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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Chardonnay Surprises: Sugar Cookies and Almost Five Years in a Barrel

Let's talk a little bit about preconceived notions...and some delightful surprises this holiday season!

LEARN THIS PROCESS! This is a basic iced sugar cookie into which you can add whatever zest or extracts you prefer. I have used ground cardamom and Bearrs lime juice. The version I share below has a lemon-vanilla sugar cookie with a fresh lemon icing. BE CREATIVE...COOK FEARLESSLY!

If you would have asked me several years ago, I would have said that I didn't care for Chardonnay. Not one bit. What I have grown to discover is that I don't care for the California Chardonnays of the 90s and early 2000s that were butter bombs. Unctuous, oaky, and dripping with vanilla. Not my kinda thing.

But I have changed my tune. Here are some pairings that swayed me towards this variety.

I poured a Chardonnay from the Alto Adige that was rife with minerality and paired beautifully with Deviled Eggs. When the French Winophiles explored Chablis, I learned that it was made from the Chardonnay grape and paired it with Cracked Crab and Cheesy Ravioli. And the wine that got me to break my rule of not joining a wine club: Donkey & Goat's 2018 Skins and Stems Chardonnay. Its flintiness made me think of hiking the drippy Vernal Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park.

Surprise #1: Chardonnay Goes with Sugar Cookies

When we were invited to a cookie decorating party, I read that Chardonnay was a good pairing with sugar cookies. And I had a bottle of the 2020 Sojourn Cellars Chardonnay from Sonoma on my shelf. A single varietal, this wine was made 100% from the Old Wente clone grown in two blocks of the Durell Vineyard that were fermented in 40% new French oak with native yeast before being bottled unfined. Released in the Spring 2022, its suggested retail price is just over $50.

I presented the chilled bottle to the host and hostess and explained that it should go nicely with sugar cookies. We were all slightly dubious. But moments later, Denise handed me a glass and declared that, yes, indeed, they went well today. Holiday Chardonnay surprise number one! I'll share my favorite sugar cookie recipe below.

Surprise #2: After Almost 5 Years, A Barrel-Fermented Chard Can Be Compelling and Fresh

Before Christmas, I stopped in to chat with Will at the I. Brand & Family tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village. My request: I want some funky, fun wines for the holidays. He listened and delivered. I walked out with several bottles of a Hibiscus Piquette made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes; a skin-fermented Pinot Gris, Eden Rift 2021; an Old Vine White field blend made from a trio of unusual varietals - Orange Muscat, Mission and Palamino; a beautifully textured Arneis; and this 2016 Chardonnay that spent almost 5 years in barrel.

At just over $40, this Chardonnay is a treat. The fruit comes from four decade-old, late ripening vines just east of Chualar. After picking, the whole clusters were pressed and barrel fermented. The wine rested on lees for another four years resulting in a concentrated, oxidized wine. Unfined and unfiltered, the wine was bottled and aged for an additional year before its release.

The wine poured a brilliant, bright sunny yellow with aromas that reminded me of a flor-capped sherry. The bouquet was simultaneously sharp, but delicate with notes of nuts, brioche, winter citrus, and a hint of herbs and pineapple. On the palate, there were layers of baking spices along with licorice and marzipan. But it was the persistent acidity that made me an ardent fan. I can't wait to get my hands on more of this wine.

My Favorite Sugar Cookies

This is an iced sugar cookie that I have been making for years and years with slight variations on flavors. I originally started with a recipe from my cousin Tiffany who is a baker extraordinaire. My process is the same, but as I wrote at the beginning: I change up the flavors with zests and extracts.

We love making and decorating these cookies as a family every holiday season. You can watch our video on the CulinaryCam YouTube Channel. For this version I made a lemon-vanilla sugar cookie as the base along with a lemon icing. The nose of the gnome is a peanut, but use whatever round shape you have or want


Lemon Vanilla Sugar Cookies

  • 2-3/4 cup flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup organic granulated sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • zest from 1 organic lemon (I used an organic Meyer lemon), approximately 2 teaspoons

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 3 egg whites, or more to thin icing

  • 6 cups organic powdered sugar

  • juice from 1 to 2 organic lemons (I used a Meyer lemon)

  • 1/4 t pure vanilla extract

To Finish

  • food dye (I used a natural dye)

  • Also needed: any round candy that you can use as a nose for the gnome


Lemon Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside in a bowl.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture, until completely combined.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill dough for 1 to 2 hours. Roll out between two pieces of parchment paper.

Preheat over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Shape dough with your cutters, using flour to keep them from sticking. Place on a silicone mat-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 9-11 minutes, depending on size of cookies.

Cool completely on wire racks. Make the royal icing while the cookies cool.

Royal Icing

Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Beat for another minute. If the icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it's too thin, add more sugar. Divide the icing into separate bowls. Dye whatever colors you want; I made blue, red, and green. I left some white for the beard and mushroom details.

To Finish Smooth the colored royal icing over cooled cookies. Add details with piped royal icing. For the Christmas gnomes, press a peanut between the hat and the beard to form the nose. Let icing set completely before serving.

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