05/27/08 – Recalibrating our “oakdar”

By Jesse on May 26, 2008


Every once in a while, the Young Winos are prone to getting a little bit haughty and self-indulgent, and at these moments we find it helpful to remind ourselves that we’re only one of a number of badass young wine tasting groups raising hell on the world wide web.  I like to spend my evenings trolling around these various other blogs, making observations and mental notes, and occasionally stealing ideas for tastings.  Such it was this evening when I scoped out the following blog entry from the San Francisco Wine Enthusiasts Guild (a group that could definitely teach the Winos a thing or two about how to party): last August, they ran a tasting comparing oaked Chardonnays to their unoaked counterparts.  I figure even the more seasoned Winos among us can always benefit from the occasional fine-tuning of our oak-detection devices, so we’ll be shamelessly lifting this theme for our tasting on Tuesday night.

We’ve dealt with the oak issue in the past, and we know the basic history: oak barrels were long used as an element in Chardonnay production in Burgundy and elsewhere.  During the ’80s and ’90s, buoyed by high scores given to several heavily-oaked Chardonnays, New World producers began pumping out massively-oaked Chards to the point of market saturation and general annoyance.  Since then, some producers have scaled back or even abandoned the use of oak in their Chardonnay production, while others have stuck with the full-oak style (a more complete history can be found here).  “But Jesse, doesn’t Chardonnay need oak?”  That’s a matter of some debate, and clearly the prevalence on the market of both full-oaked and unoaked Chards suggests that there’s no consensus.  Read this article on WineLoversPage for one opinion; also, this San Francisco Chronicle article from 2002 frames the debate in useful terms (even though most of the wine recommendations probably won’t be readily available anymore).

Don’t be distracted by the matching black-and-white outfits and the individual bottle of water for each member; beneath all the window dressing, the San Francisco Wine Enthusiasts run a mean tasting.  That said, we’re going to do our tasting a little bit differently than they did: we’ll be tasting all of the bottles completely blind.  The idea, after all, is not only to find delicious and affordable wines, but to specifically recalibrate our “oakdar” — to see how adept we are at detecting that all-important oak character (or the absence thereof) in the Chardonnays we encounter each day.  Therefore, when purchasing your bottle, please be sure that you’re getting a Chardonnay that’s either fermented/aged completely in oak or entirely unoaked — none of this 50% oak and 50% stainless steel bullshit (although these middle-of-the-road wines can be delicious, they won’t be useful for our experiment).  Your bottle may say right on the label whether oak or steel was used, or you may need to ask your friendly wine merchant for a recommendation.  If the bottle does not prominently display its oaked/unoaked status, please bring printed tasting notes substantiating your claim.

As always, you’re welcome to bring one of those $10 donations that we love so much.  If you choose to bring a bottle (and tasting notes, if applicable), please make sure that it’s in a brown paper bag so that no one can see what it is.  We’ll pour the bottles in random order, and then make our oak status guesses — ideally, after a few bottles, people will be catching on to that famous oak flavor, and we’ll have a 100% success rate.  Once we reveal the bottle, we’ll take a few minutes to discuss whether or not the oak treatment (or lack thereof) worked well, if the wine was balanced, if it was worth the money, etc.  This should be an interesting and extremely edutoxicational meeting.

We’ll be meeting at Allison’s place in Hermosa Beach.  The RSVP situation is as follows: new members have eight spots reserved for them at each and every meeting, with preference within those spots given to newbies who were denied admittance due to space constraints in recent weeks.  Please do not RSVP in the positive if you’re not sure you can make it, as this will deny someone else the opportunity of attending the meeting.  If you do RSVP and then need to cancel, please inform me as soon as possible.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out in search of either a 100% oaked Chardonnay or a 100% unoaked Chardonnay.  Or, if you prefer, just bring us a $10 bill, because we love that!!  (We depend on those donations to keep the Young Winos viable, so please do not hesitate to bring one in lieu of a bottle.)  Either way, we’ll see you bad boys and girls on Tuesday at 9pm… wearing matching black and white outfits, please.