Chardonnay: The Apple of the Empire State’s Eye
My sister Ariella, an NYC Sommelier-at-Large, suggested that I dedicate this week’s installment of What I’m Eating Now to What I’m Drinking Now. It just so happens that she’s been on a quest to help me find local (New York State) wines to serve at an upcoming event on Sustainable Seafood. The quest has led her to fall in love again with the much-maligned Chardonnay grape, which, being the grape of most champagnes, has a special place in her boozy little heart. And so, I’ve agreed to turn over my soapbox this week so that she can plead her case in favor of us giving New York chardonnays a taste this summer as we grill ourselves some healthy and sustainable fish.
Perhaps you’ve overheard someone order “ABC” wine (that’s code for “Anything But Chardonnay”), and have been shamed into eschewing this varietal of wine. Or perhaps you’ve tasted enough mediocre chardonnays at weddings to have categorized the entire varietal as a sort-of generic catering-hall white. Ariella explains that Chardonnay’s current reputation results from the fact that chardonnay grapes themselves are not aromatic per se, so the flavor of the wine depends more on a winemaker’s skill than the characteristics of the grape itself. In this way, chardonnay is like the tofu of the grape world: it’s sort of plain when cooked by itself, but it takes on the flavor of whatever you “cook” it with. Traditionally, California winemakers have chosen to flavor their Chardonnays by fermenting them in brand-spanking new, toasted oak barrels, which impart a strong vanilla smokiness to the wine that totally overwhelms the fruit. The result is a heavy wine that isn’t particularly “sippable” on its own during cocktail hour. Rather, it needs heavier foods to stand up to it: think richer, meatier deep sea fish. Unfortunately, many such fish are of the overfished–and therefore environmentally unsustainable– variety (think Chilean Sea Bass and Bluefin Tuna).
So what to pair with those lighter, more sustainably-caught fish, you might ask?
Our resident sommelier recommends you give a New York State chardonnay a try.
All across the state, from Long Island to the Finger Lakes, winemakers have been producing un-oaked chardonnays fermented in stainless steel tanks (or lesser-oaked chardonnays, in which only a small portion of oaked wine is mixed into a batch of unoaked wine to produce a more balanced flavor). The result is new wave of “fruit-forward” chardonnays (don’t you love it when sommeliers say things like that?) that are crisp and bright and summery with apple-y and stone fruit flavors. These light and lovely wines are way more versatile and sippable, and pair divinely with sustainable fish at the low end of the food chain: think grilled fresh sardines, clams and mussels.
Interested in trying some of New York’s Finest? Ariella recommends Channing Daughters 2007 Scuttle Hole chardonnay (~$16/bottle), which she likes for its sweet, peachy quality that tastes like summer in a bottle. Try pairing it with any seafood, or spicy foods of all varieties… like Thai or Vietnamese. She also likes Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Salmon Run (2007) chardonnay from the Finger Lakes region, which has crisp green apple and citrusy notes for about $10/bottle. The wine is named in honor of the wild salmon that live in nearby Keuka Lake and pairs well with briny shellfish or a happy wild fish like salmon, wild striped bass or brook trout.
Of course, all this talk about white wine begs the question as to whether it’s indeed healthy to drink wine at all?
Perhaps you’ve heard that red wine is heart healthy… and healthier for you than white wine, at that. Well, although it’s true that red wine contains higher levels of a phytochemical called resveratrol that has been associated with cardiovascular health benefits, there isn’t much scientific data that compares health outcomes of red wine drinkers to white wine drinkers. Therefore, it’s not clear that red is definitively “healthier” than white… and there’s certainly no evidence that passing up a heavy, spicy red in favor of a cold, fruity glass of chardonnay on a hot summer night is somehow going to put you at some sort of disadvantage health-wise. For me personally, supporting small, local NY State wineries does my heart quite good, thank you very much.
Now as for whether to drink at all, the best answer researchers have is the same, vague party line: *if* you choose to drink any alcohol at all, moderation appears to be associated with the best health outcomes. As a reminder, I’ll re-state what I’ve said before.. and apologize in advance for being a buzz-kill:
- If you currently drink ~2 drinks/day or less (males) or 1 drink/day or less (females), you may get a slightly protective benefit against heart disease, so enjoy! While it seems that red wine may possibly afford an even better benefit, any type of alcohol should do the trick. If you’re drinking more than this amount, you may want to consider cutting down.
- Bear in mind that “one drink” is not necessarily one glass of wine as poured by your neighborhood bartender in a monster-sized goblet. It’s 5 fluid ounces of wine. In other words, 1 bottle of wine is 5 standard servings. So if you’re used to splitting a bottle every night with your best friend or spouse, try inviting a few more people on on the fun.
- If you don’t drink at all now, I wouldn’t recommend taking it up for ‘health reasons,’ as there are plenty of ‘health reasons’ not to drink, too. Even moderate drinking appears to increase the risk for breast cancer in women, and regular drinking can aggravate high blood pressure and increase your triglyceride levels, both of which are actually risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Got a wine pairing question for our resident sommelier? Looking for a special recommendation? Post a comment on this post for Ariella Duker, Sommelier-at-Large, and she’ll respond to your every wine query!Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.