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Pairings: Chardonnay with chowder


B.R. Cohn wines, including our Wine of the Week, B.R. Cohn 2011 Silver Label North Coast Chardonnay ($15), are always beautiful, with a suave fullness and engaging complexity that is never overwrought.

Although this wine has the buttery mouthfeel people expect from California chardonnay, there is enough bright, refreshing acidity to keep it from being cloying or flabby.

Pretty fruit aromas, especially green apple, pear, Asian pear and Meyer lemon, emanate from the glass. There's also just a hint of white pineapple. These same flavors unfold on the palate, rising from a foundation of toasty French oak.

Combine the suggestion of sweet fruit flavors and the smokiness of the oak and you are suddenly thinking about grilled sea scallops, roasted lobster and chicken hot off the grill.

The wine also is excellent with rabbit. Try a braised ragout over creamy polenta. And it is a very good companion to pork loin and tenderloin, especially with a fruit-based sauce or condiment alongside. Quiche, too, including classic Quiche Lorraine, is a great match with this wine.

Today's recipe, clam chowder, is inspired by the fog that often envelops western Sonoma County. The sweetness of the clams and the cream resonate with the richness of the wine.

Don't let the quantity put you off. It's not really more difficult to make a larger batch than you'll need for two or three people. It keeps well for a couple of days and is delicious enough that you can make a full meal of it with nothing more than a green salad alongside.

<strong>New England-Style Clam Chowder</strong>

<em> Makes about 10 to 12 servings</em>

1 cup dry white wine

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

6 to 8 pounds clams (see Note below), sorted, rinsed and scrubbed

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

3 tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice

— Kosher salt

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice

3 cups half-and-half

1 cup heavy cream

— White pepper in a mill

— Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

— Hot sourdough bread

Pour the wine into a large pot and add 3 cups of water, along with the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, add the clams, reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers gently and cook until the clams open, from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on variety.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to a bowl. Remove the clams from their shells. discard the shells and set the clams. Carefully pry open any closed clams and remove the meat; it is rare that an unopened clam will, at this point, be bad, as you'll discover empty shells or mud-filled shells when you sort them.

Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl, rinse out the pot and set it over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until it gives up most of its fat. Add the butter and, when it is melted, add the onion and saute until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt, add the potatoes and saute, stirring gently all the while. Add the strained cooking liquid and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, chop the clams if they are bigger than a nickel; leave small clams whole.

Stir in the half-and-half and cream and heat through; do not boil. Stir in the clams, season generously with white pepper and add the red pepper flakes, if using. Taste and correct for salt, if needed.

Ladle into soup bowls and serve immediately, with hot bread and cold chardonnay alongside.

<em>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. Email Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</em>