Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do You Know What Chardonnay Tastes Like?

Here's a quiz.

  • Do you think Chardonnay tastes like vanilla pudding?
  • Do you think Chardonnay tastes like toothpicks?
  • Do you think Chardonnay tastes like what you imagine it would be like to lick an oak tree?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you don't know what Chardonnay tastes like. But don't worry, you're not alone. All those flavors that you're describing above don't actually come from the grape, but from what happens to the grape after it leaves the vineyard. In the process of turning grape juice into wine the Chardonnay undergoes fermentation which can give it a creamy, buttery taste. And it can be put in oak barrels which can impart a vanilla or coconut tinge to the flavors as well as notes of oak, smoke, toast, and bread dough.

Even if you prefer your Chardonnays big, creamy, and bready you might be interested in tasting the grape itself for educational purposes. And if you steer clear of Chardonnays because they taste clumsy and overblown in your mouth, remember that it's not the grape's fault.

In either case, you might like the 2009 Snoqualmie Vineyards Chardonnay. (suggested retail $12; often available for under $10) Provocatively labeled "naked," this wine is unoaked and made from organic grapes. The juice never sees any wood: it's fermented in stainless steel and put in bottles. What's more, the fermentation itself is halted before the wine develops those creamy flavors. The result is an excellent QPR example of--who knew!--Chardonnay. This beautifully balanced wine has aromas and flavors that are crisp and clean, like apples and lemon peel, and a clean minerality in the aftertaste that is refreshing and light.

We had it with some sensational smoky shrimp and cheese grits and the clean flavors really shone with the shellfish, warm paprika, and cheese. I recommended this wine for Thanksgiving, too, because it will pair so beautifully with a wide variety of foods, but I don't want it lost in the holiday shuffle. It would also be wonderful with salmon, halibut, roasted chicken, and turkey pot pies (think about those leftovers!)

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

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