To oak or not to oak? That is the question for chardonnay makers. For many years, American winemakers tended to follow the example Kendall-Jackson set with its flagship chard, suffusing their wines with so much oak that it was sometimes hard to taste anything but tree. Then, about five years ago, unoaked and lightly-oaked chards began to swell in popularity, as drinkers acquired an appreciation for the clean taste and better pairing possibilities associated with unoaked wine. The new wave's exemplified by "Tree-Free" Chardonnay, a recent release from Australian giant Yellowtail.
Frenchman Benjamin Calais set up his eponymous shop in Deep Ellum in 2008 and started producing small amounts of high quality wines using French techniques. His La Cuvee Principale (named after Main Street) is 100 percent chardonnay and zero percent oak, a ratio that persuaded my wining companion and me to try it at the State Fair of Texas' Go Texan Wine Garden.
The wine's color was very clear for a chardonnay, not the bushy blonde of more buttery chards. The nose suggested tangerines and tropical fruits. There was plenty of citrusy tang on the palate, dry and crisp, with a slight finish of minerals and smoke. On his web site, Calais suggests pairing La Cuvee Principale with seafood or Asian food; Cajun food might make an interesting match too.
If you can't get to the Fair before it closes this weekend, you can always find Calais and his Chardonnay at his Commerce Street shop.
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