Monday, November 3, 2008
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon In Autumn
Sunday was one of those perfect autumn days here in Kentucky. The early morning coolness was burned off by noon, leaving a cloudless blue sky. The temperature topped out at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight, lazy breeze now and then, just enough to gently loosen the leaves from the trees to let them drift, glide and twirl to the ground, and to give autumn its alternative name of fall.
The afternoon was spent fiddling around, playing with the granddaughter after her midday sleep, but in general doing nothing really, just sitting on the ‘stoep’ (porch) and watching the day go by. The extra hour we got today with the return from daylight savings time also helped to prolong the nice day. For dinner I decided to ‘braai’ (BBQ) tuna steaks on the grill and to open a bottle of Chateau Souverain Chardonnay 2005 from Sonoma County to accompany it. Seeing that I had a lot of mushrooms and wanted to use it in some kind of warm mushroom salad or side dish I search some of my favorite food websites and came across a truly South African inspired potato and mushroom bake at Cooksister’s blog. Luckily I had the recipe’s secret ingredient, a packet of Knorr brown onion soup, in the pantry from a previous trip to South Africa and the dish came out really well. But the star was the wine.
Surrounded by the Groot Drakenstein Mountains in the southwest, the Simonsberg Mountains in the west, the Klein Drakenstein Mountains in the north, the Wemmershoek Mountains in the east, and the Franchhoek Mountains in the southeast, and receiving cool sea breezes during the evenings, the Franchoek (“French Corner”) Valley is ideally located to produce top class wines. The valley, originally called Olifants Hoek (Elephants Corner) because of the many elephants that use to roam the area (the last left in 1850), and later called Drankenstein (Dragon rock) by the Dutch, was populated mainly by the French Huguenots in 1688 after the Edict of Nantes revoked religious freedom for Protestants in France. With them came their knowledge of wine. One of the amazing things of the valley is its ability to produce many top cultivars in a relative small area. You’ll find the classic whites like Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay here, and also the royal reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot. On top of that the valley is renowned for its methode Cap Classique Champagne and rather surprisingly, Ports.
When I came to the United States I brought about 100 bottles of Cape wine with me stacked away between furniture and other household goods. Actually, it was in storage in Cape Town harbor for 6 months and spent 2 months on the sea before it all arrived in Kansas City about 8 months our arrival. Among the wines were 6 bottles of Chamonix Chardonnay 1995, bought on the Chamonix estate in the Franschhoek Valley. Made in the old French style: Deep golden yellow color, strong butterscotch and Cape gooseberry undertones and woody, very woody. This was not a lunch time wine, far too heavy for that. It needed strong flavored foods to stand up to the wine. Smoked or blackened salmon, veal or coq au vin are possible companions for the Chamonix Chardonnay 1995. Alas the estate doesn’t make the old style Chardonnay anymore. Today’s Chamonix wines are modern and lighter, which off course is the current trend in Chardonnay production.
For many years I have been on the lookout here in the US for a Chardonnay similar to Chamonix. I haven’t found it yet, but I am sure it exists, just not in my price range. Last week I was at a dinner at the Old Owl Tavern at the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and I notice they were selling a Chateau Souverain Chardonnay by the glass. (The wine caught my eye because I recently bought a bottle, but has not yet opened it. Until Sunday.) To try it out I ordered a glass with my blackened salmon. Unfortunately it was not quite at the right temperature and it certainly didn’t taste or smell like the bottle was just opened. It lacked that just-opened-bottle freshness explosion when it interacts with the taste buds. But I smelled and tasted enough smokiness and woodiness to hint of something better.
According to the information on the bottle Chateau Souverain’s 2005 Chardonnay was made from grapes coming from three areas in Sonoma County, which in my mind add to the complexity of the wine. From the Russian River valley it gets its honeysuckle floral aromas and tropical fruit flavors, from Alexander valley its pear and peach flavors and from Carneros its ripe apple and lemon-citrus. French barrel fermentation adds oak and spice.
Alas, the Chateau Souverain is not a Chamonix (actually it is closer to the modern Chamonix Chardonnay than the older ones), but for the first time I found something that was close to what I was looking for, a good woody Chardonnay.
I found the pear, peach and citrus flavors prominent, inducing a hint of creaminess, but very nicely balanced by the spiciness from the oak barrel fermentation. The color was leaning ever so slightly towards a deep yellow-gold, but not going all the way and held up against the fading light of this lazy Sunday it showed a tint of green in it. However, the impact of the oak barrels, which are custom made on the estate, infused the golden liquid with a rich smoky-woody aroma on the nose and taste buds and provided a strong, long-lingering after taste.
Chateau Souverain’s 2005 Chardonnay may not be Chamonix Chardonnay 1995, but it had more than enough structure and character to stand up to the Tuscan-flavored grilled tuna and richness of Portobello mushrooms and creamy brown onion flavors in Cooksister’s “My big fat South African potato bake”.
Gabriel De Jongh painting from http://www.tinusdejongh.co.za/