Frank Family Chardonnay with crab legs.
Frank Family Chardonnay with crab legs.

Frank Family Carneros Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley

Cost: $33-36

What: When you drink a wine like the Frank Family Chardonnay it’s easy to understand why Chardonnay is the most widely planted white wine grape in California. This lively, lush, nuanced wine is about as good as it gets.

Every grower knows people love Chardonnay, so they think why not give it a try. That’s why there are more than 1,500 different Chardonnays produced in California each year. They don’t all have the classic taste profile of Frank Family’s version.

This wine is fruit forward, with a good balance between acid and fruit. It is a gorgeous pale yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of pear, pineapple and honeysuckle. On the palate you get hints of peaches and pears with a pleasant splash of buttery pastry dough.

Frank Family Chardonnay
Frank Family Chardonnay

The creaminess and fresh acidity make a particularly good food wine. The finish is long and pleasing.

The best Chardonnays around the world are grown in cool places. For Frank Family that means Carneros, in the southern part of Napa Valley. Cool and windy Carneros gets fog and breezes from San Francisco Bay, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and develop more complex flavors. Growing grapes there takes patience, but the results are worth the wait.

The wine is barrel fermented in 34 percent new, 33 percent once- and 33 percent twice-filled French oak barrels for nine months. The oak gives the wine character and creaminess.

It’s tricky to make great Chardonnay, but Frank Family gets the formula just right. Because of the wine’s popularity many Chardonnay vines around the world are planted on hot weather sites so the grapes ripen too quickly. Then they spend too much time in oak, or in the wrong kind of oak, and the flavors become harsh and biting.

Too much oak is one reason many wine drinkers now prefer Chardonnay fermented in stainless steel tanks, with no oak aging. I like that style, too, but when you taste the buttery Chardonnay from Frank Family, you learn to appreciate what oak can do for wine if used properly.

Serve this well-chilled with a great meal. It will make for a memorable evening.

Winery: Since opening its winery in 1992, Frank Family has continued to grow, gaining fans all over the world. Their latest expansion is in the Far East: China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The company is an interesting mix of history and innovation. The stone building in which the winery started is on the Registry of National Historic Places, the site of the Larkmead Winery that opened in 1884 in northern Napa Valley.

Disney executive Rich Frank started visiting Napa from his home in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. He became interested in the wine business and bought the Larkmead property, which was at that time home to Kornell Champagne Cellars. Rich and Connie Frank bought out their partner Koerner Rombauer in 2007.

The winery makes a range of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and some incredible sparkling wines. The wines are made from 200 acres the family owns on parcels scattered throughout Napa Valley.

The property also includes one of the most fun tasting rooms in wine country. The staff keeps it lively and light, but you learn a great deal about wine while you laugh. It’s also a great spot to have a picnic. It’s one of those places I try to visit nearly every time I get to Napa Valley, and I have never been disappointed.

Frank Family Chardonnay, crab legs, baked potato and salad make for a feast.
Frank Family Chardonnay, crab legs, baked potato and salad make for a feast.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this with wonderful king crab legs that were on sale at Kroger. They are easy to make because they come already cooked. I just boil them for a few minutes with some Old Bay seasoning, and they’re ready to go.

We like to dip the succulent meat in melted butter with some lemon juice. We added baked potatoes, green beans and salad to complete the feast.

The creaminess and complexity of the wine make it perfect with the rich crab legs. The tastes of the wine and the crab make you want to keep taking tastes of each.

This Chardonnay is made for food, so it will pair well with a wide variety of things, such as roast chicken, smoked salmon, blackend fish, clam chowder or bruschetta.

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