Strawberry picking is an old early-summer ritual in my house. My mother’s father took her to little-known patches on the hillsides of Pennsylvania, and she took me. The strawberries I found in Lincoln, though, were a different species than what I picked as a little girl. Here the berries are smaller, sweeter, and closer to the ground. They are more luscious, they pack more punch. They were incredible.
As I drove home thinking about dinner, I wondered what wine goes well with strawberries. Or with snow peas, for that matter. Or spinach or lettuce or Swiss chard. These were fruits and vegetables in their prime. Shouldn’t there be a wine to match?
I looked in the wine fridge and at some tasting notes I had on-hand. The 2005 Schug Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast was meant to be “intense, vibrant and refreshing, with vivid pear, melon, citrus and mineral notes that are clean and cleansing on the finish. Yet for all its liveliness, this turns smooth and creamy.” This Chardonnay was produced in the cool Carneros microclimate, and “the blend is rounded out by elegant, buttery textures and ripe flavors of pear and peach which comes from Chardonnay grown in the warmer reaches of Sonoma Valley.”
I liked the idea of the cool Carneros microclimate as a complement to the strawberries which, it always seemed to me, spent their childhood and adolescence “being cool” (weather-wise, that is). They only reached their mature red hue, it seemed, moments before they were picked when the warming-up June sun finally reached them
So the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay it was. For dinner I put together a salad of spinach and mixed greens (from the CSA). Yesterday I had visited a southwestern food take-out shop in Gloucester and brought home their specialty, chile con queso. We toasted some naan bread in the panini maker and opened the wine.
My first impression of the wine was “way too strong.” We ate the chile con queso and naan bread, which we loved, and we drank the wine, which we did not. The taste was minerally, tinny almost. It practically stung my mouth. So far we were not impressed.
We drank another glass of the Schug Chardonnay.
A little later I rinsed the berries and we ate them for dessert just like that. They were still incredible a few hours later, even though there is nothing like a berry picked and eaten right there in the patch. Then we took another sip of wine, and it was like we were drinking an entirely different bottle. The mineral bite was gone. The wine softened and wrapped itself around the berries. It was a lovely, successful pairing. It matched.
There was nothing lovely about that same wine with the chile con queso. The heat and acidity of the chiles may have clashed with the Chardonnay to produce that minerally effect. The berries, though, were a whole other story. And I was grateful for such an instructive contrast of a successful and an unsuccessful food pairing with exactly the same wine.