(This column will appear in an upcoming issue of Dan's Papers)
Over a Barrel... With Lenn Thompson
I hear this all the time when I talk to friends, family and even strangers on the street about wine. I've even said it to myself as I choked down a heavy, buttery, oak-filled chard…usually hailing from California. These wines are difficult to pair well with food and, unless you enjoy the flavor of American, French or some other region's oak trees, it's no wonder you don't like them.
Fact is, you've probably never really tasted this most noble of all white wine grapes. Through barrel fermentation and excessive aging in new oak, many wine makers so manipulate Chardonnay's pure, fruity character that it's nearly unrecognizable. It's like making a hamburger from center-cut filet mignon…and drowning it with condiments--tasty to some, but at what point is it not really filet mignon anymore?
Luckily, some talented wine makers on Long Island believe in the purity of this grape's true character. Through more judicious use of oak, or by not using it at all, they make some truly unique Chardonnays that are unlike any you've wrapped your tongue around.
If you really think you don't like Chardonnay, and are sick of drinking Savignon Blanc, Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, Long Island offers several Chardonnays you should try. Remember, however, that any "Reserve" Chardonnay is probably going to be oaky and you should avoid those if it's the fresh and the fruity that you crave.
So leave your ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) membership cards at home and try a couple of these.
Macari Vineyards' 2003 Early Wine ($12) is 100% Chardonnay but I bet you'd never have guessed. Harvested in late September, bottled around Halloween and released just before Christmas, it is one of the crispest, freshest whites you'll ever drink. With gentle lime flavor, green apple tartness and just a hint of sweetness, it's extremely easy to drink. Just 400 cases were made and the 2003 vintage has sold out, but the 2004 is on its way this December.
Another excellent example of an unoaked Chardonnay is offered by Peconic Bay Winery. Their 2002 Steel Fermented Chardonnay ($13) is fruit forward with lemon and lime--simple with just the right amount of acidity. It's a great wine with food.
Two of my favorites are made by Channing Daugthers Winery--Channing Daugthers 2003 Scuttlehole Chardonnay ($14) and Channing Perrine 2001 Mudd Vineyard Cuvee Tropical Chardonnay ($17). The Scuttlehole is fermented in stainless steel and features elegant citrus and mineral character. It's an excellent example of cold climate Chardonnay.
The Cuvee Tropical is one of the most unique Chardonnay experiences you'll ever have. Made with the musque clone of Chardonnay, it is overflowing with exotic fruit, including mangoes and pineapples that linger on the tongue.
Yet another Chardonnay that dodges the adulteration of oak fermentation is the 2003 Bridge Lane Chardonnay ($13) from Lieb Family Cellars. Made in an approachable style, it's even fruitier and more refreshing than the 2002 release, it's delicious by itself or paired with lobster or shrimp.
These wines, along with many other Long Island Chardonnays are available both at the various vineyard tasting rooms and in local wine shops. Note that many of them are great buys and that's because they don't spend much, if any, time in expensive oak barrels. Cheaper to make means cheaper to buy.