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Friday, April 1, 2011

Oaky Chardonnays

I’ve been hearing lately that Chardonnay is out of style.  I can’t understand that, since Chardonnay is so versatile and in my opinion no two Chardonnays are the same.  Some are light, bright, and crisp with citrus hints, and some are fuller and deeper with more exotic characteristics.  I find that people these days shy away from those fuller Chardonnays that seem to display a degree of modernism, but I still enjoy those bigger whites that tend to remain on the palate just a bit longer.  To me they are intriguing and full of soul, and while those crisp French Chardonnays are lovely for sure, sometimes I prefer to reach for a few of the fuller, more textured Chardonnays from the United States.

My first real memory of a slightly fuller Chardonnay was at the tasting room at Pindar Vineyards right here on Long Island.  I tried the Sunflower Chardonnay Reserve and instantly loved it for so many reasons.  It’s a medium golden color and when the bottle is first opened and the wine poured, the aroma reflects oak, citrus, apple, pear, and a bit of sweetness and a floral bouquet, with a flavor similar to the aroma, but after it’s been breathing for perhaps half an hour, pineapple and caramel appear as undertones and linger throughout the finish.  The wine is smooth and elegant.  My favorite pairing for Pindar Sunflower Chardonnay is salmon.  While I do like crisp wines such as Sauvignon Blanc to cut through the somewhat buttery texture and bigger flavor of salmon, the Sunflower Chardonnay tends to run parallel to the texture and flavor of the salmon instead, and the pairing is excellent.  Every time I visit the Pindar tasting room I sample the Sunflower Chardonnay which means I’ve tried several vintages, and I enjoy the wine more each time I have it.

A fuller Chardonnay I tried last year was the 2007 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree from the Livermore Valley.  A rich golden color, this is a full bodied, oaky Chardonnay with characteristics of vanilla and baked apple.  A bit on the buttery side, this is not a wine for those who prefer the light and crisp Chardonnays.  The texture is extremely smooth and the finish is very long, and this was one of the most enjoyable and most unique Chardonnays I’ve tasted in years.  The wine is also more versatile than I expected - considering the Chardonnay is full bodied, I had picked it to pair with my braised veal entree, however it also paired very nicely with the appetizer of Maryland crab cakes.  I would like to try this Chardonnay with a variety of cheeses such as brie, gruyere, and perhaps something a bit sharper, and I would also enjoy this wine with a fruit dessert, namely with peaches, pears, or a fresh apple pie.

Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Chardonnay

The most recent example of a Chardonnay with a bit more body that I’ve tried is the 2008 Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay.  Slightly lighter gold in color, this Chardonnay was enjoyable immediately and continued to improve as I let it breathe, over the course of perhaps an hour or so.  The characteristics were those of a lovely floral bouquet, oak, lemon and orange, apple, pear, and some tropical fruit such as pineapple but perhaps even a bit more exotic, and undertones of baked bread.  Another smooth Chardonnay with nice balance and a long finish, I paired this wine with a baked brie drizzled with wildflower honey and lingonberry and imported prosciutto.  This wine would also pair very nicely with fish and shellfish, chicken, and lighter dishes.

Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay

I find that comparing wines of similar style is more reasonable than comparing wines that may be of the same varietal but not of the same style or region.  Lately many people I speak to about Chardonnay tend to compare the fuller, more oaky and buttery examples to the lighter and crisper ones.  I don’t find that comparison particularly helpful, and prefer to compare oaky Chardonnays to other oaky Chardonnays - and based on my experiences with those fuller Chardonnays, my favorites are the Pindar Sunflower Special Reserve, the Wente Vineyards Nth Degree, and the Sterling Napa Chardonnay.

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