Signs of Spring

I have noticed that those living in a place with four distinct and intense seasons get very antsy around February.  Here in the Upper Midwest, February is no-man’s land.  The placeholder between winter and spring. It is still cold (it was -8 when I started my day this morning), snow still covers the ground, and we are just shy of those obvious and early signs of spring that come with March. March is when a 50 degree day will visit us for tea and the snow will melt away before it falls again. Daylight Savings Time will save us from early darkness, and spring break gives us a chance to enjoy it all.

In the last week the early signs of spring have been creeping up on me and like my last post on finding reasons to celebrate, I was given a few more reasons to celebrate that spring is just around the corner.

The goldfinches started coming back en force and they are starting to turn yellow! I became a bird fanatic this year after a spring break vacation with my kids almost a year ago where we rented a cottage affectionately named “Birdsong”.  After going to sleep and waking up to the sound of birds outside of a screened in porch, the kids and I worked to build our own bird paradise on our back patio and we did it amazingly. By fall we had so many birds that I could have 20 feeding at any given time. We nurtured them over the winter by keeping our feeders mostly full and our bird bath heated and managed to retain our finches and many other familiar birds all winter long.  This week, the number of finches actively feeding seemed to creep up as did the yellow on their heads. I thought my eyes (or desire for spring) was deceiving me, but according to Sibley’s Guide and their very detailed month-over-month pictures; the goldfinches begin to grow in their breeding coats in February beginning with their heads.

The days are slowly getting longer. It is actually possible that I won’t drive home in the dark every day of the week. Enough said.

The hyacinths are coming to stores.  I have come to love hyacinths since I discovered them a year ago because I realized – like lilacs – they are a fragrant and clear sign of the season.  I purchased a closed bulb a few weeks ago so I could smell it as it opened.  There’s nothing like walking into the kitchen after a day at work and having the smell stop me in my tracks.

And of course the reason I am writing… Chardonnay is in my glass.  I have a guilty confession about Chardonnay. For the longest time I didn’t like it.  When I first started drinking wine, I only thought I liked reds, then when I started to learn to love whites, I didn’t love Chardonnay at first.  I owe a trip to Napa and a wonderful employee at Sterling for convincing me that I hadn’t had the right Chardonnay yet.  The next year, I hosted what was to be the first party that eventually launched this venture many years, parties, glasses of wine, and ideas later… The theme of this party was a Spring Chardonnay Tasting to discover what I had been missing.  Initially these parties were a way to explore something I hadn’t dove into deep enough. To this day, behind the launch of each new playbook is the desire and drive to dig in to a wine I haven’t explored deeply enough.  In that digging I frequently fall in love (and sometimes lust) with something new.

I have since learned to love the many colors of Chardonnay, a wine affected more by the winemaker than most varietals, a white wine we like to treat like a red wine.

This is a wine you can age on it’s lees (also known as sur lies aging).  Think about the byproducts of fermentation (decomposing yeast cells that are full from eating all that sugar).  These byproducts, if left in the barrel (and turned regularly to avoid spoilage) impart a bread-dough-yeasty flavor to the wine. This process is usually reserved for whites and not that incredibly common even in that category. 

Chardonnay can also have malolactic fermentation; an additional fermentation that happens after the initial wine is made where the malic acid is broken down into the softer lactic acid.  This technique is used frequently in reds, but less commonly in whites.  It imparts a soft, smooth, and sometimes buttery quality to the wine, not to be confused with…

Oak aging.  Also not used as frequently on whites, it imparts coconut, herb, and baking spices to the wine plus a touch of tannin if the oak is new.

The current trend is to drink Chardonnay fresh and unoaked. It has a completely different profile when altered with the above wine-making techniques.  I am still of the mind that each technique has its moment and its dish and the variety is what makes this wine so exciting.

Springwood Chardonnay hails from south-eastern Australia on the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers. At a bargain price (<$10 from Trader Joe’s), it strikes the perfect notes of Spring.  While I drink Chardonnay year round, I favor it in spring due to its body (full) and flavors (warm baking with green apple, stone fruit, and coconut).  I am one of those seasonal wine drinkers who tends to drink more red in the winter and more whites in the summer and Chardonnay has this perfect buttery rich profile that helps bridge red season to white season so wonderfully.  

This wine tends toward the buttery and oaky without being over the top.  Essentially: It’s prime for TBT and who doesn’t want a dose of nostalgia now and again? The world may be changing, but in the spring, I will take a buttery peach pie in my glass topped with toasted coconut. I remember that the fruits of summer are just around the corner. I know the lingering cold of winter still warrants warm comfort food and a blanket. And perhaps February is not as in-between as I thought.

What signs of spring are beckoning you to come out of hibernation?

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