Feb. 15 2013 03:45 PM

Life is better without butter

bottle
Jen Van Tieghem

I spent the first couple of my wine-drinking years believing that I hated white wine. Drinking the rich, buttery Chardonnay my mom enjoyed was as appealing to me as a root canal. The heavy mouthfeel and toasty flavors turned me into a red-wine-only gal early on. 

Then, somewhere along the way, I learned that my misplaced hatred for the Chardonnay grape was not the poor fruit's fault at all. The buttered-toast and vanilla characteristics common to Chardonnay (especially in the United States) are actually the result of the wine being aged in oak barrels and often being produced with malolactic fermentation. Without these factors, the varietal is quite different.

After figuring out these winemaking secrets, I started trying Chardonnays that weren't oaked—a quality usually noted on the wine label. In these versions, the wine's been aged in stainless steel and maintains the true flavors of the grape. 

Forget the butter and bring on the fruit! 

Recently, I came across Smoking Loon's anti-oak offering, Steelbird. The brand is common in most grocery stores, and its selections are often reasonably priced and user-friendly. Steelbird's initial flavors are typical of steel-aged Chardonnay—crisp green apple and hints of citrus are tasty without an overabundance of tartness. However, the wine's secondary and after tastes I didn't find as pleasant—metallic notes and strong alcohol flavors are left on the tongue. Luckily, I had some smoked Gouda in the fridge, and the lightly nutty cheese balanced the flavors well when I had a nibble along with my wine. What I normally enjoy non-oaked Chardonnay for are the crisp, clean flavors—this one is just a bit off the mark since I didn't find it as refreshing as others I've had. 

I would recommend drinking Steelbird with crackers and a light goat-cheese spread. Or, if you're a big fan of the citrus notes, like me, grilling up a piece of fish and flavoring it heavy-handedly with lemon would be a match made in wine heaven. 

Overall, for a wine that's normally priced at around $10, this one is a good buy and up to snuff with Smoking Loon's long reputation of affordable wines that don't suck. 


Write to jenv@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com

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