Join Date: 5/22/2008
Location: Denver, CO
Posted: 5/22/2008 7:05:47 PM
So let’s talk Chardonnay for what it is, not what we wish it were. Like it or not, it's a wine many of us in the business need to deal with in almost every wine event.
The common perception, according to many wine geeks today, is that Chardonnay is not much of a “food wine.” I’m sorry, but anyone who says Chardonnay doesn’t match food just doesn’t understand food or wine. Sure, unlike other varietal type wines – like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner – Chardonnay tends to be bigger, fatter, oakier, and lower in acidity. But there are plenty of dishes that actually taste better with wines that are bigger, oakier and lower in acidity. Dishes that make a Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner taste weak and puny, lean and mean.
Cutting to the chase: some guidelines I've followed when preparing dishes to match Chardonnays:
· Look for fleshier white meats (from deep sea fish and lobster to game birds, pork, veal and sweetbreads); and if the meat isn’t replete with its own natural fats and juices, prepare it with sensations of similarity with the use of butters, oils (ever try it with truffled popcorn?), creams or mild aiolis.
· It’s also a good idea to balance these meats with moderate use of contrasting ingredients such as lemon (acidity), mustards, garlic, and all varieties of mushroom (earth tones), and fresh vegetables (like corn and carrot), fruit (peach and apple), or caramelized onions (touches of sweetness) and perhaps smoked white sausages or bacon
· Playing up smoky oak qualities by wood grilling, smoking or slow roasting, and use of toasted nuts (like pistachio, sesame seeds and pine nuts) is not such a bad idea.
· Accenting Chardonnay fruitiness with flatteringly scented herbs (especially chives, sweet basil, parsley, and more moderately, dill, sage, tarragon and rosemary) also does the trick.
· Moderately soft, milky cheeses like Havarti, Gouda, most Mozzarellas, and Bricks are delicious with the biggest, fattiest, oakiest Chardonnays; and so incorporating such dishes into dishes is another crafty thing to do.
What shouldn’t you do when cooking for Chardonnay? Just as a glass of orange juice or a dollop of ketchup is not ideal on a scoop of sweet, creamy ice cream, use of sharp ingredients like vinegars, sauerkraut or raw tomato, more lethally scented seasonings like ginger, cilantro, kaffir lime or raw garlic, salty tastes like shoyu and salted fish, and hot tastes like curries and chili pastes, are all likely to take the stuffing right out of an intense Chardonnay’s generously oaked, high alcohol fruitiness, making the wine taste flabby, paper-dry or bitter, and the dishes themselves too acidic, salty, fiery, or just plain weird.
In other words, aggressive fusion style dishes, or even traditionally soured, salted or chili spiced foods, are not Chardonnay’s forte, and you shouldn’t ask it to be. The same when it comes to pastas in zesty tomato sauce, vinegary salads and seviches, hot sour soups and barbecues – don't expect Chardonnay to go where it doesn't belong.
Finally, although ideal Chardonnay matches fall fabulously into the realm of “other white meats,” I see nothing wrong with the enjoyment of this wine with leaner cuts of beef (like filet sizzling rare in a heart stopping pool of butter); or with use of thin strips of beef or even lamb in the Asian tradition (like classic tataki with cucumbers and chiso), providing the use of excessively salty, sour or hot ingredients is restrained. Especially if that is what you like.
Over the years I have compiled a list of favorite, tried-and-true matches for Chardonnay; dishes that harness the wine’s gleeful girth of fruit, smoke, and creamy or buttery textures to delicious effect. Not surprisingly, many of these dishes involve butter. If only for that reason, you gotta love’em even if you don’t normally drink Chardonnay.
Listed along with their original sources or inspirations, the following ideas should give you plenty enough ammunition to do your own thing in the kitchen:
· Julia Child’s veal with mushrooms and cream
· Julia Child’s sweetbreads sautéed in butter
· Harvey Steiman’s veal osso buco in dill Chardonnay jus (Wine Spectator)
· John Ash’s wild mushrooms sautéed in fennel butter sauce (Fetzer Vineyards)
· Chris Gesualdi’s herb crusted moonfish with summer vegetables in lobster coral butter (Montrachet, NY)
· Roy Yamaguchi’s seared mahi mahi in roasted macadamia nut lobster butter sauce (Roy's, Hawaii)
· Richard Olney’s truffled white sausage sausage with pistachios and court-bouillon
· Cory Schreiber’s seared salmon in sweet corn broth with leeks and chanterelles (Wildwood, Portland)
· David Rosengarten’s grilled snapper with roasted sweet pepper, tropical fruit and cilantro salsa
· My own homemade burrito with smoked mozzarella and kalua pig (woodsmoked Hawaiian style pulled pork) and lomi lomi style pico de gallo