Mention New World Chardonnay a decade ago, and one style came immediately to mind: tropical fruit and big, buttery oak. I dislike that style and welcomed the emergence of unoaked Chardonnays from California, Australia and New Zealand. What I like most about this trend is the focus on the subtleties of the Chardonnay fruit as it is expressed in certain soils and micro-climates.
As the trend has caught on, it's now common to see wine stores and restaurant wine lists pointing to "unoaked," "naked" or "bare" Chardonnays. One person in our dining group will drink nothing else; another in this group consistently rejects the unoaked choice as "too sweet." Penny Ross, the wine specialist at D&W Parkview reports the same with her customers. Some shy away from the unoaked wines because they see them as "too sweet." In fact, if you're judging sweetness by residual sugar, the oaked versions are usually considerably sweeter, but the unoaked wines may appear sweeter because the fruit is more apparent and there are fewer wood tannins.
Whether new oak is used or not, what's important, of course, is the quality of the fruit. Poorly sited, over-cropped vineyards will produce simple wines, regardless of what tricks are used to try to disguise the mediocrity.