If you have tried wines before, you have likely tasted Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a grape varietal first made popular from a small region Chablis, in northwest of burgundy, just under 100 miles from Dijon. Being a very adaptive grape varietal in both growing conditions and wine-making styles, Chardonnay undoubted is the most widely planted grape in the world.
Chardonnay and Oak
Cold night and warm day is ideal condition for Chardonnay to thrive, with hot dry heat, Napa Valley grows some of the most flavorful Chardonnay there are. In recent decade, ever since Robert Parker gave raving reviews on a couple of highly oaked Napa Valley Chardonnay, there has been a significant movement in the wine making process of California Chardonnay. From fermenting in oak, having age the wine in oak for longer period of time and the use of newer oak barrels, this process has tremendous effect on the final bottled wine. It takes on whole new flavor profile, such as nutty, toasty vanilla, nutmeg, smoke, roasted popcorn, cedar, even cinnamon and coconut.
More flavors and improved complexity certainly made it more interesting wine to drink. Overtime, it becomes very approachable wine, especially for novice wine drinkers. However, on the other hand, highly oaked chardonnay makes it difficult to pair with food. Common rule of thumb when it comes to pairings, “white wine with seafood” along with Chardonnay being so popular, many often pair it with shellfish, grilled fish and sushi. Unfortunately, they do not complement one another very well. The powerful oaky characters will easily overpower the delicate flavor of oysters or Sashimi, anything bright and sharp will also turn oaky flavors into bitterness.
When it comes to pairing food with oaky chardonnay, there are a couple things to consider: the nutty, cedar flavors in oak will match well with foods that have similar profiles; secondly, bold and full-body Chardonnay will balance well with more structural dish. Strawberry-jam infused cream-cheese over smoked salmon, topped with caviar is a match made in heaven with oaky chardonnay. Nuttiness from the wine match up nicely to the smokiness from the salmon, while the creamy filling compliments the bold structure and tannins. Pan seared scallops with white wine (chardonnay) garlic cream sauce and fatty-meaty fish baked over cedar plank are also great choices for this pairing.
So, next time you’re at a sushi bar enjoying your oysters on the half-shell and Sashimi, before ordering your favorite Chardonnay, make sure it is un-oaked, or little of. Cheers!
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