This week I will be joining the Winophiles, a group of bloggers united in their love for French wine who commit to an article on a shared topic. This month: Cross-cultural food pairings with French wine! This is really something that I love, as it forces you to think outside of the box; to put aside wine conventions that are mostly based on regional cuisines and that have been developed and semi-set in stone.
Saying life in Brussels for a foodie has its perks is an understatement. Plenty of restaurants, an it-scene when it comes to new cuisines being offered and basically all ingredients imaginable within reach almost qualifies for a Walhalla. The usual ride from work takes me by the Chatelain market; the place to be for an aperitif in spring/summer, and otherwise a favorite stop for your everyday market vegetables as well as something a bit more international. Afterwards I cannot help but walk by my local wine merchant, and everything for an extra special weekday meal is practically ready.
First stop: buying a pastilla. I first discovered this when we spent a couple of weeks traveling through Morocco in 2015. The country’s cuisine is amazing; incredibly diverse, which is not something you would assume based on what I generally find in Belgium, and just so savoury and intense in flavor. Be forewarned, there will be a lot more food pairings to discuss in the future, and I think that a pastilla, being a complex presentation of so many different aspects of Moroccan cuisine is a good starting point. It combines delicate pastry with slowly cooked poultry, massively spiced but not without losing flavor balance. The Moroccan vendor at Chatelaine market uses cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, a healthy dose of saffron and just a tiny hint of dried chilly. Everyone can make his or her own version, this one was with chicken but I have eaten it with pigeon as well, and the spice mix is also up to your own liking.
Second stop: fresh veg from whatever vendor’s shouting catches my ear. I had a bit of time to spare in the kitchen, so I made a simple carrot salad with cumin, parsley and garlic that I discovered thanks to a French chef in Essaouira, as well as Ottolenghi’s charred broccoli with a tahini dressing. Add some Persian flatbread with homemade hummus, and for little money you are set for a semi-decadent meal.
Third stop: the wine. It is not the easiest cuisine to find an ideal pairing. You are dealing with intense yet delicate flavors, so getting complementarity just right is challenging. Wine and food matching theory will tell you to go more and more south as you add more spices, which I get, but find a bit boring. The meal is in essence quite pure without becoming simple, so I opted for two wines that show depth without becoming heavy or too dominating. To spice things up, two completely different regions: the Loire and the Rousillon.
I talked about Domaine Porte Saint Jean a while back, and a bottle of Saumur-Champigny, Les Beaugrands 2011 seemed to be a daring but most interesting match. The wine itself is fresh in character, but with aromas of middle eastern spices and a headiness that even overcame the scents coming off the pastilla, so it worked actually quite well! It helps that the pastilla was filled with chicken meat, and that the pastry was wafer-thin and light; with pigeon for instance I think that the flavors would be too overwhelming. With the vegetables, the wine met its match, especially texture-wise, as the broccoli tahini dressing proved to be too rich.
Now, the safer and classic match was Roc des Anges’ Reliefs Cotes de Rousillon 2013. I have to admit that the South of France has been a blind spot on my wine radar for too long, and every year, when I encounter one of those fantastic wines that show that the Rousillon is so much more than a cheap swill factory, I tell myself that I need to pay far more attention to it. For now, it is but a note on my never-ending list of wine-related to-do’s.
Roc des Anges, however, is one of those estates that you can always find in my cellar, both in white and red. It is a classic Rousillon, with a hefty dose of Carignan next to Grenache and Syrah. Very juicy in impression, black ripe fruit, quite peppery as well, even a bit inky, something I somehow always associate with Carignan, but soft on the palate, tannins are very present, it is only 2013, but overall it is very complete, very harmonious in all its elements.
The match with the food is good, it does go a lot better with the vegetables, in particular the sesame seeds on the broccoli. I get why this type of wine is the standard match for intensely flavoured dishes. It does have a bit of heat that may become too much after a couple of glasses, but overall it is something that is not overwhelmed by the spiciness in the dish, so wine and food matching theory does have a point.
Be sure to check out the pairings concocted by the other winophiles!