Chardonnay is the chicken of the wine world to me. For those of you who don’t understand what I mean by that, I’ll explain. When I go out to dinner, I rarely even look at the chicken selection on the menu because normally the dish isn’t as fun as the other options, the chicken is probably served too dry, and I’m going to be generally disappointed with the meal. However, every so often, I try a chicken dish that pleasantly surprises me. That’s how I feel about Chardonnay; I don’t enjoy a lot of them, but when I find one I like, I’m hooked.
When I noticed the upcoming PROTOCOL #WineStudio for November, called “The Importance of Willamette Valley Chardonnay,” I was intrigued. For those of you not in the know, this monthly online twitter-based educational program is part instruction and tasting, with discussions on wine, its producers, varieties, and the larger role that it plays in our daily lives. If this sounds like something that interests you (and it should since it’s awesome), you can follow along on Tuesdays at 9pm EST. This post covers the first two weeks of the Chardonnay-heavy month, but the discussion is still going on, so jump in. Just search the #WineStudio or follow PROTOCOL on Twitter @ProtocolWine.
Although this isn’t the first month I’ve participated in #WineStudio, this month was the first time I sipped the wines discussed along with everyone else. Since I am a bit younger than most of the people participating, I was understandably intimidated. Of course, this meant I was bound to make a fool of myself. Normally I’m pretty cool under pressure, but apparently that luck ran out the first night of the chat as I ended up asking one of the winemakers about his father…who had passed away…which I already knew when I tweeted out “Who picks the wines in the family?” It was the facepalm moment to surpass all facepalm moments and made me wonder why anyone speaks to me on the internet.
Luckily (I swear I’m not imagining this), things got better. I figured that at twenty-two-years-old, I was bound to make an ass of myself…so I decided to get over it and focus on the wine. As the PROTOCOL website states, Chardonnay is going through a bit of a Renaissance right now in Oregon, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to try some of them. I tasted them on their own, I tasted them together, I tasted them with food…essentially I was trying to get everything I could out of these wines, and it was certainly worth it.
The first wine we tried was the 2012 Old Vines Chardonnay from Cooper Mountain Vineyards. This organic, biodynamic, palest of gold wine was a winner in my book. From their oldest Chardonnay vines planted in 1978, this wine spent 7 months aging in 38% new French oak barrels. There were aromas of green apple, lemon, and baked goods, which all followed through on flavor as well. There was balance, a touch of acidity, and a general well-rounded feeling to it. I only planned on giving this one a quick taste, but before I knew it most of the bottle was gone! This vibrant wine, with only 200 cases produced annually, is a steal at $30.
From there we moved to Jason Lett’s 2012 Original Vines Reserve Chardonnay from Eyrie Vineyards. Although I think of anything that makes money as a company, Lett runs a one horse show which he inherited from his parents, David and Diane. They originally founded the vineyard in 1966, and if this Chardonnay is anything to go off of, they’ve been in business since the 60s for good reason. This crisp gold wine was pretty lively on the nose with mild white jasmine scents as well as aromas of tropical fruits and citrus. There were flavors of apples, pears, and almonds with a bit of an acidic lime finish towards the end. By taking a stance of non-intervention as far as things like pesticides go, Jason allowed this wine and its terroir to shine on their own. I could easily go through bottles of this one without getting sick of it. With 400 cases produced annually at about $50 a pop, this one would make a fantastic gift for the upcoming holidays.
After this first week and two different but delicious wines, we sipped the 2012 Lucidité Willamette Valley Chardonnay from J.K. Carriere. This pale yellow wine gave off heady aromas of lemon, apple, and grapefruit. As I tasted it, there were subtler lemon, grapefruit, and baking spice flavors. It was a refreshing, smooth wine that had a touch of acid to it. Aged for 18 months in older French oak barrels, the oak that appeared in this one seemed to be there more for balance and mouthfeel than oaky taste. At $32 per bottle and with 220 cases produced, jump on this one while you still can.
Up next was the Goodfellow Family Cellars’ 2012 Whistling Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay. Like the other wines we were focusing on, there was a uniqueness in this bottle that stemmed from a commitment to sustainable farming and a desire for a wine with personality. The back of the bottle included the words “imagine the possibilities,” which I really loved and thought captured the attitudes of all these vineyards well. On the nose there were light floral, white rose, clove, and pear scents. It showed nice restraint with pear flavors following through on the palate. This one, at $36 and only 80 cases, is one to check out and promises a lot as their inaugural vintage.
The last wine we tried during these first two weeks was the 2012 Durant Vineyard Chardonnay from Matello Wines. There were deep tropical fruits like guava and some stone fruits on the nose with a hint of citrusy lemon zest to it. It had a rich buttery mouthfeel with lemon, peach, and vanilla flavors. The weight was substantial and it felt oaky to me, though it wasn’t completely overwhelming. It was definitely a wine that made me sit there and think for a while before I could really get a feel for it. This was very good, but it just wasn’t my type of wine; however I’d certainly pick it up for my mother or any other Chardonnay enthusiast I know. With 145 cases produced and a SRP of $29, it’s one to check out if Chardonnay is your jam.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you want to try it all, but in order to keep from embarrassing yourself by drinking on an empty stomach, here are some quick suggestions for pairings that I found worked well. I paired these wines with everything I ate these past two weeks in order to try as many as I possibly could. Unsurprisingly, some were awful (read: duck tacos), but there were some fantastic ones.
The Linguine alle vongole that I had at a family restaurant called Carlo’s Italian Bistro was the best pairing I tried. The crisp Chardonnay went well with the slightly creamy dish, and I’d recommend the pairing with a bright acidic option. Any seafood would go well with a Chardonnay, but this one was my favorite. It also paired extremely well with two of the soups I had that week. I know some people aren’t into wine and soup pairings, but I’m a fan of anything where wine and food work well together. The first was a Persian creamy chicken soup called Soup e Jo and the other was a hearty Broccoli Cheddar Soup. Both were decadent soups and the Chardonnay undercut that creaminess in order to spark some excitement and diversity on the palate. They played well together and I would suggest trying a pairing similar to this whenever possible.
Next week I’ll be back with the other wines we tried for #WineStudio, but I hope you join us for the last live Chardonnay chat on Twitter. If you can’t make it on the 25th, try and participate on December 2nd at 9pm EST for the beginning on Bubbles month, which will be perfect for the upcoming holiday season!
These wines were kindly provided to me by the wineries listed above, but all opinions are my own.