This week I selected the chardonnay from California because this grape varietal from California commonly presents with a rich, buttery texture (from a chemical process it typically undergoes) and a touch of woodiness from the new French oak used to age it. This differs from French Chardonnay because those are usually crisp and acidic. American Chardonnay typically employs the malolactic fermentation method to create that buttery taste and full bodied sensation in the mouth. Malolactic fermentation is a chemical process by which the standardly appearing acid, Malic acid, is converted into a more palatable lactic acid, which creates that buttery sensation on the palate. This same chemical conversion standardly occurs with red wines also, but because they are more bold, the malolactic process is much more difficult to discern when tasting. Chardonnay from California is routinely aged in oak barrels. If they are aged in new oak, it imparts a significant nuttiness or toast taste to the wine. Many critics are underwhelmed by this buttery, oaky style of wine because they feel it overwhelms the grape’s nuances. As a purist, many want to still get the character of the grape rather than all the processes the wine undergoes during fermentation and aging. Chardonnay makes it a challenge because it is a chameleon of a grape! It can grow in all main wine climates, cold, moderate, and warm. In each, the grapes will express themselves differently. Warm climate chardonnay will have notes of tropical and stone fruit while cold climate will be citrus and green fruit.
The wine I pulled this week is 2016 Patz and Hall Dutton Ranch. Patz and Hall was founded in 1988 by Donald Patz and James Hall. Their focus was on making excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by sourcing fruit from trusted local growers. One of these growners, Dutton Ranch, struck up a deal with P&H in the late 1990s, and have been producing fruit for them since. Dutton Ranch is a family owned ranch in Russian River Valley (Sonoma AVA), where they have been farming apples and grapes since 1964. In 2016, Chateau Ste Michelle, purchased P&H, and has kept many of those old contracts going to maintain consistency in the P&H brand.
I decided to pair this week’s wine with some homemade dungeness crab cakes! The clear, medium yellow wine smelled of stone fruit like peaches and apricots with mild hints of meyer lemon. It also had the faintest aroma of barely toasted bread and lightly toasted hazelnuts. On the palate, it showed a subdued acidity while still maintaining a well balanced butteriness. The butteriness converted into a creme brulee taste as a result of the oak aging and bottle aging. The flavors of dried apricots, green apple and meyer lemon also shown through. Pairing these flavors with crab cakes was delicious because the acidity in the wine cut some of the richness in the crab cakes! The fruit notes paired great with the smokey rouemlaude sauce, as did the toasted oak notes. I used to be an ABC, Anything But Chardonnay, but I came to realize the grape can vary so widely! A buttery California Chardonnay (like the one aptly named Butter), pairs brilliantly with corn chowder or corn on the cob! Finding food pairings for wines opens so many doors also. In France, wine is intended to be consumed with a meal, but in the US, we like solo sippers. This is unfortunate as it causes us to miss out on so many wonderful wines or food and wine pairings.