January 01, 2011

Crab and California chardonnay

It's Dungeness crab season in the Pacific Northwest, one of my favorite aspects of the holidays is eating cracked Dungeness with a rich white wine. Perhaps steely but still rich white Burgundy, or roussanne from the northern Rhone. Or Oregon chardonnay. Or even...California chardonnay, provided it's from the right location. I don't want anything too sweet and overdone. But as much as I usually prefer racy, lithe white wines from all over the world, there seems to be a perfect match in a nice, rich chardonnay with the sweet meat of Dungeness crab.

New Season's market had (perhaps still does?) a great special on fresh Dungeness, and coming back from Los Angeles the other day I quickly got back into the Oregon spirit by picking one out at the fish counter. In the fridge, a stray bottle of 2006 Sarah's Vineyard Chardonnay Vanumanutagi Vineyard, from California's Santa Cruz Mountains, the spread out, can't-get-there-from-here wine region south of San Francisco that is perhaps my favorite from my native Golden State.

I remember Sarah's Vineyard wines from my early days as a wine geek in the early 1990s for their ostentatious labels and sky high prices. Who is this Sarah, I wondered. I never purchased, never tried the wines, and now many years later I came across a bottle and thought I should finally see what was inside. The estate has changed hands over the years and pricing seems almost unchanged from the old days, meaning what was crazy expensive is not simply mid-range for fine wine. Times being what they are, the bottle I found was on close out for next to nothing. Tough times in the wine business.

The wine is golden in color, a large-sized chardonnay with toasty oak and hazelnut aromas along with ripe apple and pear scents. The balance is nice though, and the flavors are fresh and crisp despite the obvious ripeness, with a nice lingering finish. Sometimes this kind of wine is tasty for a few sips, then tiring. But I really enjoyed the mix of power and finesse here, and as I slowly picked my way through each crab leg and the wine warmed up, it really showed some mineral quality that makes the Santa Cruz Mountains a special region to me. There's something more here than just fruit and oak notes. Something that kept me coming back for more, that paired exceptionally with the crab.

I'm trying not to OD on my crab habit, but it is New Year's Day today and what better thing could there be than to have more crab, another delicious white wine and watch some football with neighbors? Well, I can think of something, but this will be pretty nice. Happy New Year to you. Eat crab, drink a nice white wine. You'll thank me.

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