Monday, July 07, 2008

Chardonnay: Toothpicks Not Included

Everybody has at least one story about their joys and sorrows drinking chardonnay. Some remember when they tasted it and were enchanted by the buttered apple flavors. Some remember when they tasted it and felt like they had just had a bottle of toothpicks. Some even remember the moment that they had had just one bottle too many of overoaked chardonnay and became card carrying members of the ABC Club--the group dedicated to drinking Anything But Chardonnay.

No grape deserves to be written off, no matter what shenanigans winemakers get up to sometimes. There are good and even great Chardonnays, as any fan of white Burgundy will tell you. And while there are fans of unoaked Chardonnay (I'm one of them), there are still many, many drinkers who will confess to liking a buttery chardonnay on occasion (I'm one of them, too). It's a pleasure, therefore, to be able to recommend a very good QPR US Chardonnay that's made with a bit of restraint, is still creamy, but does not have that fakey, toothpicky woodenness to it that I just loathe. And it's affordable, too.

The 2006 Bennett Family Chardonnay The Reserve has a suggested retail price of $15.99. (I received my bottle as a sample, and you can find it at a retailer for between $13 and $20.) The wine is made from Russian River Valley grapes, and is fermented in French oak barrels. There, the wine does undergo malolactic fermentation to smooth out the acidity and is left on its lees for eight more weeks before being lightly filtered and put in its bottles. This method produces a pleasant, summery Chardonnay that is straw in color and has aromas of lemon, golden delicious apple, and a touch of vanillin oak. Flavors of apple and sour cream turn a bit more buttery after you've swallowed a bit of the wine. The final alcohol is 13.9% alc/vol, which is higher than Burgundian Chardonnay, but lower than many of this wine's US counterparts.

I find chicken an ideal partner for Chardonnay, and this wine went beautifully with Nigella Lawson's butterflied chicken with lemon and rosemary and her oven-roasted crispy potatoes. This is the most often-requested meal in my repertoire among friends coming to dinner and it is a dream to make for weekend parties, even in the summer, provided you can eat outside since it requires the oven. The lemon, rosemary, and olive-oil marinated chicken is laid out flat after some wielding of the poultry shears and cooks in 35 minutes or so (ps. it can hold in the oven semi-indefinitely at 300 degrees if you linger over cocktails). The recipe accentuated the lemony aromas in the wine, and the tender, moist chicken paired nicely with its buttery texture. I always substitute olive oil for the goose fat in Nigella's potatoes, and they turn out perfectly every time as long as you follow the recipe exactly in every other particular. The brown, caramelized outside of the potatoes was fantastic with the apple and cream notes in the wine, as was the potatoes' creamy insides.

If you are looking for a nicely made, well-balanced, and delicious white wine for creamy Chardonnay lovers and don't want to pay through the nose for it, the 2006 Bennett Chardonnay is the wine for you. Happily, if you want toothpicks you'll have to bring some of your own.


Unknown said...

The Lark Creek Restaurant Group is doing their annual “Half-Off Wine Promotion” for the month of July. This is a great program that brings classic American wines to the table at reasonable costs. You can also check out Lark Creek Inn’s (the original restaurant) Executive Chef and her recipes at Her pan roasted NY Steak is out of this world.

Italian Wine Blog said...


I'm not getting the downers on Chardonnay but then I'm not drinking Californian Chard, only Italian Chardonnay (which is all I can get stranded in Venice) and I love them.
From Sicily the Planeta Chardonnay is rocking out buttery and hot, and from the goothills of the Alps the cooler regioned Chardonnays are fab in a different way.

Pinot Grigio seems to be the white of choice and I'm forever steering my pals away from it onto something else. The worm will turn and PG will be the next dancing devil.


P.S. Congrats on all the recognition for your blog, I enjoy your style.

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, Sarah. I've only had 2 Italian Chards, and enjoyed both of them. They are very different in style, and a refreshing change from the US versions of the wine. Like Pinot Grigio, a lot of people just have to have their buttery chards. Like you, I like to try everything--not just one thing!