Our Wine of the Week, Picket Fence 2010 Russian River Chardonnay ($15), will make a lot of people happy. Chardonnay is one of those varietals that people from outside Sonoma County associate with this place and when they visit, they expect to enjoy it. If you are expecting out-of-state guests, you may want to have a few bottles on hand. I'll take some with me the next time I visit Mississippi, as a friend there favors this style of wine and doesn't find much where she lives.
The wine is creamy and smooth, with a suggestion of butter around the edges as the wine fills your mouth. There's sweet pear, Asian pear, sweet citrus, lemon verbena and plenty of vanilla swirling around a foundation of toasty oak. It's a very focused chardonnay and one that hits its target dead center. And you can't beat the price; this chardonnay stands with others that are two or three times its cost.
At the table, look to the rich curries of Southeast Asia, but for a compatible match, be sure they are not too hot or full of cilantro. Mild curries, especially chicken curry, fish curry and pumpkin curry, are good choices. Wild Pacific King salmon, scallops, lobster and mussels will be flattered by the wine. The flavors of harvest resonate well, too, especially dead-ripe tomatoes, roasted sweet peppers and winter squash. Risotto with corn or carrots makes a lovely canvas for the wine.
For today's recipe, I'm using coconut as inspiration because I think it is one of the wine's best partners. If you have toasted coconut on hand, bring it out of the pantry because it will make this creamy chowder soar. If you don't have any, check your local Asian market. You will enjoy the chowder without it but the match will be better if you take the time to find it.
Smoked Salmon, Corn and Coconut Milk Chowder
Makes 3 to 4 servings
— Kernels from 3 large ears of corn
3 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves
— Kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
4 cups chicken stock or water
1 stalk of lemon grass, fat part only, pounded
1 sprig lemon verbena, optional
1 can coconut milk
10 ounces dry-smoked salmon, broken into smallish pieces (see Note below)
— Black pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon dried, shredded and toasted coconut, optional
1 lime, cut in wedges
Remove the kernels from the corn. To do so, set each ear over a low bowl and use a very sharp knife to cut close to the cob. Set aside the corn.
Melt the butter in a large saute pan set over medium low heat, add the shallots and saute until limp and fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, saute 2 minutes more, stir in the ginger and season with salt.
Add the carrots, pour in the stock or water and add the lemon grass and lemon verbena. Simmer very gently until the carrots are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour in the cream, heat through, add the salmon, cover and remove from the heat.