Sommeliers approach heavily oaked chardonnays with a litany of suspicion. They generally lack acidity, overpower delicate flavors and make foodstuffs taste saltier then they actually are.
If oaky, buttery chardonnays are your preferred white, stick with richer dishes that feature heavy cream sauces. This style of chardonnay overpowers many fish, vegetables and raw preparations.
Pop a big bowl of popcorn. Separate it into three bowls. Leave one bowl unsalted. The second bowl should be seasoned with moderate salt and butter. The third bowl, aggressively seasoned with salt and butter to the point where it is offensive to your palate—it should taste like a cow’s salt lick.
Procure three different chardonnays: one with no oak (all stainless), one with neutral oak and one with 100 percent new oak. Pour each respective chardonnay in a tasting glass and line them up left to right. The left has no oak, middle neutral oak and right 100 percent new oak.
Taste the unoaked chardonnay, with each respective seasoned popcorn, beginning with no salt, and progressing to the saltiest. See how the wine tastes with each different popcorn. Repeat the process for the next two chardonnays. By the time you get to the last pairing of big oak and big salt, you may never want to eat salt again!
This is a great exercise to understand the relationship of salt, oak and chardonnay. It also will help you distinguish your preference and threshold for salt oak and chardonnay.
St. Patrick’s Day Note
Every St. Patrick’s Day I enjoy corned beef from Casey’s. When pairing wine with corned beef, I avoid heavily oaked wines. Italian and Rhone reds work well with good acid and moderate tannins. Big California reds will make corned beef taste salty!