Most people don’t think of Easter as a drinking holiday, but for us wine lovers we know the secret…every holiday is a drinking holiday. Here are some suggestions of wines to serve with traditional (and non traditional) Easter meals and what foods pair best.
Domaine Chandon Brut Rose, $15
For me, every meal should start with bubbly. This Californian example is a traditional champagne blend (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) with some additional Pinot Noir added for color. Juicy watermelon and strawberry make it light enough as an aperitif, but as vibrant enough to pair with a small bite of seafood or shellfish.
Chehalem Dry Riesling, $22
I’m predicting a come back for Riesling over the next couple years, there are so many great producers of varying styles from Germany to Washington to Oregon. Chehalem’s (Oregon) is bone dry with stone fruit flavors and a touch of lemon zest. Riesling is such a versatile wine when it comes to food pairing, in my opinion the best white wine for food pairing. My favorite for the wine is spicy food, but given a traditional Easter menu it would be a good match for ham.
Domaine Pommier Chablis, $26
If you are going with seafood as a main course rather than ham, try your taste for Chablis. Chablis, a growing region within the French region of Burgundy, is always made from 100% Chardonnay and is often aged with little or no oak giving it complex fruit and mineral flavors without the heavy vanilla and butter. Would be a great pairing with salmon or white, flaky fish.
La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast, $25
100% Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, one of our favorite regions of California wine country. The cooler growing conditions of 2009 and 2010 prompted the best possible weather for Pinot and the wine has delivered as well. If Riesling is my favorite food white, Pinot is my red. Pinot Noir is the universal food wine. If your ever stuck, just serve Pinot. But my favorite pairing with Pinot is pork…and for Easter is perfect with ham.
Domaine d’Andezon La Granacha Vieilles Vignes, $17
Cote du Rhone is one of my favorite value regions in France. The quality of wine you get for the price you pay is double or triple what it would be in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Most of the wines are a blend of Syrah and Grenache which provide full-bodied flavors with a nice spice and acidity to balance dishes. This wine in particular has 100% Grenache in it bolstering even more acidity and bright fruit flavors. Pairs nicely with poultry dishes, lamb, or even a seafood dish with a heavy red sauce.
As I’m entering the world of wine education (I’m in the middle of my intermediate level course for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification), I’ve been pondering different styles of wine and exploring more so than I typically do. I’ve never been a fan of heavily oaked Chardonnay but as I learn more and more about the grape, its growing regions and high acidity levels I’ve come to discover I’m also not a fan of non-oaked versions. So what’s the answer, oak or no oak?
The argument for oak
I begin with the fact that chardonnay grapes from Napa Valley are worlds different from chardonnay grapes in Chablis and Burgundy. The warmer climate grapes like California, Burgundy and Australia can benefit from some oak fermentation and/or aging. Warm weather prompts higher yield levels and riper fruit. As chardonnay ripens, the sugar increases and forms strong flavors and aromas of tropical fruits like pineapple and banana. Oak fermentation balances the fruity characteristics and complements those flavors creating a well-balanced, complex wine. In this case, oak is a positive and delicious treatment for the wine…in moderation. Yes, I’m seen and tasted some very heavily oaked versions – many of which used either 100% new oak barrels (the flavors are stronger, the newer the barrels) or an inexpensive replacement to oak barrels, oak chips. The wines I have tasted that achieve the best demonstration of the grape in this style use a combination of new and used oak barrels or even a combination of oak and stainless steel batches.
The argument for no oak
There’s something special about a Chablis. The crispness, minerality, delicate peach flavors that just make you want to drink unoaked Chardonnay for the rest of your life. But I’m not sure if the style would work in a warmer climate. The cool growing region of Chablis and other new world regions – Washington, for example – restrict the yield and development of the grapes and the resulting fruit has higher acidity levels, a mineral characteristic and what reviewers refer to as ‘stone’ fruit (peaches for the layman). In this case, the use of oak in fermentation/aging could disrupt those delicate, yet strong fruit flavors and completely over power the wine. The result is something completely different and unique from its sister style in California & southern France.
I’m not sure there is one righteous path for winemakers in search of the perfect Chardonnay. What I’ve learned through my ‘research’ is Chardonnay is a much more complex variety than the big box brands demonstrate. It is highly reflective of the climate and terrior which it is grown which can also dictate a certain style of production. I found the key is balance in the wine, and achieving that – whether it requires oak or no oak – is the only important thing.
A recent article in Publix’s publication, Grape Magazine, spurred this post. I was flipping through the Sunday edition of the Naples Daily News when I came across the Grape and became interested and started flipping as well. The issue had a lot of helpful tips and recipe pairings, but I was extremely disturbed with one article. Called “Wine Simplified” it explored the grape varietal of Chablis….uh excuse me?
According to the Wine Lover’s Companion (my favorite wine encyclopedia and a must for all wine geeks), varietal is defined as “A wine that uses the name of the dominant grape from which it’s made such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling.” That same resource defines Chablis as “A small growing district located 110 miles southeast of Paris that encircles the town of Chablis in France’s Burgundy region.” But for many of us, we already new that…Chablis is a region, not a grape varietal. I highly respect Publix’s business model and their history of growth, but this article does make me question the information dispensed by this article.
It is true, that most European wines (like Chablis) are labeled by their region rather than their grape varietal (a new world practice), and it is an education process that many in the wine industry have been working to disseminate to the wine loving public. Unfortunately lacking this education kind of makes us Americans look a little naive when it comes to wine.
So I ask who do you trust with your wine buying? With so many self-proclaimed experts (which we are not claiming we are) on the web, in stores and restaurants, it is really hard to disseminate which are qualified to help educate and develop your palette? Many times it depends on what you – the consumer – want out of the relationship with your wine expert. Do you want me to recommend a crisp and clean Pinot Grigio similar to Santa Margherita, sure I can do that. Want to learn about how Caymus makes their Special Selection? I can help you out with that too. Want to know how to grow your own grapes and make wine from scratch? Hmmm, let me refer you to someone else. And maybe that’s the key, finding someone that you can trust so much that you know that when they don’t have the right answer for you they’ll either find it or refer you to someone else.
So with that in mind, let me refer you to some information about Chablis, sourced from the Wine Lover’s Companion….
Varietal (Grape): 100% Chardonnay
Region: Chablis is a small region within the region of Burgundy in France. Chablis is an unique growing region because it produces harsher weather elements than the rest of the larger region of Burgundy. Due to cooler temperatures, the Chardonnay grapes do not ripen as fully as the Chardonnay from other regions of Burgundy.
Description of the wines: Chablis wines are somewhat different than your typical Burgundy Chardonnay. They are characterized many times by dryer finishes, more complex flavors, and a touch of minerality. Most producers in Chablis produce an un-oaked version of Chardonnay leading to to cleaner flavors and often a misnomer among Americans that Chablis is a different wine than Chardonnay (the missing oak confuses many people, Chardonnay has a much different flavor when aged in stainless steel tanks). However, Chablis can also be aged in oak barrels which leads to smoke and vanilla flavors.
Price point: Chablis has a wide range of pricepoints starting at very affordable value brands which can be as little as $7-$8 per bottle. However this region also produces some of the world’s best known white wines, and the Grand Cru vineyards (seven total) can command upwards of $50-$75 per bottle at release.