WHAT: Drinking Chardonnay as the weather starts to warm up is a no-brainer. It is one of the great warm-weather wines.
The real trick is finding the style of Chardonnay you like and pairing it with the right food. Chardonnay generally is not a good wine for sipping by itself. When you are having a great meal that demands white wine, Chardonnay usually is the safe choice.
I also like it with an ordinary, everyday meal. A wine like Frank Family Chardonnay can turn any meal into something special.
The wine is a gorgeous golden yellow in the glass, with a nice pineapple aroma. On the palate there are plenty of fruit flavors, especially peaches and pears, with some citrus. The finish is long and creamy, with just a touch of green apple. This is a well-balanced, easy-to-drink wine.
All the grapes are from the cool Carneros region, which is ideal for growing Chardonnay grapes. Cool breezes and fog blowing in from the San Francisco Bay allow the grapes to ripen slowly and develop complexity.
The wine is barrel fermented in 34 percent new, 33 percent once and 33 percent twice-filled French oak barrels for nine months. The wine is aged on the lees for nine months. That means the skins, pulp, seeds and yeast are left in the wine to add complexity.
While aging, the wine was hand stirred regularly to enhance the effect of the lees. This often gives a wine a toasty, nutty flavor, which I much prefer to the oak taste you often get when a Chardonnay spends too much time in barrels.
The two primary styles of Chardonnay are stainless steel fermented and oak fermented. I like both styles. The stainless style is sharp, flinty, crisp. I think it came along when some people started saying the wine they liked was ABC: anything but Chardonnay.
The oaky style can be overdone, but when done right, it is superb. It is rich, buttery, full of lush fruit flavors. But when winemakers try to compensate for poor fruit by pouring on the oak the wine can be an undrinkable mess.
Frank Family winemaker Todd Graff has done a great job of developing a reputation for fine Chardonnay in a short period of time. Chardonnay is the king of the white wines in California, and when it started getting popular in the 1970s, growers planted it everywhere, including a lot of places that produced lousy Chardonnay.
Some sites were too hot, some too fertile, which produced soft wine with no distinguishing characteristics. The vines need to struggle to survive, pulling minerals and nutrients out of minimalist soils.
From its first vintages in the early 1990s, Frank Family Chardonnay has been something special. It starts with great grapes in the vineyard and then Graff and his staff make minimal adjustments in the winery, allowing the natural flavors from Carneros to show through.
There are 1,500 Chardonnays produced in California each year, but you won’t find very many, if any, that are better than Frank Family.
WINERY: The story of Frank Family Vineyards is almost like a Hollywood movie, which is appropriate because founder Rich Frank was a Disney executive in Los Angeles when he got interested in wine.
He started visiting the Napa Valley on weekends in the 1980s before buying the Larkmead Winery, which opened in 1884. He bought the winery with Koerner Rombauer in 1992 and bought out Rombauer in 2007.
All the winemaking facilities are state of the art. The winery also has one of the best tasting rooms in the state. The tasting room moved from a ramshackle old metal building to a beautiful 1930 Craftsman home. There are several rooms to use depending on the type of tasting you want.
The winery also is a fun place to have a picnic. I have been there many times, and have always had fun. When people ask for a recommendation of where to go for a wine country visit, this is my first recommendation.
The winery makes a range of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and some incredible sparkling wines.
Frank Family has continued to grow, gaining fans all over the world. Their latest expansion is in the Far East: China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Rich Frank now also runs his own entertainment company, Prospect Park, which develops television projects.
GOES WITH: This wine paired perfectly with a turkey vegetable noodle soup I made from the leftovers from our Easter turkey. The creamy, smooth Chardonnay flavors blended nicely with the sharp turkey flavor. My wife, Teri, and I both loved the combination.
The Chardonnay would go well with other fowl, such as chicken or game hen, shellfish and any dish with a cream sauce. It is an ideal wine for rich dinners.
The recipe for the turkey soup is easy. I like using the bones and meat from a roast turkey. The flavor seems richer than using just raw turkey. I make broth by putting the bones and meat in a large soup pot with some cut up onions and celery, including the celery tops.
After that cooks for a couple of hours, I take out all the meat and bones and set them aside to cool off. Then I chop up whatever vegetables I have on hand and put them in the soup. The essentials are onions, green onions, celery and carrots. This time I also found some parsnip, corn scraped off the cob and okra.
I really like the sweet flavors from the corn and okra. I also drop in a couple of bay leaves, some fresh and dried thyme and a liberal sprinkling of Morton’s Natures Seasons. You can add water or chicken broth to stretch the soup out a bit.
I cut up the turkey, put it back in the pot and let the whole thing simmer for another 30-45 minutes. I like to serve the soup over noodles, but that’s an individual choice. Oh, and while I’m cooking, I usually sip a little of the Chardonnay. It makes the cooking much more pleasant.