13 New California Chardonnays Perfect for Winter Sipping – Robb Report

13 New California Chardonnays Perfect for Winter Sipping – Robb Report

A few years ago, I gathered with a panel of colleagues – wine and food reviewers and writers – around a table in Fort Bragg to decide which Mendocino wine best suited Dungeness crabs that year. (It was an annual ritual, part of the county’s big crab and wine festival at the time, and was always followed the next day by the task of judging the best crab cakes from local chefs. Good job if you could get it!)

Facing piles of freshly peeled crabs on our plates and a row of about eight Chardonnays, we took a collective deep breath (some on the panel were not big fans of Chard, or at least of the somewhat fat, oak versions still popular at the time ), swirled and stuck his nose into the first glass, then sipped and chased the first sip with a small crab. There was a pause, and then a panelist, a prominent Los Angeles food editor, said aloud what we were all thinking: “Well, if there’s ever a time for buttery Californian Chardonnay, it’s with Dungeness crab!” The mating was fabulous.

The mating is still fabulous. Only now, especially in the hands of the state’s best winemakers, has Chardonnay evolved into a living balance. It still bears sweet fruits – apple, pear, citrus and sometimes hints of stone fruit or pineapple – born of our warm, sunny growing season, making it a perfect foil for the crab’s sweet juiciness. But by and large, there is more deliberate use of malolactic fermentation (the secondary, bacterial fermentation that converts harsh malic acids into rounder, more milk-like lactic acids) and the oak itself – where many winemakers choose to reduce the percentage of new barrels for less oak spice and structure and more transparency of fruit character from exciting places.

In the resulting brightness and nuance of today’s great Chardonnays, one can find amazing pairings in addition to crabs across a range of the season’s best and most comforting dishes. Think butter-poached lobster (or Newberg or okay, make that lobster mac ‘n’ cheese), creamy seafood risotto (toss mushrooms in, a bridge to the more down-to-earth, mineral side of the wine), French onion soup (Chardonnay loves onions and root vegetables), chicken and dumplings (not to mention simple fried chicken or delicious chicken potpie), southern shrimp ‘n’ grits (Chardonnay is a sucker for corn), traditional pork chops with spicy apples or even the oh-so-popular cacio and pepe.

Here are 13 beautiful bottles that will make any of the above a winter party.

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