Local Chardonnay plays nice with Italian comfort food.
I easily tire of wine whiners: those who claim to despise a varietal solely based on the name, even though there’s no way they’ve tried all the wines with that title. These “Sideways”–quoting naysayers really do not know much after all — and yes, anti-Merlot advocates, I’m talking to you!
Case in point: the all-too-familiar butterball model of Chardonnay. One of the more malleable grape varieties out there, Chardonnay wears many hats, and each one depends on the climate — heat produces tropical aromas and flavors, while cold weather brings out the acidity. Unfortunately, this variety carries a bad rap, thanks to of a handful of feverish California producers who use too much oak while aging the grape juice.
Many wines are fermented and aged in oak barrels, but they are ultimately contingent on the winemaker’s style. Wines that age in oak for longer periods of time will be creamy and have a slight vanilla taste. On the other hand, less oaky varietals are more acidic, with enhanced fruit and sharper flavors.
Chardonnay is royalty in France, along with its lighter, more fanciful relative, Chablis. A noble variety in several regions, the beloved gem of White Burgundy is simple to cultivate — and, as a result, is among the most crucial components of sparkling wines made worldwide. Furthermore, its popularity has brought numerous, relatively obscure wine-producing regions to the forefront of wine culture.
Chardonnay fluctuates with Riesling in this state for the most planted white grape variety — and yet, its growers still fight off insults, attacks and parodies on the juice.
Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery tells wine whiners to grow a pair with his Chardonnay, “Big Sissy” — and this Seattleite wino agrees. Grown in the Conner Lee Vineyard, a plot that lies just outside Othello, Wash., this wine is made from 100 percent Chardonnay.
Using complete malolactic fermentation — when tart-tasting yet natural malic acid is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid — this Chard is also fermented with only wild yeasts (as in, the natural yeast found in our atmosphere). Then, it spends nine months in new, French oak barrels; this period produces spicy tones and silky textures in the wine.
This is Chardonnay from a purist’s approach — a nod to the French ancestors who made the varietal before “buttery” was a part of the grape’s terminology. As such, I’m pairing it with a Northwestern slant on la cucina Italiana.
The Restaurant: Italianissimo Ristorante in Woodinville, which is operated by the Betts family — father Ken runs the kitchen, while daughter Caylee is the restaurant’s marketing director. The menu is full of classically prepared Northern Italian servings, with respect to local grub.
The Dish: Gnocchi panna rosa – a generous portion of potato dumplings with a basic tomato cream sauce. Robust and delectable, the dumplings maintain their shape and the sauce is poured liberally enough for guests to lick the plate once the potato has been demolished.
The Grape Variety: Chardonnay. This green-skinned grape variety is often associated as a rich and powerful wine, yet Washington Chardonnays typically offer distinctively crisp tones — think fresh apples and riveting acid.
Why It Works: The sometimes muted aromas allow for initial fruit notes, vanilla and silky textures complement the creamy gnocchi dish, allowing structural acids to lift up the meal.
The Recommended Wine Match: Gorman Winery 2009 Conner Lee Vineyard “Big Sissy” Chardonnay. “Wine Enthusiast” gave this vintage 93 points, while “Wine Spectator” offered up 90. The wine is lush with apple and stone fruits, backed by butterscotch hints and buoyant with spice and citrus flavors that linger to the finish. Its creaminess flirts with that of the gnocchi, and teases it with leftover acidity.
Big Sissy and I challenge you to step outside of your wine whiner box and give this Chardonnay the old college try.