Friday, January 8, 2010

"L" is for Little Penguin Chardonnay

With the state of our economy, I’m in search of tasty and inexpensive wines. It’s rare to find big, fat chardonnays at a reasonable price. They tend to range from $17 to $30, as most are barrel fermented and/or aged and this adds to their final cost.

Warm climate whites can fall into the big, fat category if they possess high alcohol (13 to 14.5 per cent). Alcohol is one of a few elements in wine that can add viscosity. In layman terms, viscosity is thickness. The higher the alcohol, the heavier the weight of the wine.

As an experiment, place the same crisp, dry white wine with low alcohol (12 per cent) into 2 wine glasses. In one of the glasses add an ounce of vodka. Taste both wines. You’ll notice that the wine with the vodka has more viscosity than the one without it. It will be heavier and thicker in texture due to the increase of alcohol.

You’ll generally find big fat whites of quality in the Vintage section of LCBO stores. These are the only whites that have enough body and fattiness to match cheese, cream and butter based dishes.

It would not occur to me to hunt for such a fatty wine through the general list area of the LCBO. However, a client recently recommended I try Little Penguin chardonnay, Australia, (CSPC # 598904), $10.95. At this price I had little hope of the wine meeting the balance, weight and creaminess I demand in a big, fat white wine. But I tried it anyway.

This Aussie gem pleasantly surprised me. The wine has full body, creamy texture and flavours on the nose and palate of fresh tropical fruit like pineapple and melon. Well balanced. It’s truly a delightful, fatty chardonnay.

Little Penguin chardonnay reveals characteristics that can be partnered to an array of inexpensive dishes so you can entertain on a budget.

Party dips work well with this big white. Cream cheese is fatty and creamy and is often the base ingredient in dips. Crab, artichoke and parmesan, smoked salmon, spinach, and blue cheese dips all harmonize with the same fatty taste sensation in this white wine.

Due to its weight, Little Penguin chardonnay also complements fatty fish like salmon, tuna and swordfish. Try grilled salmon with a citrus butter sauce, salmon cannelloni with a lemon butter sauce or grilled swordfish with lime butter.

This is an acceptable partner for sushi highlighting salmon and tuna, as well.

Little Penguin chardonnay complements pasta dishes coated in fatty sauces, too. Mac and cheese has the weight, creaminess and fattiness to work with this white. If you want to add depth of flavour to this inexpensive comfort food, add a dash of white wine to the cheese sauce and drizzle the dish with truffle oil just before serving.

Casseroles are inexpensive and easy to make and taste great when served with a warmed loaf of crusty bread and a chilled glass of Little Penguin chardonnay. How about potato and bacon casserole served with toasted garlic bread and a bottle of this white?

Polenta is made from corn meal, which is inexpensive. Yet, when made right, polenta has gourmet appeal. A favourite in my house is creamed chicken with corn and bacon over polenta. Gorgonzola with polenta and fresh porcini mushrooms would also work well with Little Penguin chardonnay.

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