Cooking For One, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — Worthy Wine Picks For Any Night In

We're Talking Grapes

BY // 04.19.23

One night a few weeks ago I was cooking for myself, as I would be dining solo that evening. I, nearly every evening, cook for two, and we host dinner parties with four to six guests as often as we can. Cooking for one is an uncommon occurrence for me, and when I find myself doing it I enjoy the process because it’s an occasion that allows me to care for my palate only.

Don’t get me wrong. Cooking for others and experiencing their joy as they appreciate the dishes served to them is a great pleasure, but cooking for oneself is something one should do as often as possible. It’s the best way to discover your unique tastes and likes. There might be less stress involved too.

I was reminded of these two forms of cooking (and the uniqueness of human palates) the other day when I opened a bottle of chardonnay to sample. It was the 2020 Zephyr Farms Chardonnay from La Follette Wines, and my first thought after the initial taste was: “My friend Michael would not like this one.” Michael, you see, likes his chardonnays full of oak. He likes them buttery. Which is fine for him, and the countless other men and women who share his taste. There are chardonnays galore for them, and I am happy about that.

The La Follette chardonnay’s (172 cases were produced, and it’s available on the winery’s site for $60) charm lies, in part, in its elegant, yet ebullient, expression of pear, peach and apple, coupled with stellar acidity and confident minerality. Those fruits are evident when one appreciates the wine’s bouquet, and the pear shines in the mouth. There is oak here, a finessed touch of it, along with subtle baking spices. This is a mouth-filling wine, one that boasts an abundance of body in the best way.

Straw gold in color, 13.4 percent alcohol. . . and not much to dislike at all, if anything. I look forward to sampling another bottle of this vintage in, say 2027 or so, as I think it will age well. I served this wine with a selection of cheeses, including Brie and Camembert, and have listed it in my meal-planning notebook as something to try with shrimp in a cream sauce.

The Zephyr Farms Vineyard is rich with Goldridge soil, loamy and sandy, a perfect 7.5 acres for chardonnay. The vines were planted in 2000. Morning coastal fog and high winds in the afternoon (hence the name Zephyr) result in the tiny concentrated berries that hail from the vineyard, which sits at an elevation of 525 feet above sea level eight miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Hugh Chappelle made this wine, and if you are not familiar with Chappelle that’s something you should change. He’s a veteran winemaker, well respected for his approach to cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir. His CV includes stints at Flowers Vineyards & Winery and Lynmar Estate, and he’s the head winemaker at La Follette and Quivira Vineyards. (Pete and Terri Knight own both properties. And yes, La Follette was founded by Greg La Follette.)

Hugh Chappelle is the winemaker at La Follette Wines and Quivira Vineyards. (Quivira Vineyards)

I was sampling three other wines from La Follette on the day — the 2021 Los Primeros Chardonnay, the 2020 Los Primeros Pinot Noir, and the 2019 Heinz Vineyard Pinot Noir — and found them all worthy of my table and sharing with friends and guests. The tasting session gave me a good sense of what Chappelle is doing at La Follette, and I daresay you’d not be disappointed in any of these selections.

The Los Primeros Chardonnay ($25) is a great wine for daily drinking. Bought by the case, this bottle would serve you well as a house white. It’s got the typical chardonnay profile (lemon, pear) that is beloved by many and a refreshing touch of salinity that had me tasting with pleasure.

Chappelle, as with the Zephyr Farms chardonnay, has made something noteworthy here. It clocks in at 13.5 percent alcohol, and 2,451 cases were produced. Chill this to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and serve with sautéed scallops or your favorite sushi.

Worthy Pinot Noir Picks

Chappelle, as mentioned before, has made some very good pinot noirs, and the two La Follette selections I tasted were no exception.

The 2020 Los Primeros ($25, 3,062 cases) represents a perfect snapshot of Sonoma County, and I would happily drink it with lamb chops, a hamburger, or sausage pizza. It’s 100 percent Sonoma, a blend of declassified barrels from some of La Follette’s single-vineyard wines and grapes from contracted sources, as well as “blending components from a handful of truly elite Sonoma Coast producers.” Minimal oak here, which gives the wine a fresh vivacity. Drink now, or hold through 2027.

The final wine I tasted on La Follette Day was a beauty. The fruit here hails from Heintz Vineyard, a 50-acre plot of land on the storied Heintz Ranch, which has been farmed by the family since 1912. When you pour this wine in your glass, hold it up to a light and appreciate its delicate ruby hue, an inviting shade. The winemaker’s notes for this vintage state that it’s more reminiscent of a pinot from the Côte de Nuits than the Russian River Valley, and about that I don’t disagree.

Refined and confident, this wine, which carries a price of $65, would pair well with a stew of wild boar or beef. Baking spices command the palate here, along with a touch of pencil lead, but the fruit is never lacking.

Four commendable bottles from La Follette Wines made for a great sampling session, one that gave me a succinct impression of the Chappelle style and has me looking forward to drinking more of his wines.

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