Join Cuisine Noir's wine editor, Greg B.C. Shaw, each Wednesday for a pairing of the week that is recommended to complement and enhance the ultimate culinary experience. From wines, to cognacs, great cocktails and liqueurs, we're discussing it all in The Pairing Weekly.
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This Week’s Pairing – 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands, $24
It seems appropriate to talk about chardonnay at the beginning of the year since it is still, as 2012 closed, the world’s favorite wine grape. 2013 will no doubt be another fantastic year for chardonnay purchasing as people can’t seem to get enough of this white grape from France’s Burgundy region.
One thing to watch in 2013 is the continuing trend of less oak in the chardonnay process. This has been happening for the last few years as U.S. wineries are still compensating (perhaps over-compensating) for the sometimes misplaced criticisms of the phrase, “Would you like some chardonnay with that oak?” While there’s still plenty of chardonnay produced in oak barrels, expect to find more U.S. wineries providing the option of a chardonnay with very limited oak contact, if not out right leaving the oak out completely and fermenting and storing in stainless steel or concrete.
Why be concerned with the difference? Chardonnay is an extremely versatile grape and it takes on the characteristics of its growing conditions, fermentation process and aging process more noticeably than many other wine grapes. With unoaked chardonnay, the first thing you’ll notice is the color. It will be lighter, sometimes almost clear white, rather than the deep yellow oaked chardonnays usually have. On the palate, unoaked chardonnay has a tendency to be fruitier (rather than toasty or buttery), with flavors ranging from crisp green apple, lime and bitter citrus, to melon, tangerine, pineapple and peach. Oak doesn’t necessarily hide these flavors, but a well-oaked chardonnay can almost take on qualities that make it seem like less of a white wine – it becomes very sturdy. Without the oak, the flavor profile of chardonnay more coincides with other white wine grapes, although chardonnay still has a fullness in the mouth that makes it a little heavier than most other whites. The nice thing is, by staying just within this one grape, there is a full range of tastes, aromas and textures to explore.
So what to try? For a little fun, pick up Mer Soleil’s Silver, which is the winery’s unoaked chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s distinctive because it comes in a gray (silver) ceramic bottle, which itself is a novelty since you rarely see those in wine shops and the ceramic keeps the wine a little cooler than glass, perfect for this wine. This wine is a classic expression of unoaked chardonnay that lets the true nature of the grape show through and is reasonable price. For a little extra fun, Mer Soleil also makes a chardonnay fermented in French oak. Get both and you can compare the two side-by-side.