Mmm, Chardonnay, that buttery, fruity, delicious white wine that we love so much. Have you ever noticed that there are two totally different kinds of Chardonnay and that they taste completely different? It’s almost like they are separate wines. This is due to the aging process and whether it is an oaked or unoaked Chardonnay.
So what’s the difference between unoaked (or steel aged) and oaked Chardonnay? Well, it refers to the aging process in which the wine is aged in oak or steel barrels, and applies to all wines, not just Chardonnay, but it’s the most common in this specific wine.
It’s the fermentation process that is essential to wine, and therefore, whichever barrel the wine is fermented in will actually affect the flavor. If the Chardonnay is aged elsewhere and then kept in an oak barrel, that will have much less impact on the flavor profile than if that Chardonnay is actually aged and fermented in the oak barrel.
The attribute most affected by the different aging processes is in the flavor profile. A steel aged Chardonnay is going to be crisper, fruitier, and a little brighter, whereas an oaky Chardonnay will be a little less fruit-forward but will contain aromas of things like vanilla or honey.
American Chardonnays are almost always oaked, which is why they’re known for that buttery creaminess, and European Chardonnays are steel-aged and tend towards those bright apple and citrus flavors.
Sadly, it is the oaky Chardonnays that have a higher price tag because oak barrels themselves cost much more than the steel ones, as they are harder to produce. However, it’s totally worth it for that buttery, delicious taste!
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