11.01.2011

Wine column no. 17: And it started with shrimp ...

About three weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to head out to Double A Farms in Henderson County, Ky. My assignment? To write about farmer Tim Alexander's Giant Malaysian prawn harvest.
There are shrimp in Henderson? Yes. Or, rather, there were shrimp in Henderson, until Tim sold them all. Just under 350 pounds sold so well and so fast that Tim didn't even get to have any, he said later, which is a real shame because they were delicious.
I know this because I bought three pounds, which Greg and I ate a few days later. Greg whipped up a spicy concoction of shrimp, shallots, garlic chives, Mediterranean Sea salt, a dab of red curry paste, butter, minced garlic, olive oil, Thai chile and one Bulgarian carrot pepper.
My contribution (other than waiting in line) was to open a chilled bottle of 2007 Beringer Napa Valley chardonnay.
We'd purchased this Californian at Winetree after trying it on a Wednesday night tasting, and we were both surprised that we liked it. Why? Well, we've been a bit anti-chardonnay in the past. I'm not a fan of wine that tastes like a stick of butter. Greg tends to be a bit more tolerant. But generally, we prefer chardonnay that's on the green apple side of the flavor spectrum, and we've long blamed the malolactic process for what we consider to be an oily, movie popcorned assault on our taste buds.
But what we're learning is that there are grades of malolactic processing, which is essentially a conversion of a green-apple-flavored grape acid to a richer, more buttery-flavored grape acid.
That process may sound technical and complicated, and it is. So chemistry aside, what we mean by grades of the malolactic process is that it's possible for chardonnay to acquire a silky texture without having to taste like a glass full of melted butter. And with this 2007 vintage, Beringer has managed to get the best of both worlds.
We liked that it tasted a bit like a tart green apple, but we also liked that it wasn't so tart that the acidity stung our tongues. In this case, the malolactic process was able to round out the briskness of the green apple, so that overall this wine was well balanced. Plus, this cool roundness was a refreshing foil to the slight heat of Greg's shrimp. This is definitely a wine we'll get again, In fact, it would likely pair well with white fish, too. It's 14.1 percent alcohol and costs about $18.
Speaking of white fish, the 2008 Los Vascos from Colchagua Valley, Chile, went very well with a dish I prepared with shallots, salt and butter. This Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) creation had scents of peach, lemon, pears and honey, with a slight acidic texture. We didn't get any inkling of butter with this chardonnay, which was 14 percent alcohol. We got it for about $12.50 at the Schnucks on North Green River Road, and we'd get it again, too.
Here's a good chardonnay blend that we paired with grilled chicken breasts seasoned with sea salt, garlic, black pepper, paprika, rosemary, thyme, parsley, celery seed and chili pepper that I marinated in canola oil for about 45 minutes before Greg placed them on the grill. The 2010 14 Hands Hot to Trot White Blend is a mixture of chardonnay and Pinot gris, and it comes in at 13 percent alcohol. This Washington state product gave us flavors of melon and pear, but they weren't heavy. It was crisp, with minimal sweetness, and it was definitely worth the roughly $11 we paid for it at Winetree.
Now if you happen to like buttery chardonnay and, despite our verbal pummeling, still have decided to give us the benefit of the doubt, thank you. Here's your reward: The 2006 Frei Brothers Reserve was too silky, creamy and rich for us, but you might like it. We had it on a very special occasion that involved boiled lobster (a rare night, indeed).
We thought this Russian River Valley Californian would be a good match with the lobster, since lobster has an innate buttery flavor and can feel very soft in the mouth, and sometimes wine and food pair best when they are most alike in flavors and/or textures. But this chardonnay was way too rounded and extreme for us. About $18 at Winetree.

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