Matthew Kaner is the co-owner and wine director at one of Los Angeles' most thoughtfully curated wine bars, Bar Covell, a Los Feliz nook dedicated to small production, esoteric bottles. He's also a parter at newbie Augustine in Sherman Oaks, a Ventura Boulevard gem that's pouring some crazy vintage wines by the glass, like Château Latour 1964 and Château Trotanoy 1953. Below, Kaner explains the relationship between Chardonnay and oak.
Q: For many years I thought I hated Chardonnay until I tried French white Burgundy. And then I realized that I am not a fan of oaked American Chardonnay. But I do like the Chardonnay grape when produced in other countries. Given that, are there any other non-American versions of Chardonnay that you'd suggest I try?
Kaner: Chardonnay is often misunderstood, and it takes an open mind, expendable income and someone willing to show you the light to have the "aha" moment for a lot of wine drinkers. Chardonnay isn't simply "Cougar Juice"! Chardonnay likes oak, but when there's too much oak, it needs years and years to sit in solitude to shed the weight. In Burgundy, vignerons have been watching grapes grow since Roman times. They have the time invested to understand the nuances in the cellar that enhance Chardonnay, as well as knowing which choices may take away from the finished product.
When a wine sees 100 percent new oak treatment in the cellar, it is given determinants for aging, and the wine needs to age to shed that baby weight that can often turn a drinker off.
With that said, Chardonnay guided by custodial hands can be reminiscent of what you like in white Burgundy! Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, and Mornington Peninsula in Australia get it. Santa Barbara County gets it right. Long Island is getting it right more than you'd be willing to believe! There is delicious Chardonnay coming from Chile (William Fèvre from Chablis purchased some land down there to make Chilean Chardonnay as well as some other awesome wines).
What it comes down to is, Chardonnay likes oak. But not all humans like a ton of oak. When a wine sees 100 percent new oak treatment in the cellar, it is given determinants for aging, and the wine needs to age to shed that baby weight that can often turn a drinker off. Going for wines made with neutral oak (many times used), or even a small percentage of new oak might be more important for you than finding areas you like as much as Burgundy. With respect to Chardonnay, cellar practices matter a lot.