Toast, Butter, Chardonnay, and Lust: A Confession

December 1, 2012

Am I going to have to turn in my Wine Geek Club Card for confessing to enjoy an oaky, buttery Chardonnay? Sure, I could have kept this incident under wraps. It took place in the privacy of my own home, curtains drawn, phone off. And then the next day I could have told people about the unoaked, light, tart wine I had enjoyed.

But I will not live a lie.

Oaky, buttery Chardonnay (especially from Napa) is an easy target for those who prefer the racy and obscure when it comes to wine. "It's like chewing on a two by four, or drinking liquid movie popcorn" etc. Yes, 99.9% of the time I drink white wines that never see oak, ones that give me the steely, laser precision I crave. Or just something cheap and cheerful. Uncomplicated. And when it comes to oak influence on wine, red and white, I like a balanced touch. To add structure and some flavor, but not to dominate.

But sometimes I get sick of writing "judicious" when it comes to wine. It's so tame and benign. Yawn. Sometimes I want some full-throttle, rich, creamy white wine. I. Demand. Sizzle.

oaky butter chardonnaySo while rummaging through my wine cellar (aka basement storage locker) I stumbled across a sample bottle of 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay. The white wine companion to the iconic Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet (a wine that ages beautifully and is one of my all-time favorite Napa reds), its back label unapologetically lists these words and phrases to describe the wine: rich, intense pineapple, creme brulee, butterscotch, creamy, tropical fruit flavors. (I pity the un-intense pineapple.)

It also mentions French oak and that it "undergoes full malolactic fermentation." Huh, Mr. Wizard? You could probably hazard a guess at what the oak will do. Ok, it's wrong for me to assume. See the photo at the top of this post? Think of the oak as the toast. And the malolactic fermentation as the butter, which makes your white wine creamy. Put the two together and you have a toasty, buttery white wine. A few years in the bottle, however, have tamped down the toast and butter flavors. They are prominent but not dominate, making a powerful, golden impression via elegant means. The toast has absorbed the butter and 1+1=3.

But when it comes to wine, let's not talk about numbers. Or pick it apart like diagramming a sentence. Let's contemplate the pleasure of wine. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure. And not the pleasure of a stroll in the park but rather passion, romance, and lust. Does wine provoke and promote these latter pleasures? I'll be contemplating that while I cool down with a brisk walk in the park.

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Meg Houston Maker's picture

Oaky, buttery Chardonnay is mostly fine by me—provided it has sufficient balancing acidity. This means picking the grapes at humane ripeness rather than letting them go flabby, which helps ensure that even after full ML, the wine will still be refreshing, not cloying. Oaky, buttery Chard is admittedly harder to pair with food, but because it has so much going on it can be just right by the glass.

Jameson Fink's picture


The Berigner PR Chard had good acidity. Not screaming, but enough. Very pleasant to enjoy on its own, though wouldn't say no to popcorn with butter (ha!), smoked salmon, and/or a lobster benefactor.

Thank you for the comment!