An "Unoaked" Chardonnay Hits the Spot at Grotto

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

It was difficult to find a seat Monday night at the bar at Grotto, the popular Houston mainstay.

Between a couple of very friendly ladies dressed in bright blouses and a queue of middle-aged traveling businessmen who seemed eager to share a cocktail with them, two Houston food and wine professionals considered themselves lucky to find a bar stool at 6 p.m.

The bar's by-the-glass selection doesn't offer much variety for the diehard wine lover. The wines are listed by grape -- Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc. -- with no mention of appellation or producer.

But once the wine list arrived, it revealed that the Grotto wine cellar has something for everyone.

Italian and Californian in focus, it ranges from the usual suspects to the undisputed classics, with nice breadth in between.

The nicest surprise was that it includes a number of affordable and quaffable labels under or around $30.

At $27, the 2012 Ruffino "Unoaked" Chardonnay -- by one of Tuscany's commercial behemoths -- might not be the first choice of an Italian wine fanatic or a wine nerd. But it was just right for an aperitif before dinner.

In the post-Sideways era, many domestic and international winemakers reacted to the "oaky, buttery Chardonnay" backlash by creating "unoaked" wines.

By "unaoked," they mean that the wine has been vinified and aged in stainless steel vats as opposed to oak casks. Those wooden vessels can impart oaky and sometimes toasty flavors to the wine. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is inert. Its neutral character imparts nothing and takes nothing away.

Wines made in this style tend to be fresher and "cleaner," as professional tasters might say. But the best thing about "unoaked" Chardonnay -- at least in the eyes of a wine writer who found himself at the bar at Grotto on Monday evening for a quick business meeting -- is that it is safe. Even without any prior taste of the wine, you generally can count on "unoaked" Chardonnay to be an earnest thirst-quencher.

And at $27, the party of two also scored a bargain: the tab for four glasses of wine -- each drank two, leaving roughly two glasses in the bottle -- was roughly the same as it would have been for four glasses by-the-glass. (For the record, you nearly always get better value when you order by the bottle.)

Now, about those talkative ladies dressed in bright blouses...

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.