“Unoaked” Chardonnay: Williams & Selyem, Russian River Valley, CA 2010 – Pairing Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Fruit Salsa, Sautéed Yellow Beans and Rice & Black Beans
Grilled Salmon is one of wine-friendliest proteins I know. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc are just a few of the principal players in a salmon pairing. But which is best? For dinner last night, I decided to put aside the Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and focus on California Chardonnay: With Grilled Salmon, is “unoaked” Chardonnay a better mate than the more traditional “oaked” variety?
Dinner was just for the two of us, and because of our familiarity with many creamy, California “oaked” Chardonnays, I decided to open only one bottle – a Williams & Selyem 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. This is 100% Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel with a dose of tartaric acid added. It has lively fruit and crisp acidity (“minerality” perhaps?), much like French White Burgundy from Puligny-Montrachet .
The salmon was farm-raised from the No. Atlantic, so it had higher fat content than Wild King or Sockeye. The preparation was very straightforward: salt, pepper and olive oil, with a tiny sprinkling of fennel pollen, then grilled on a gas grill. We accompanied the fish with a fruit salsa (mango, peaches, bell peppers, crushed red peppers and mint) and sautéed local yellow beans. Shortly before grilling, I asked Trish to make rice & black beans (cooked in chicken broth with some onions, a little cumin and cayenne pepper). Salmon with rice has always resonated with me, and the black beans not only make the rice more interesting, but also make it healthier.
The wine was fine with the fish and fruit salsa, but best with the rice and beans. I think the acidity of the unoaked Chardonnay complemented the rich flavors and subtle spices of the rice and beans in a manner I had not anticipated. But my conclusion regarding the wine with the salmon is to reiterate the opening sentences of this posting: Grilled Salmon is great with a number of different grapes. If forced, however, to choose only one, I would opt for Pinot Noir if you were serving it without fruit salsa. Hearken back to my wine-pairing mantra that sauce matters, salsa qualifies as sauce here. So if you were serving the salmon with fruit, I would opt for “lightly oaked” Chardonnay. Not the overpowering expressions one can get from some Napa vintners, but the more tempered style from Sonoma or the Central Coast. Your wine merchant can guide you.
Summary of Better Pairing Choices:
Grilled Salmon with Fruit Salsa: Lightly Oaked Chardonnay, such as Au Bon Climat ($23), Liquid Farms – White Hill ($40) or Varner Home Block ($51)
Grilled Salmon without Fruit Salsa: Your favorite Pinot Noir