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October 24, 2021

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Delicious pearing with elegant Washington State Chardonnays

The modern pear is a wonderfully delicious and nutritious fruit. Grown in the temperate regions, it comes in various sizes, shapes, textures and flavors and is relatively easy to cultivate. Though never as popular as the apple that boasts a global production four time larger, the pear has deliciously carved out its own place in history.

Indigenous to Asia, Europe and North America, pear trees have been nurtured, their fruits consumed and wood used by humans for millenniums. As covered by our intrepid writers, in China the pear is used for both gourmet and medicinal purposes. This stone fruit is a good source of riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folic, vitamin C, B6, A, E, as well as the mineral Zinc, copper, manganese, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, calcium, and iron.

To boot, they are the least allergenic of all fruits; therefore, along with lamb and soya products, they form part of the strictest exclusion diets for extreme allergy sufferers.

In seeking to relate pears to wines, several thoughts came to mind. Both are seasonal crops that thrive in temperate climates and need skillful attention by growers. They can be consumed raw or cooked. In several dishes, pears are cooked or preserved in wines.

Several styles of white wines including Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay often exhibit distinctive pear aromas and even flavors.

The latter grape is the most popular noble white variety and interestingly often thrives in regions that also accommodate vines. One excellent example is Washington State.

The Evergreen State is the largest producer of pears in the US as well as the second largest producer of wines. Washington State Chardonnays commonly offer pear aromas and nuanced flavors, often of the popular Bartlett pear variety.

Pear aromatics and flavor nuances alone are hardly the only reason to savor Washington State Chardonnays.

In my opinion, they are among the most balanced, elegant and fresh New World Chardonnays. These qualities to a large part can be attributed to the climate and soils.

Columbia Valley

The wine regions of the Columbia Valley, the biggest wine region in Washington State that encompasses most of the other AVAs, boast more than 300 days of sunshine each year with an extreme diurnal temperature range.

The rain shadow effect of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges makes the vine-growing regions of the Columbia Valley extremely dry with less than half the annual rainfall of Napa Valley. Fortunately, the Columbia River provides ample water for irrigation.

The fortuitous combination of dry growing seasons with temperature extremes, cold winters and free-draining, nutrient poor loess and volcanic soils makes the Columbia Valley one of the precious few wine regions that’s not affected by the dreaded phylloxera pest.

This allows for the use of original vitis vinifera rootstock that results in wines with greater varietal typicity. In other words, the true character of the variety is represented making these wines easily identifiable as Chardonnay wines, even by relative wine newcomers.

The special relationship between farmers and winemakers also contributes to the high quality and style of Washington State wines.

As is favored in the Old World, many Washington State wineries cultivate and use their own grapes, but there’s also a vanguard of dynamic young winemakers that source their grapes from professional farmers. The uniqueness of this can be seen in the numbers. Washington State has over 1,000 registered wineries but only about a little over 400 growers.

Unlike the Old World where growers are far more numerous and have significantly less capital than the wineries, in Washington State the multi generation farmers have the experience, scale, capital and technology to grow the highest quality grapes.

In a complementary fashion, the large number of independent wineries have the freedom to purchase grapes from one or more of Washington State’s individually distinctive 19 AVAs to create their own expression of this noble white wine grape.

Both estate grown and third party sourced models work equally well in Washington State and are used to make superior award-winning wines.

The Old World and especially Burgundy make many of the world’s best Chardonnay wines, but in the New World Washington State is among a handful of progressive regions that are creating a beautifully new, stylish and unique style of Chardonnay.

The intrinsic freshness and balance of Washington State Chards make them exceptionally food-friendly.

Some of my favorite Chinese dish companions are Taiwan style 3-cup chicken, Cantonese crispy skin chicken, Sichuan twice-cooked pork and Shanghai style cod head with deep-fried scallions.

One widely available and eminently affordable Washington State Chardonnay is made by the state’s largest wine producer.

The Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay is a lovely medium body wine replete with apple and pear aromas and flavors with nuances of vanilla and oak.

The Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay also exhibits excellent varietal typicity, albeit with more complexity and texture.

Should you favor bubbles, try the Chardonnay centric Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Sparkling Brut. It’s one of the best American traditional method sparkling wines.

Other recommended Washington State Chardonnay produces with wines available in Shanghai include Tranche, Columbia Crest, Charles Smith and Buried Cane.


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