Friday, June 19, 2015

Wente -- Some Chards for our Chard

I really enjoy Fair Ridge Farms, our outlet for Community Supported Agriculture. If you’re not
familiar with a CSA, it’s usually a farmer or cooperative of local farmers supported through the sale of “shares” of freshly harvested produce.

For us, what it means is that every couple of weeks, a box of in-season goodies shows up at Vine HQ. The Sweet Partner in Crime and I have found that joining the CSA has really improved our eating habits, since we certainly don’t want these fresh-from-the-farm tasties going to waste! We look for recipes specifically to incorporate the items from the share, and those recipes trend healthy.

The Fair Ridge Farms logo. Groovy, no?
For the last little stretch, we’ve been swimming in lettuces. Our last couple of deliveries have contained three heads of delicious red leaf, romaine, and Boston lettuces, as well as some spinach, a few kinds of chard, kale – you get the idea. Plenty of roughage around these parts.

What to do with all these greens? Well, make salads, of course – usually with as many of the other newly-arrived raw materials as possible! The bitterness of the greens, the various flavors of dressing, a myriad of ingredients – flavors are bouncing in all directions.

The flavor of greens, with their associated bitterness, makes it nearly impossible to come up with a perfect wine pairing. Getting a “good enough” pairing is what you’re shooting for with salads. A salad wine pairing should be assertive enough to get its flavor across, but yet not kill the freshness. Acidity helps, but too much and you get lost in the flavor of the dressing most times. Best bet? I find new world Chardonnay to fill the bill.

In a fortunate bit of Wine Fairy karma – just as we were met with our latest onslaught of lettuces, Balzac sent along a trio of this year’s vintages from Wente, which you might remember is the “First Family of Chardonnay.” Stocked with these California whites for our Newport city nights, we rolled out the greenery for dinner:

First up was the Wente 2013 Riva Ranch Chardonnay. The Riva Ranch started me with a gentle nose of apple blossoms, which is probably enhanced a bit by the small amount (3%) of Gewurztraminer blended therein. The first taste is quite fruity --a combination of sweet and tart apples along with a little melon. This is a fairly weighty chardonnay, but it managed not to be cloying in that weight. Big apple and butterscotch flavors on the palate, which heads off into a finish with a lasting bit of creaminess and a growing oakiness. All in all, it’s a fairly noble tasting white, which the Sweet Partner in Crime and I liked quite a bit. We had it alongside a grilled salmon-topped Caesar salad from our romaine. I would be hard pressed to hit a better pairing combination. The oakiness and residual acid cut nicely through the salmon’s oil, and the oakiness went nicely with the grilled flavors. Made for a really nice dinner. Retails for $22.

A couple of nights later, we had the unoaked Wente 2014 “Eric’s Chardonnay” – which is named for Eric “Big Daddy” Wente. In my experience, much unoaked chardonnay runs toward the lighter side, packs lots of acidity, and offers a lot of crisp tartness. Big Daddy’s wine is a bit of a departure. The nose brings up peaches and pears instead. The first taste is very rich, almost glyceriney in texture, with quite a bit of heft. Tropical fruits – papaya and pineapple – are the main flavors. The finish, after a few sips, gains some richness and a little bit of that tropical fruit again at the back end. I think it’s definitely a chardonnay that calls for food. Dinner this time was a citrus-avocado red leaf lettuce salad with a yummy maple syrup vinaigrette, made with some syrup from a CSA winter share. I made a batch of my twist on Burneko’s Frickin’ Crab Cakes to go alongside or, more accurately, atop the greens. The combination of flavors in the salad was otherworldly splendid and the wine did what I wanted it to – be a good team player. The wine’s richness played nicely off the crab, and it had enough oomph not to get buttered over by some of that good fat of the avocado. I liked it, but I thought the price was a little on the high side at $25.

Finally, we tried the Wente 2013 “Morning Fog” Chardonnay – I expected a middle of the road California chardonnay here,as this was the least expensive at $15, and I pleasantly discovered something more interesting. The nose and first sips are Viognier-ish from the touch of Gewurztraminer (2%). The nose is almost perfumey with apple blossoms and the body has that spare-yet-rich palate that I find in many Viognier. Once the wine opens a bit, it turns into a straight-ahead, very decent California chardonnay. There’s a nice little oaky backbone, plenty of apple and butterscotch flavor, and an agreeable, lingering finish. We had this with a salad that had a lot going on. More fresh leaf lettuce, boiled egg, slow cooked salmon with thyme, capers, onion, and a maple syrup vinaigrette. Despite all those different directions, this wine made a solid accompaniment. I wouldn’t say it blew me away, but with that range of flavors, staying in the “pleasant” zone is an accomplishment. Good value here.

Back to the CSA for a moment. If you’re looking for an easy way to improve your diet, see if you’ve got a CSA that delivers in your area. If you’re in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, there are several options – but I like Fair Ridge’s option of doing full and half shares, each delivered either weekly or bi-weekly. Biweekly is a nice way to start if you're a bit unsure of how much you like fresh veggies. Easy not to get swamped from the start that way. Check them out. (And if you do decide to join, please tell ‘em Mike Rosenberg sent you…)

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