip this wine on its own.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by JC (NC) » Wed Nov 08, 2006 10:22 am

Covert,
What are some of the Cal Chards you favor? Kistler? Chalone? Others?
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Paul B. » Wed Nov 08, 2006 11:47 am

Howie Hart wrote:What kind of meal would you pair a highly oaked, high-alcohol Chard with? That's what I had a problem with. I could sip this wine on its own.

Howie, this may be totally unorthodox (what else would you expect from me :wink: ), but I have actually found some oaky warm-climate Chards to work quite well with lobster. Other than that, I am squarely in the laser-crisp/unoaked/slight-oak-spice camp.
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Isaac » Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:32 pm

wrcstl wrote:Howie,
I agree with you but there are a lot of wine drinkers out there that think this is what chard is supposed to taste like. On several instances I have been in my favorite wine store and heard people ask for an oaky chard with buttery flavors. Doesn't make sense and it seems to be on the decline but many of the mass market drinkers have been taught that this is the expected taste profile.
Walt
Why does it not make sense? If someone likes that, where else will they be able to get it?
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Re: The appeal of overly oaked, high alcohol Chardonnay?

by Covert » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:05 pm

JC (NC) wrote:Covert,
What are some of the Cal Chards you favor? Kistler? Chalone? Others?


Yes, Kistler and Mer Soleil, when I am feeling fat; but Souverain might be my favorite inexpensive chard, especially the 2003. Hahn is my favorite really cheap one. But I drink them all. Usually buy mixed cases. I like the surprise of nuance-al differences in them. But they are like professional wrestlers, or legs on ducks: mostly all the same. :)

No, you can’t match food with them. I drink them to cleanse my palate between sips of fine reds, which I also don’t pair with anything. But I agree with Paul; they do go well with Maine Lobster, – but so does…er…WW..White…Z..Zin..fff…God strike me dead.
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