Oct 08 2009

“Fall” in Love with Chardonnay

by Brett Ashley McKenzie

I love fall more than any other season. I love sweater weather, I love the changing leaves, the sight of pumpkins on door steps and the influx of apples in the produce aisle. I love baking pies and making stews and the ferocity of the windy autumn rainstorms. I’m ready for coats and boots and leggings and Thanksgiving.

I am not, however, ready to give up white wine.

It isn’t love for warmer weather that keeps me firmly rooted in my craving for all things Chardonnay. And Chardonnay isn’t strictly a warm-weather white. Bigger-bodied, creamier-textured Chardonnay can be (and, in wine-savvy establishments, often are) served slightly warmer than your Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs.

As I’m unwilling to relinquish my Chardonnay, my usual fall food line-up is experiencing some unusual pairings. Late September is when I start making stew twice a week (the leftovers last far longer). I make shredded pork stew (click link for recipe), chicken noodle stew, hearty beef stew, and spicy Spanish-style seafood stew. I even make chicken pot pie from scratch, though it’s certainly not as pretty as the one I regularly order at Charlie’s Ale House.

Because stews (and I’m talking homemade, not Dinty Moore) are loaded with subtle flavors–rosemary, thyme, potato, veggies, cooking wine… whatever floats your boat–I’ve never used gigantic reds for pairing. I’ve always kept it in the Garnacha/Grenache family. In my house, the 2007 Evodia Garnacha (we routinely sell out of this spicy $11 gem  in-store, so if you see that bright blue label, grab it before it’s gone!) and $8 2008 Vina Borgia Garnacha are stew pairing favorites. I like the pepper and baking spice notes in these wines. Cote du Rhone wines, with their elegant blends of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mouvedre, are also ultimate stew wines.

But this year, I’m experiencing new sensations so-to-speak. The contrast of hot stew and cool Chardonnay on the tongue is absolutely delightful. The apple notes in an unoaked Chard, like the 2007 Vincent Girardin “Vieilles Vignes” Pouilly-Fuisse, Burgundy, pleasantly complement a succulent shredded pork stew. An oaked Chard, like the 2007 Errazuriz Chardonnay Aconcagua Chile, can bring out interesting notes in a chicken stew–the woodsy rosemary and thyme. And creamy Chardonnays–those aged in oak or sur lie (we’ll talk about that more in a moment)–can offset the burn of that too-hot first mouthfull of broth.

One of my girlfriends, a culinary school student, isn’t crazy about super oaky wines, namely oaky Chardonnay. When she made an outstanding Bouillabaisse (a French shellfish and seafood stew) for a mutual friend’s birthday, she asked us to bring wine to share. I scoured the Chardonnay section of Just Grapes looking for something with the texture to hold up to the stew and a bit of creaminess but none of the woodsy oak qualities I knew the chef couldn’t stand.

I went French, with the 2008 Novellum Chardonnay from Rousillion, France. This delightful Chardonnay with its tropical fruit notes and elegant minerality sees no oak, but has a perfect creaminess to its texture. Now some of you may be asking, “I thought Chardonnays got their buttery, creamy texture from oak?” Not so in the case of Novellum and other Chardonnays aged “sur lie” (pronounced “sur lee”). Lees are the remaining yeasty residue at the bottom of a barrel after fermentation. Lees aging, or aging “sur lie” is the process by which the wine continues to age on its remaining lees, and is bottled directly from that barrel as opposed to being racked (filtered). This gives the added creaminess and yeasty quality that you detect in wines aged sur lie.

My friend who often avoids Chardonnay was really pleased with the Novellum, which worked very well with the Bouillabaisse. It was creamy enough to take the heat and acidity in the broth, subtle enough to not overwhelm the white fish and mussels. And it was only $13, which we can all appreciate.

Another fun option for fall whites is a sparkling Chardonnay, like the 2007 Familia Zuccardi Vida Organica Sparkling Chardonnay from Argentina. This is a great precursor to any Thanksgiving meal. Or, stick with Champagne–Chardonnay is one of the three grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the other two) approved for use to make France’s most famous bubbly.

And of course, there are those nights when I love to curl up in front of the fire (okay, fine radiator. I live in a condo, after all) with a glass of oaky, golden Californian Chard and watch Hollywood’s tribute to Chardonnay: “Bottle Shock,” a movie that I find a thousand times more entertaining and more inspirational than “Sideways.”  And ladies, if you like the hunky Chris Pine (the new Captain Kirk from summer’s “Star Trek” blockbuster), he’s got the starring role. But I digress…

There’s a Chardonnay for any season, and this fall, I hope you find your new favorite.

Just because even white wines are drinking the "Fall's for Red" Kool-Aid doesn't mean you have to! Painting by Just because even white wines are drinking the "Fall's for reds" kool-aid doesn't mean you have to! by Kestutis Kasparavicius

Just because even white wines are drinking the "Fall's for Red" Kool-Aid doesn't mean you have to! Painting by Kestutis Kasparavicius

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