Odonata Chardonnay

Last spring, I went wine tasting in Santa Cruz, Calif., during the quarterly Passport Weekend. It’s a fantastic way to try Santa Cruz wines and spend an afternoon within a short walk of the Pacific Ocean. You buy a passport ($40) that has a page for all the wineries belonging to the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, which is just about every winery and tasting room in Santa Cruz. And you taste your way through the book. Word to the wise: Don’t try to fill out the entire passport in one weekend (really, don’t! I learned the hard way.). You can keep it and use it again and again until you visit every winery in it. The benefit is that you can use the passport as a guide to tasting rooms, and many wineries pour special vintages while others ONLY offer tastings during Passport weekend. Many local restaurants offer discounts to Passport holders too.

I love family-owned businesses. It’s a small way I show my patriotism; I don’t wear flag pins or have a yellow ribbon magnet on my bumper, but I do support locally owned, family owned businesses. So when my friend and I wandered into the borrowed tasting room for Odonata Wines during Passport Weekend, I was intrigued. The man pouring the wine was the winemaker, Denis Hoey. He talked about his love for wine, the science of winemaking and how he hopes to grow his winery. But he didn’t just talk, he listened. He listened to my reasons for not liking most white wines (too sweet, too fruity, too tart, no depth, too oaky, blah, blah, blah) and he poured me his 2008 Chardonnay.

How did he know? How did he know that this would make me eat my words… or drink them, at least? The Odonata Chardonnay is at first like microwaved popcorn – buttery with just a hint of toasty vanilla . The fruit taste is a mellow apple or pear, not melon like a sauvignon blanc or grapefruit like a pinot grigio. And it doesn’t depend on overpowering oak flavor to give it depth like so many chardonnays. There’s a distinct minerality to the wine, something I haven’t paid much attention to in most other wines. It’s a wine that makes you stop and think about what you’re tasting, and want another taste!

I immediately bought a bottle, and was disappointed to learn that Odonata wines are made in small batches. So like all best things in life, you have to grab it when you find it and savor it.

And savor it, I did. Tonight I made chicken provençal (chicken and bell pepper, onion, eggplant, tomatoes and herbs sauteed in white wine and chicken broth) but went easy on the tomatoes and heavy on the bell pepper and onions. It would have gone well with a red wine, but I chilled the Odonata Chardonnay and was pleasantly surprised by how well it paired with dinner. The bell pepper seemed to bring out the butter in the wine.

Cheers to trying new things, appreciating a vintner who takes the time to talk to his customers, and enjoying a warm spring afternoon in Santa Cruz!

(In checking Odonata’s website, I see that the 2008 Chardonnay is still available. It’s $24, and the winery only offers tastings the first Saturday of the month or by appointment.)

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Torrontes surprise

I’m a big fan of Alamos red wines, so you can imagine how my review of the Alamos Torrontes white wine will go. Yum. There, review done!

Ok, I’ll give you a little more substance if you really want it. But for those of you on a tight schedule, you can stop reading. It’s yum.

Torrontes is an Argentinian white grape, THE white grape in that country, according to this guy, who also says that it’s “aromatic and perfumed” like a viognier or muscat. This is all true, but I think that comparing it to a muscat is a disservice because muscat is so often sweet. This torrontes tastes florally sweet (is florally a word? Sure, why not?). If we’re going to attribute sweet to it, it’s like mashed-up dandelions, not like syrupy over-ripe grapes.

There’s a nice balance of vegetative tastes in this wine, actually. Dandelion, some bitter green beans, and a sunny splash of citrus. I’m admittedly ambivalent toward white wine, and when I tasted this fun find, I actually said, “Oooh, this is good!” (high praise, believe me!) The wine also has a fizzy feel on the tongue, a nice surprise for a Tuesday night! (um, yeah, not sure how I feel about that statement)

You can pick this up in the $13 range, but I’ve seen it on sale for under $10. I paired it with a very mild fettuccine alfredo with breaded chicken and steamed broccoli. The strong flavor of the broccoli worked very well with the wine, but I think a stronger pasta — maybe spicy sausage rather than chicken — would have complemented the torrontes better.

Clif Climber hits a home run… again

I’ve been saving my 2009 Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc for a special occasion. With two kids and a full-time job, special occasions are hard to come by. So when my husband brought home some fresh Ahi tuna that a custpomer gave him, I decided that was special enough. (Hey, fresh sushi-grade tuna IS a  big deal!) He took care of the cooking and I took care of chilling the wine.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc with seared Ahi

Clif (yes, as in the health bars) has become one of my favorite wineries for its green practices (read about that here, in last year’s review) and reasonable price tag. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $14 and is worth every penny.

The wine is nearly clear, which is a good hint at the taste. It’s fresh and light and a little tart in a palate-cleansing way (as opposed to the lemon-sucking way). There’s a nice presence of pear, but what makes this wine great is that no single flavor jumps forward; it’s just mellow and tasty. Not overly intrusive with any fruit. And that’s why it was perfect with tonight’s “special occasion” meal.

Tonight my husband marinated the Ahi in soy sauce, wasabi, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and sesame oil, then lightly crusted in sesame seeds. He seared it perfectly and paired it with stir-fried veggies (sauteed with a little Hoisin sauce) and teriyaki Rice-a-Roni (hey, we had to make something our kids would eat!). The tuna was so light and fresh, the veggies were so light and fresh, so it made sense that the wine be light and fresh too. The meal would have been destroyed with a heavy, dominant wine; it needed something to brighten up the sesame but not be so tart and fruity that it overpowered the tuna.

Clif Climber Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that will be your best friend at dinner time because it will complement just about anything. However, it’s also drinkable on its own (as I’m finding out at this very second!) because it won’t make you pucker after two sips. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of white wines, so I have a bias against sauvignon blancs. This one makes me look forward to my next bottle (and next Ahi filet!), and that’s big in my book.

It’s bordeaux, you kneaux

I’m just going to throw this out there. I think a lot of winetasters are full of shit. To put it more delicately, they’re pretentious and throw around descriptive words that don’t actually say anything (other their ability to open a thesaurus). I don’t want to be that. I want to drink good wine and describe it in a way that’s understandable and applicable to the Average Jane.

In my college wine-tasting class, we had a session devoted to pairing wines and foods. I went into it thinking, c’mon, merlot tastes like merlot. Sometimes a grape is just a grape. When the professor made us take a bite of bleu cheese (oh, vomit!) and then swig some sort of red wine, I decided this whole pairing business is really just ridiculous. Then she made us take a bite of dark, bitter chocolate paired with a port. Oh. My. God. Explosions of flavor! Then the strawberries and champagne… oh ecstacy!

Now I get it.

Tonight I opened a bottle of Mouton Cadet bordeaux ($6.99 at Raley’s) and was infatuated with the first swish and swirl. Little bursts of green pepper and plum. Thick, slow legs on the glass and a full body on the tongue. Mmmmm, yes, this is good.

Then I popped a potsticker in my mouth (hubby and kids are gone for the night, so I’m dining on frozen appetizers and loving it!). I forgot about the wine as I savored the potstickers and spicy teriyaki sauce. I may have also been savoring the silence of no kids in the house. Joy! I grabbed my wine glass and absentmindedly took a sip and was stunned. The bright, peppery bordeaux mellowed under the spice of the teriyaki. It didn’t lose its body or full flavor, the pepper just stepped down a bit and made way for the sauce. Simply amazing.

I’m not very familiar with bordeaux, but I do believe it’ll be a new project of mine to understand what goes into a good bordeaux (besides the grapes, of course) and how to identify one. The Mouton Cadet is a fabulous introduction to this varietal and it will definitely be a new favorite in my wine rack.

Hannah Nicole in my glass and on my plate

Ahhh, there are few things better in life than a husband who makes a killer dinner while I entertain the kids. I sipped a Hannah Nicole 2007 Le Melange Blanc (a mix of varietals) and played “Olympic ice skater” with my 3-year-old while my husband played in the kitchen. If you’ve never heard of this game, don’t worry, we made it up. My daughter holds onto my hand and jumps and prances around the living room like a figure skater, or runs back and forth across the living room yelling “speed skate!” She was quite pleased to win the gold in both disciplines.

Anyway, I saw my husband usurp my wine and toss a splash of the Hannah Nicole into his mystery dish on the stove, and I almost protested, but it smelled so damn good, I couldn’t interrupt his genius. Turns out he made a chicken alfredo, adding white wine and cream cheese to the bottled alfredo sauce. He sauteed red peppers, onion and garlic and added that for garnish. I love that he can cook! (I’m a pretty good cook myself, but I’m just good at following a recipe, he INVENTS dishes!)

The Hannah Nicole added a wonderful depth to the alfredo sauce, although I am philosophically opposed to using good wine in cooking. Wine is meant to be drunk (drinken? Where’s Grammar Girl when I need her?) and should only be used in food when it’s either that or pour it down the drain.

So I regained possession of the bottle and enjoyed as it was meant to be enjoyed — out of a glass!

It has a crisp, fruity taste but isn’t too watery and light. Almost a melon tinge, but not heavy (I hate melon, so I’m particularly sensitive to it in wines) — more pear and apple than melon. And it has just a hint of a buttery finish without being weighed down.

I found this selection at Ben’s Fine Wine & Liquor, which I believe is local to northern Nevada, for $8.99. A great value wine! This will become a regular on my wine rack this summer, and probably in my husband’s recipes.