Monday, January 25, 2010

DIATOM: Extreme Chardonnay in Attack Mode

Travis' good friends Sam and Lilli spent a few days with us over the holidays and we found some time where we could just have an evening at the house with a good meal and some good wines. I was in a wine-biz post-holiday slump and planning dinner seemed insurmountable, when Travis reminded me, "Well, what are we going to drink? Once we know that we'll know what we want to eat!" Duh!!!

I knew what I wanted! I'd been saving the Diatom 2008 Huber Vineyard Chardonnay for just such an occasion! That would be a start, anyway.

Diatom is the personal project of winemaker Greg Brewer. Greg is one of THE cutting edge winemakers working in the Santa Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara. He is winemaker for the Melville Winery and with Steve Clifton, makes the stunning Brewer-Clifton wines.
All of the Chardonnay's from both Melville and Brewer-Clifton are what I would term extreme Chardonnay's.

What makes them extreme are extraordinary high levels of BOTH acid and alcohol, which means that the fruit is able to produce BOTH high acid and sugar levels. Which never happens. Conventional wisdom dictates that when sugar levels spike, acid levels drop and the juice is sweet. Conversely, when the acids are high, the sugars are low and the juice is tart. The unique micro-climates of the Santa Rita Hills provides super long growing seasons with early bud-break and no fall rains to rush the harvest allowing the super-ripe sugars. The East/West valleys connect the cold Pacific with the hot Central Valley to pull the fogs in early every day to cool the valleys and leave the acids.

But the DIATOM chardonnay's go beyond the mere extreme as does the INOX Chardonnay Greg produces for Melville. All involve meticulous care of the fruit in the vineyard. The surgical approach to wine-making discards any processes which detract from the purity of the fruit. Fermentation is long and very cold in stainless steel. Aging is in steel, on the lees, but with no stirring. Malolactic is inhibited. Needless to say, NO OAK! The wines all have tremendous explosion of flavor. The vivid acids give sensations of effervesence. Finishes are long and complex, but above all, clean and crisp. There is variation, but that is of course, totally driven by the vineyard. The Huber was made from vines planted 23 years ago in almost pure sand.

But, back to dinner, and what to have with the wine? I knew I wanted a meaty white fish, so I bought a piece of halibut, and sliced into small single serving slices about 1/2" thick. I made a down and dirty quick aioili with Hellman's Mayo, some olive oil, and  generous amounts of crushed garlic and lemon juice. It was pretty assertive. I threw some fresh flour tortillas (cut in thirds) on a hot grill until they were crusty on one side, soft on the other. While I threw the fish on the grill, Travis spread aioli on the tortillas. I turned the fish quickly and took them off equally quickly and put the fish on top of the aioli.

And a perfect match with the wine! The wine's citrusy attack was led by crisp, clean lemons and limes which dissolved into a lengthy melange of citrus oil, sea salts and minerals. The texture was rich, but the wine was crisp and very precise and focused.
The powerful flavors of the wine matched the aioli stride for stride and the fish melted with the creaminess from the mayo and toasty grilled notes from the tortilla.

I was pretty pleased if I say so myself!

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