It's time to make chardonnay your winter white wine

There's a good reason to make chardonnay your winter white wine, and that reason is butter. Butter as in lobster dipped in butter, poultry and seafood sauteed in butter, butter-basted steak, the browned butter on pumpkin ravioli, the butter scrambled into eggs or slathered onto acorn squash. Your first wine option for these butter-centric dishes and more should be chardonnay.

It's my "look for common denominators" strategy for wine and food pairing. In some cases, wine descriptors are imaginative, such as the "berry" flavors attributed to Pinot Noir, perfect to pair with the cranberries served with roast turkey. In chardonnay's case, it's science, specifically diacetyl - an organic compound that makes butter taste like butter. Diacetyl is created during malo-lactic fermentation (called malo in winespeak), a production technique prevalent worldwide in chardonnay. Malo also plumps chardonnay's texture and creates a viscous buttery-like mouthfeel along with any barrel maturation.

But which chardonnay? First, choose chardonnay with firm acidity, generally grown in cool climates. This is my guideline "look for opposites that attract," in this case, butter's palate-coating fat paired with your wine's palate-cleansing acid. (You've experienced acid's refreshing qualities every time you squeeze lemon onto seafood.) From the U.S., look for chardonnay grown in Willamette Valley, Oregon (Van Duzer and J.C. Somer "La Revanche" are favorites) and Green Valley of Russian River Valley, California (Dutton-Goldfield).

For more California chardonnay recommendations, see my Good Wine column from Jan. 13, 2021, "California's newest crop of chardonnays ..."

Chardonnay is easy and elegant, served with butter's cousin - cow's milk cheese. (Save your goat's milk cheese for sauvignon blanc.) Pair chardonnay with good-quality cheddar and a baguette toasted with butter for delicious simplicity. Brie baked in buttery pastry can be worth the extra effort. For satisfying decadence, pair triple crème cheese (including France's St. Andre and California's Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam.) with Blanc de Blancs Champagne, produced with 100% chardonnay. (One favorite is Charles Heidsieck Brut Blanc de Blancs.)

St. Andre paired with Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs, Champagne Pierre Moncuit-Delos, as well as a beautifully matured white Burgundy (also 100% chardonnay), is just one of the wine and food adventures we will enjoy during World of Wine: A Tasting Series at The Chopping Block (4747 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago), from 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays in March. In four in-depth sessions, we explore the world's primary grapes and regions, tasting eight handcrafted wines every class, accompanied by complementary appetizers and a graduation dinner. Conducted by me, Advanced Sommelier Mary Ross, World of Wine: A Tasting Series builds an informed foundation for entry-level wine lovers, takes intermediate wine knowledge to the next level and provides a solid review (and insider tips) for seasoned enthusiasts. We hope you can join us to explore the World of Wine.

For white wine with red meat, smoked and grilled dishes with butter (including smoked Gouda omelet, cedar-plank roasted salmon and prime rib with garlic butter), veer toward an oaked chardonnay. I defer recommendations to your wine merchant because these are flavors that my palate doesn't enjoy.

Here's a beautifully balanced and versatile chardonnay that's new to my palate and maybe yours: Chardonnay "Costello Vineyard," Dutcher Crossing 2019 (Alexander Valley, California): A fleshy and invigorating California beauty. 100% malo and 100% barrel fermentation adds creaminess and evocative brown spice notes to richly ripened apple and pear flavors, all defined by acidic vitality that carries flavors through a long, satisfying finish. Costello Vineyard is a piece of the planet that winegrowers worldwide can envy. At a 1,200-foot elevation, grapes are drenched with daily sunshine, regaining acidity during cold nights. Avoiding the valley floor's baking heat, grapes ripen long and slow for fully developed flavors. Wisconsin-girl Debra Mathy, now Dutcher Crossing Proprietor, and her team prefer to focus on winegrowing rather than tribulations of national distribution, so the wines are available only through the Dutcher Crossing Wine Shop, $40:

• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.