There’s nothing better than going naked, particularly if you’re unrestrained. That’s the attitude of Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay. As the label suggests, this wine is as carefree as a bare-ass romp through the vineyard.
Naked, or unoaked, Chardonnay is made by fermenting and aging the wine in stainless steel tanks rather than in oak barrels. It’s not a new practice, but one that is picking up steam over the past few years in New World wines as consumer tastes are changing.
Chardonnay made in the Chablis region of France typically exhibits tart acidity because it is traditionally aged in stainless steel to let the terrior shine through. Conversely, it’s a common practice in the rest of the Burgundy region, where the climate is cool, to age Chardonnay in oak barrels. The grapes typically don’t get extremely ripe, which means they produce lower sugar levels and therefore lower alcohol levels, resulting in acidic wine. Aging in oak smooths out the acidity and gives the wine a bit more complexity.
The hotter climates in California and Australia means Chardonnay grapes ripen more, producing higher sugar and, yeah you guessed it, higher alcohol. Aging these less acidic wines in oak means they take on more of the oaky, spicy characteristics of the wood. In addition many wine makers do a secondary, malolactic fermentation, which gives Chardonnay that buttery taste. California Chards, and by extension the entire varietal, has earned a reputation for being a big, flabby, oaky, buttery wine that tastes nothing like the clean, fruity grape that it’s made from.
In recent years, the rise in popularity of flirty, crisp, fruity, unoaked wines like Italian Pinot Grigio, Spanish Albariño, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Austrian Gruner Veltliner have made Chardonnay the ugly kid at the dance. Preference for unadulterated wines is surging. Chardonnay producers in California and elsewhere are responding by embracing au natural wines.
Big House Winery in Soledad, CA takes the starkers approach to Chardonnay. I spoke with winemaker Georgetta Dane – or The Warden as she’s called the company’s prison themed materials – to learn more about their Naked Chardonnay.
The 2009 vintage is the first year Big House has made a Chardonnay. Georgetta wanted to try it and see how it is received. So far it has received good feedback. She wanted to make a different style of Chardonnay – a wine that never sees oak or malolactic fermentation, a wine that lets just the beauty of the grape shine through. During harvest Georgetta select grapes from various appellations, namely Monterey county and Paso Robles. Grapes from these areas make very different wines because of their particular terriors. Wine made from grapes grown in Monterey are very citrusy with apple flavors and higher acidity. Paso Robles warmer so Chardonnay made from grapes grown their tastes of pineapple and tropical fruit.
Georgetta approaches wine making like blending essential oils to make perfume. She wants base, middle and top notes on the nose and palette. To achieve that in the Unchained Naked Chardonnay, she uses not only grapes from different regions of California, but also different yeasts on each lot to enhance flavors. In the tasting room she dives into blending with passion; looking for base notes of citrus, middle tropical flavors and for the top note, she blends in a bit of Gewürztraminer or Viognier for a hint of sweetness. She hit the mark. Here’s what it’s like.
2009 Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay
|Look||Unchained Naked Chardonnay is pale daffodil yellow, lively and clear.|
|Smell||It has a fresh lemon, papaya and slate nose. It’s aromatic, but not overly powerful.|
|Taste||This fruit-forward wine tastes of apple, honeydew, pear and mango. It has a slight heft to the body, like light and dry syrup from canned peaches. If I tried this in a blind tasting, I would have mistaken it for a Viognier. It certainly doesn’t taste like a traditional, oaked California Chard. It also doesn’t taste like its tart, crisp French cousin Chablis, with less acidity.|
|Price||$9.99 for a 750mL or $22 3L box “wine cask”|
I asked Georgetta her favorite place to drink this wine and she had a great response. “The wine is so food friendly and pairs well with anything. I like to pair it with sunny afternoons. I drink it outside by itself, with no food, but with friends. Enjoying wine is so much about whom you enjoy it with and the occasion.” I couldn’t agree with her more.
At 10 bucks a bottle or $22 for a 4 bottle box of wine, this is the kind of wine you can pack in a cooler and take out on the boat, on a picnic or to a backyard BBQ. Go ahead, get naked.