Friday, November 2, 2007

Oaky Chardonnays: A Wonderful Excuse to Eat Cream or Butter

I used to have a wine prejudice.

When I say “used to,” I mean that I’m reaching the eleventh step of my program; I have cooked food and paired it with an oaked Chardonnay.

Oak has always been somewhat an issue for me with wine. In general I like oak. It does the things with wines that most of us favor- it adds a touch of vanilla, spice, nuttiness or even chocolate. But if overused, it can nearly ruin a wine. In short, it can provoke a wine to start smelling like a wood chip, or in the case of the extremely oak-sensitive Chardonnay, the original flavor of Cornuts. Perhaps needless to say, this can make for a difficult wine and food pairing.

Because such a wine can be so hard to pair with food, in the past, I have avoided answering questions about what to eat with an oaky Chardonnay. Or rather, I told people that such a Chardonnay was best paired with a sunset and a deck chair. In fact, while co-teaching a recent wine class at work I quoted the old standby pairings spouted by Chardonnay geeks- corn soup, scallops with cream sauce, ya da ya da- but then finished my round-up by referring to one particularly oaky Chardonnay as “an after-work, before or after dinner wine- not good with food.”

Then, a couple weeks later, I paired a dinner to an oaky Chardonnay left over from the wine bar, and I loved it.

Winos often say that oak loves fat. I do too, so you’d think that I would have opened up my heart earlier to an oaky Chardonnay (and by oaky, I don’t mean super oaky to the point of smelling like a cedar chip). But before my turning point meal, I had never really tasted such a wine with a good, lush (aka, fatty) meal. I had always tried it as cocktail wine, which I still dislike.

But my heard turned when a couple nights ago when I paired the remnants of a bottle of Chardonnay with a whole lot of butter.

In honor of Halloween, I cooked a squash and fall inspired meal. Frisee and persimmon salad for the first course and butternut squash and leek ravioli with a browned butter and sage sauce to follow.

The browned butter was what convinced me that the Chardonnay heads were right about the grape liking fat. Case in point: I have to had browned at least half a cube of butter for the sauce, and the caramel, nutty notes imparted to the wine by oak mimicked the same flavors in the butter, and dare I be so staright-forward, tasted awesome with the butter fat. Furthermore, I learned that Chardonnay loves foods that even sound like fat, or butter, like butternut squash. The oak just gave the buttery goods a big hug.

Lastly, a cooking hint- making ravioli at home so you can have something to put tons of butter on is super easy to do. Just buy the won-ton wrappers in the refrigerated section marked “Asian foods” in your grocery store instead of buying or making pasta sheets. Then, make a simple filling, and plop about a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of it in the center of a won-ton square. Dab the square lightly with water from the filling to the edge of the sheet, lay another wrapper over the filling, and press the new square into the old one until all air bubbles have been released and the two wrappers are stuck to each other. To cook, place in lightly boiling water in a shallow pan for about five minutes. Then drain, and pour browned butter all over it. Or maybe a creamy, garlicky sauce instead. Because Chardonnay likes cream too.

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