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Wine of the Week: Martin Ray 2012 “Unoaked” Chardonnay

Martin Ray Unoaked

The phenomenon of “unoaked” Chardonnay provokes a raft of questions for Sonoma County winemakers.

What, do they mean to imply that unoaked Chardonnay is better? Or what, did they run out of oak barrels, and this is a come-on intended to make the best of the situation? And hey, doesn’t the rest of the world generally advertise with pride when they do age their wine “barrique,” or in barrels?

Oy, it’s long story, but it ends with a clean, crisp wine.

Chardonnay really picked up and became one of California’s — and Sonoma County’s — top vinous products when fermenting and aging it in French oak barrels became the standard practice.

By the way, “French oak” isn’t a style like, say, French dip, or French fries. It’s sourced from French forests that have been sustainably managed for centuries. As for “freedom oak,” there’s a long tradition of American white oak being shipped the other way across the pond to be filled with Italian wines, Scotch whisky, and sherry — those barrels often being repurposed for single malt aging.

Using wine barrels for a year or two and then turning them into planters, or more recently, flooring, may seem semi-wasteful, but it’s made a huge number of lovers of oaky, buttery Chardonnay happy.

So what if you aren’t one of them? Introducing “unoaked” Chardonnay . . . yesterday. It remains to be seen whether this trendy style sticks. Meanwhile, check out Martin Ray’s 2012 “Unoaked” Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($16.99).

The difference is there on the first whiff: Oh, yeah, that’s what Chardonnay smells like. Fresh apple, with a trend toward sparkling apple cider, pear cider, and blanc de blancs. There’s a hint of apple-flavored bubblegum in there — fun — but in the main, it’s pure and fresh, with a crisp, bright palate. There’s none of the chalky, rock dust character you might find in your leaner Chablis, but this is a quality quaff to pair with Waldorf salad, a cold picnic rice dish, or seafood.

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Lemon Risotto with Shrimp

By Chef Bruce Riezenman

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup Martin Ray Chardonnay
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 9 cups vegetable or chicken broth, hot
  • 2 Tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled & cleaned
  • to taste, salt
  • pinch chili powder

Place butter and 1/2 the olive oil in a sauce pan. Add onions, bay, salt and pepper. Stir once and cover. Reduce heat and cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions are soft. Add the rice and stir until all the kernels of rice are coated. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has been absorbed. Add the lemon zest.

Add half the stock and stir. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed to just below rice level, stirring gently but frequently. Add most of the remaining broth one cup at a time (reserve one cup for later) until the rice has a very light "bite" to it like al dente pasta.

When the rice is almost tender and done, stir in as much of the lemon juice as you'd like for a light lemony flavor. Gently stir in the last cup of broth, the parsley and the parmesan. The risotto should be a little "soupy".

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the shrimp with olive oil, salt and chili powder. Place shrimp on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5-7 minutes and remove when just cooked. Serve on top of the risotto.

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