Ok, so this post actually dates back to a meal we had a while ago, so it is not completely in season. I do however found it very interesting in winepairing, so just keep it in mind until next winter, okay?
For a long time, wines with a bit of sweetness were the bane of the wine world. Mosel wines with Prädikat or not, Vouvray demi-sec, a whole range of Alsacien wines; all of them have fallen or are still falling in disarray. Sure, the producers are at times to blame as well, like the whole Blue Nun fiasco still impacting the image people have of German wines, or the complete lack of residual sugar indication on the label in the Alsace in the past. Nonetheless, there still seems to be an at times stupefying aversion when people find something sweet, yet not overly sugary in their glass. They can wax lyrical about the wine’s aromas and presence on the palate, all to ruin it with a nasty ‘it is a bit sweet, isn’t it’ which more often than not is the end of their judgement. It is like they don’t know what to do with them. ‘Do I drink it on its own, do I pair it with food and oh God, what the hell am I going to eat with this?’
The average wine literature on food and wine pairing has not played the best of roles, as it goes for correct but safe choices: If you taste the sugar, go for a desert, if it is red, go for anything with chocolate and if it is Riesling, stick to spicy and Asian to match with. There is however so much more. I have said it before and will continue to drive home the message: Once you start considering sweetness as a component of the wine’s entire structure instead of just a precursor to a specific set of aromas or the addition of sugar, your food-pairing universe will expand exponentially. To put this to the test, a standoff between two wines: Frisson d’Ombelles 2013 by Domaine de la Marfée vs. Xavier Weisskopf’s Les Borderies 2014 démi-sec.
First up though, the food! Seared salmon has a reputation as being one of the few fishes that can be matched with red wines, pinot noir specifically. I, however, totally disagree. The rather intense flavor will completely overwhelm whatever nuance the wine possesses, and more often than not I end up enjoying neither the dish or the wine. In white, I would look for something with structure, not too opulent but still with a certain density to it.
The risotto is prepared the classic way, with parsley root, Jerusalem artichokes and salsify (‘a poor man’s asparagus’) added. These are almost archetypical winter vegetables with distinctive earthy notes, and in the case of the Jerusalem artichokes, quite a fragrance as well. The wine to match would need to be grounded, not too much on the fruit, yet sufficiently intense on the nose to not being crushed. All in all, I would definitely go for something medium in body, not too much overt acidity, and reasonably aromatic on the nose.
Our first contestant is Domaine de la Marfée’s Frisson d’Ombelles 2013. This estate, located near Montpellier so mainly working in the Languedoc, has been doing great things. I bought a couple of their wines to try once, kind of forgot about them for a few years and only started to drink them recently. They were wonderful, really underplaying their humble VDP origins. and I can wholeheartedly recommend them in both red and white. This cuvée is a 70% rousanne & 30% chardonnay blend, aged in oak for about a year. The rousanne is really dominant in the nose with hints of apricot, yellow peaches and a creaminess that I associate with the wood. Rousanne is a variety that often focuses more on the gras than on liveliness, so the addition of chardonnay is quite nice here as the body has weight, yet does not pull you down.
Contestant number two is Rocher des Violettes’ Montlouis les Borderies 2014. I met Xavier’s girlfriend two years ago at the Salon des Vins de Loire and was struck in awe by the white wines I tasted. Gentle, nuanced and a succulent quality that is a natural motivator to empty a bottle. Les Borderies is an exemplary wine of what Montlouis is capable of, gentle on the nose, quite mineral actually, but much richer on the palate. No one tasting this blind would call this sweet, yet it is at 10g/l of residual sugar, which really lends it an almost velvety quality. At less than 15 euros, this is an absolute steal.
Now, both wines are worthy contestants, a bit to my surprise to be honest. There is a nice, grounded quality to Frisson d’Ombelles that matches perhaps just a bit better with the risotto, especially aromawise, yet les Borderies’ palate manages to put up a better fight to both the quite intensely flavoured salmon as well as the creamy texture of the risotto. All in all, there is no wrong match here, but looking at what was left in the bottles afterwards, les Borderies was clearly enjoyed more, so that has to count for something!