They’re baaaaaack! The whites marathon continues this week, so get ready for more grapey goodness that won’t stain your furniture! We got a few e-mails about the last post on Rhône whites, although not about the wines specifically. You, our readers, are evidently all cleaning mavens, because you wanted to know if you could use white wine to get red wine spills out of your furniture and rugs. We’re not sure how we feel about our fabulous white wines being thought of as cleaning solvents, but being the geek I am, I decided to see if it was true.
We all learned in high school chemistry that “like dissolves like,” so if you have a stain, you should use something that has a similar chemical structure to get the stain out. No doubt that’s what led someone to think that you could use wine to remove a wine stain. A whole lot of websites recommend whites to clean red wine spills if you do it immediately. No one claims that it will get out 100% of the stain, though, and there’s a lot of weird information out there (like white wine “neutralizing” red wine, whatever that’s supposed to mean). You still have to use something else to clean the stain after you pour the white wine on and blot (don’t rub, mind you, just blot).
What they don’t tell you is whether treating with white wine works better than treating with water alone, or any of the other things people use to clean upholstery. So I tried spilling red wine on two pieces of untreated cloth and then poured white wine on one stain and cold water on the other, blotted them both, and then washed them separately in cold water and my regular laundry detergent. They both turned out the same shade of lavender/gray, as you can see in the photo. Not exactly a rousing success. (A disclaimer: this test probably won’t show how your furniture will react to red and white wine, especially if the fabric is treated. You didn’t think I was going to spill wine on my own furniture, did you? I mean, we love our readers and customers, each and every one of you, but there are limits.)
So how did this stain story get started? I think it was just an excuse made by some pissed-off host to throw his glass of white wine on a guest who had spilled red wine on the sofa. What better way to cover up otherwise overt hostility than to say it would keep the sofa and the guest’s clothes from staining? Talk about passive-aggressive. It’s brilliant!
Now, where was I? Oh right, the grapes. I was going to talk about other Southern Rhône whites, but I think I’ll save those for another post and veer off into Chardonnay instead. It’s a much-maligned grape, but one of the great ones. There’s a whole lot of what I think of as bad Chardonnay out there, mostly too oaky and too buttery and creamy-tasting. The oak may or may not come from aging in oak barrels, because winemakers are allowed to put oak chips in their stainless steel tanks to give impression of oak aging. And the dairyland taste comes from something called malolactic fermentation. After the first fermentation to produce the wine, a second fermentation can occur, either accidentally or on purpose. This second fermentation turns the malic acid (from the first fermentation) into lactic acid — a component of dairy products. The winemaker can control the malolactic fermatation (or avoid it) by controlling temperature and the types of yeast used for fermentation (assuming any are added and not already on the grape skins).
A little malolactic fermentation can go a long way. It’s not that it doesn’t taste good, but it can easily be overdone. Unfortunately, many people associate that flavor with wines they otherwise don’t like. Too much creaminess combined with too much oak flavor isn’t my idea of a good Chardonnay. Good thing we have a couple of Chardonnays that haven’t seen either one. Domaine de Mairan Chardonnay Classique ($11) is from the Languedoc, light, crisp and a little citrusy. Meridiana Wine Estate’s Isis ($22) is a full-bodied Chardonnay from Malta. The hotter climate produces some extraordinary fruit flavors in this wine, which still has the crispness you’d expect from Chardonnay. It’s a fabulous wine in summer or winter. In fact, we can’t think of a time we wouldn’t drink it. And we certainly wouldn’t waste any of either one by throwing them on our guests!
Both these wines pair beautifully with this week’s recipe, which I adapted from Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian cookbook — shrimp and cannellini beans served as a room-temperature antipasto. Long ago, we gave you our version of Michael Chiarello’s recipe for shrimp and white beans, and that’s a great winter treat. This recipe is more summery, and I’ve added some cooked pasta and vegetables to make it a salad. The pasta absorbs the excess dressing and the vegetables add color and crunch. It’s the perfect peace offering after you’ve doused your guests in white wine!
Pasta Salad with Shrimp and Cannellini Beans
Serves 4 to 6
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
One-quarter cup red onion, minced fine
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Hot sauce (vinegar based)
One-quarter cup chopped parsley
One-quarter cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients together, with enough hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Set aside, or refrigerate and then bring back to room temperature if you’re doing it ahead.
Shrimp and pasta
8 ounces dried penne or fusili
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into 3 or 4 pieces each
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
One-half teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
1 red bell pepper, diced
8 asparagus spears, cooked, cooled, and sliced into 1-inch pieces
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook about a minute less than the package suggests. Drain, rinse thoroughly with cold water to cool almost completely, and set aside. Rinse the shrimp and dry them with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp and reduce the heat to low. Cook about a minute until the shrimp begin to turn white.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for about a minute more until you can smell the garlic. Turn off the head and add the rest of the oil, the herbs, lemon juice, and some salt and pepper to taste. Put the shrimp mixture in a large bowl and let it cool a few minutes. Mix the drained pasta in (you can rinse it a bit more if it’s sticky), the bean mixture, and the red bell pepper and asparagus. Let it sit a few minutes and then taste for salt and pepper. Add a little oil or lemon juice if you think it needs it, and serve.