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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
06/22/2011
Wine and Food Wednesday
Why I Drink Chardonnay--Occasionally

By Stephen Eliot

I have always liked Chardonnay even though I do not drink a lot of it. I must confess some agreement with its too-many critics who whine that it is not a food-friendly wine. I drink Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc on a far more regular basis, but that has more to do with my white-wine dinner choices than with any inherent preference for the grape. When I do reach for a Chardonnay, however, I generally go for those whose opulent richness and wonderfully stuffed styles are just the ticket with more savory fare.

A small but annoyingly vocal troupe of naysayers to the style has been with us for some time, and it has always seemed to me to have had a certain “East Coast” nexus beginning with Frank Prial of the NY Times a good many years back. Anyone remember the silly “Anything But Chardonnay” crusaders who took on the task of protecting us from ourselves? Well, the whine goes on broad-stroke lamentations about high-ripeness and oak, and the logic-defying reach that Chardonnay is in Oz Clarke’s words “the ruthless coloniser and destroyer of the world's vineyards and the world's palates” strikes me as just plain stupid. I really do not get it.

Neither, apparently, do its legions of undaunted fans, and I wonder at times if it draws so much distain for the very fact that so many seem to like it. Perhaps the reasoning goes, if it is that popular, then it cannot possibly be sophisticated. Well, call me a peasant, but when the menu is right, I still find enormous pleasure in the sheer generosity of full-throttle Chardonnay.

The point was driven home last night when reaching for something to drink with an exceptionally tasty meal of fresh, wild, Pacific Coast King Salmon. The flavorful steaks were so rich that they required only the lightest seasoning, and it was obvious that they would easily outmatch any lighter white. We have been pouring our ways through a good number of new Chardonnays here at CGCW in the last couple of months, and the time and setting seemed right for putting a few to the task. After a rather disappointing, bitingly sour sip of the 2008 La Redonne Côtes du Rhône Blanc from Jean-Luc Colombo, we pulled corks from the 2008 Shafer Red Should Ranch Carneros and the 2008 Du Mol Russian River Chardonnays, and, while never less than fully ripe, the wines delivered a combination of balance and brightness and deep Chardonnay fruit was just what the dish needed. As we have found over and over again, big wines can be balanced and full-flavored dishes require no less.

There is no question that Chardonnay can succeed is a good many guises, and lighter, high-acid versions do have their place, but there is a vast number of engaging white wines that can serve in its stead with milder foods. When the flavors get richer, however, the crowd of contenders thins, and expressive, well-ripened, carefully made Chardonnay proves to have precious few peers.


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