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February’s 29 days of Chardonnay

a collaborative project


“Dr. Gallolove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Oak.”

Authored by Michael Alberty of Storyteller Wine Company

For the past 12 years I have been in the wine business. But long before I turned pro I was a bona fide wine geek. I embraced all things cool and obscure and I quickly figured out from my various mentors what I should avoid and criticize. One of the most egregious violations imaginable would be to serve an oaky California Chardonnay to my friends. If they even saw the bottle in my house I would probably have been mocked and ridiculed.

So I learned to embrace Burgundy because hey, since they were a cooler climate and thus lower alcohol, the fruit could interact successfully with French oak barrels. Then the un-oaked, no malo craze hit America’s West Coast and it was suddenly acceptable to start drinking Chardonnay again. If it was bracing and austere, then it was hip.

But you know what? There was something missing. The other day a friend sent me some links to a bunch of YouTube videos where someone with way too much time on their hands decided to post a bunch of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden songs with just the vocals. As I sat there listening to Eddie Veddder and Chris Cornell sing a capella, it was kind of interesting but it was also missing something. There were long gaps where the power chords should be. I needed those power chords and without them my favorite songs were woefully incomplete. And I will now confess that for me personally, I want the presence of oak with my Chardonnay. My friends can mock me all they want, but life’s too short to listen to “Alive” without guitars and drums.

But that’s not the only confession I need to make. The other day a representative from Southern Wine & Spirits, the Imperial Death Star of my wine world, walked in the door with a strange looking bottle. It had two words on the label that would normally make me look for the nearest exit when placed in combination: “Gallo” and “Chardonnay.”   

“You’re kidding, right?” No the rep assured me, this was something I needed to try. It was the 2009 Gallo Signature Series Russian River Chardonnay. It clocked in at 14.6% alcohol and had sat 15 months in French and American oak barrels, most of which were probably brand new. Every conceivable warning sign in my ultra-chic wine geek brain was clanging at DEFCON 4. I knew I was going to hate it but I like to think I have an open enough mind to try just about anything (once) that someone is willing to take the time to pour for me.

I was stunned. I loved the wine. Drinking unoaked, no malo Chardonnay has been like slow dancing with someone who has 2% body fat. Sure, they can be light and nimble on their feet but the experience can also be sharp and occasionally painful. But this Gallo Chardonnay was just what I was craving. It has aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apple skins, tropical fruit, toasted hazelnuts and butter. Yup, this dance partner had some meat on its bones and still managed to be beautifully balanced. Creamy and dreamy, with all the holes filled in quite nicely with oaky power chords. 

This Gallo experience drilled home for me something I’m always lecturing customers about, which is to drink what you like. If you like an oaky Chardonnay then be proud and drink loud. And it also reminded me how much dogmatic thinking there is in my line of work. Sadly, if you spend too much time worrying about what’s hip or cool, you may just miss something genuinely delightful. So thank you Gina Gallo for making a wine that allowed me to stop worrying about my image and  freed me to hug the oak barrels when it comes to Chardonnay.

Michael Alberty
Head Storyteller

Storyteller Wine Company is a small band of wine pirates holed up in South Portland’s John’s Landing neighborhood…After nearly twenty-some years of wandering in the wilderness, I have been lucky enough to move my family back to where we came from, beautiful Oregon. Follow me as I go out and find great wines that have an interesting story to tell. I also found a lot of boring, “corporate” wines that may have had a cute animal label and slick marketing but the story behind it was as soulless as the juice in the bottle. I look forward to being an advocate for good wines that tell an interesting story about where they come from. These will be wines where the passion of the winemaker and the fruits of their skills are evident in every glass. I truly believe that behind every great bottle of wine there’s an even better story.

Sign up for Storyteller’s electronic newsletter where Michael conveys what the wines taste like in a way that will let you know if they are your style or not. Hopefully the stories we tell will also give you a sense of the wine’s place and make you feel as if you were sipping the wine side-by-side with the winemaker or the vineyard workers.

Storyteller Wine Co.
5511-B SW Hood Avenue
Portland, OR 97239