The popularity of oak barrels as a method of adding flavour to a wine means that people who want something other than the taste of wood are trying to hold back the tide. For those who would prefer to have their white wine without a hint of oak, or any kind of wood, then a South African unwooded white wine variety is probably your best option. Rather than having to put up with wines that have been fermenting in French oak barrels (of various ages) for more than a year, unwooded wine offer the wine fan the opportunity to savour the real taste of a wine.
unwooded white wine have been very popular in Australia for some time, and as more people from South Africa are exposed to World Wines, so the popularity of the unoaked wines have increased in the country. Without being fermented or matured in wooded barrels, the wines must be flavoured using other methods, and this can create fantastically complex tastes and aromas from a simple bottle of Chardonnay. Choosing to drink wine which has not been aged in barrels, but in stainless steel vats, can also allow the connoisseur to sample the best that different wines have to offer.
The reason that so many South African wines are aged in oak is that the woods gives wine a buttery or vanilla taste that can help to bring out the other flavours. However, excessive maturing can leave the grape tasting of nothing but the wood, and this is why more and more wine drinkers in South Africa are demanding that their vineyards produce an unwooded wine as well as the more traditional oak-flavoured varieties. Although the majority of wine estates in South Africa do not produce a ‘virgin’ or unwooded wine, there are some companies who are willing to try and make wine without the assistance of oak.
When trying to find a good unwooded white wine, it can be difficult to know where to start. Most wine tasting magazines will not comment on unwooded wines, so they will be of little help to the beginner. Instead, a good place to start can be the unwooded Chardonnay. South Africa has become notable for its production of this wine, and that can create a sense of expectation that wine makers are constantly striving to meet. By asking for an unwooded Chardonnay, you can expect to find a wine that is gentle, flavoursome, but not woody.
One such example of an unwooded Chardonnay is that produced by Lutzville. Their method is to select grapes at their perfect ripeness, and then allow them to ferment naturally. Once this has happened, they are then placed in stainless steel containers, being stirred occasionally in order to generate the maximum fruits possible. This Chardonnay is a dry wine, with citrus flavours including lemon, and tropical tastes. Raats Estate also does an unwooded Chenin Blanc, allowing the subtle fruits and flavours including ginger and honeysuckle to rise to the surface. This wine is recommended for spicy foods.