Food & Wine – Salmon and Sweetness

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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!

 

2017 week 7 – Pithon-Paillé, Bonnes Blanches 2013

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In honor of Drink Chenin Day, back to the place where it all began: Anjou! The region produces some of the greatest white wines in the world, but is woefully under-appreciated. This is in large part the result of an overly complicated appellation structure. The first thing to understand is that in the Loire valley, appellations are stacked on each other. It is perfectly possible to go to a vineyard located in the village of Bonnezeaux and produce one of the following appellations: Bonnezeaux (sweet), Anjou (white or red), Cabernet d’Anjou (red), Rosé d’Anjou (rosé), or Coteaux du Layon (sweet). One possible consequence is that if I can command a higher price for a Coteaux du Layon label than for an Anjou, I will direct my attention towards the CdL. Everything that is not good enough or does not meet the criteria will then get bumped to a ‘lower’ tier.

Anjou was actually the first appellation created in the region in 1936. It wasn’t until the 50’s that, following a better understanding of terroir and a hefty dose of lobbying that other appellations were drawn up. This is a process that it still ongoing, as we can see with the relatively recent recognition of Roche aux Moines and Coulée de Serrant as appellations in 2011, as well as in the debate regarding Chaume. So gradually, the territory of Anjou is supplanted by other ‘higher’ tier appellations.

For winelovers this represents a fantastic opportunity, as you can snap-up world-class wines at interesting price points. The winemaker who actually jumpstarted my love for chenin blanc is Jo Pithon, the man at times more known for his impressive mouton chops than his wines (google, or the excellent book Vignerons d’Anjou). Even though he has been in the world of wine for decades, he only started working under the current label in 2008. The own vineyards coer about 13ha, worked biodynamically or in the process of converting towards, and there is a négoce business as well.

Today I cracked my final bottle of Bonnes Blanches 2013, a wonderful wine sourced from a vineyard near St. Lambert de Lattay. 2013 was not the easiest of years and a lot of producers struggled with ripeness and an overbearing acidity. Ageing this wine in used oak for 14 months looks to have been the right choice, as it is soft yet vivid in its acidity. From the colour I was a bit worried about oxidation, but the nose was reassuring. Bruised apples yes, but a distinctive, almost dominating herbaceous edge with fennel and a minty freshness. On the palate it is vivid, succulent even, with a thirst-quenching quality yet not without focus and length. Really the type of wine where you say that you’ll drink just one glass, only to finish the bottle!

Other Loire wines talked about: 

 

An impression of the Real Wine Fair (II)

Moving on to the other side of the world, South Africa. Three estates were present: Mother Rock, mentioned here and here in the past; Jurgen Gouws, whose wines could qualify as my gateway drug to South Africa after having tasted them at RAW two years ago; and Testalonga, the solo-project of Craig and Carla Hawkins. I have tasted quite a few of their wines at separate occasions, so this was a great opportunity to go through the full lineup. All in all, the wines are exemplary expressions of their variety, yet characterized by a freshness and purity that really shows the signature of the winemaker. Continue reading

Food & Wine – Moroccan chicken pastilla

IMG_4812This 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.

IMG_0887Now, 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!

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog pairs Bordeaux with Cajun and Italian Classics

Michelle from Rockin’ Red Blog asks “Do Empanadas Bordeaux?”

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla will match a Vin de Pays d’Oc Chardonnay and an Edible Mollusc from Monterey

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator highlights Taco Tuesday: Chicken Mole Strawberry Salad with 3 French Wines

Jane from Always Ravenous takes us to the islands with Chicken Colombo: A Blend of Caribbean Flavors from the French West Indies

Lynn from Savor the Harvest informs us that Tortilla Española Crosses Wine Borders

Jill of L’occasion describes A World of Flavors in Marseille

Jeff from FoodWineClick! reports as Loire Valley Wines Take the Spicy Thai Challenge

At The Swirling Dervish, Lauren covered A Feast for the Senses: Viognier and Indian Spices

2017 week 4 – Domaine Huet, Clos de Bourg demi-sec 2001

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Looking back at my short but intense stay in the Loire region, I realized that I haven’t talked enough about Chenin Blanc, despite my love for it. Only one wine was put into the spotlight, 2009 Les Choisilles by Francois Chidaine (of which I incidentally drank my last bottle just a week ago, still fantastic). There are some changes coming up on The Wine Analyst, but given my adherence to self-imposed deadlines in the past, I’ll refrain from making big declarations. For now, I can only say that there will be more attention paid to Chenin Blanc in the future, starting with Domaine Huet’s Clos de Bourg Demi-Sec 2001!

Very blunt but true, people are idiots if they think that residual sugar should be dismissed in assessing a wine’s quality. I get the point if you were presented with a glass of something that is basically a very expensive syrup, but as I mentioned when I talked about Germany’s Pradikat wine, the wines that get it right, the wire walkers between acidity and sweetness are among the best you can encounter. Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is one of the rare grapes with this capability. Vibrant, shining fruit and an energizing acidity that is ever so rightly countered by a hint of opulence added by the residual sugar are all you need for a thrilling wine.

Off all the Loire subregions, Vouvray most likely has the highest reputation when it comes to producing wines with residual sugar. Domaine Huet has played a pivotal role in establishing the region’s fame. It is a benchmark of what chenin blanc can be, proving its versatility and longevity. A combination of obsessive, meticulous attention to details, a focus on top-vineyards and an early adoption of biodynamic viticulture have guided its ascent to the top and despite a change of ownership in recent years, continues to do so. Clos de Bourg is one of the most acclaimed vineyard sites in Vouvray, with the vines having the most direct access to the tuffeau bedrock (soft type of limestone) thanks to a relatively thin topsoil, which is credited for the deeper, more complex character of the wines in comparison to the other sites.

It is a tricky wine, in the sense that at first it does not really stand out or shine. Clear evolution in the nose, honeycomb, waxy notes and a toasty, fresh-marmelade-and-bread type of fruitiness. Initially the palate does not deliver what the nose promises, moderate in weight but no real presence. I was initially a bit disappointed, so I finished my glass, stoppered the bottle and forgot about it for a couple of days. Retasting it later on was simply joy. The wine was much more fleshed out, really more savoury now without even giving a lot of sweetness at first. It was only in the finish that the influence of the residual sugar kicked in, not in sweetness, but in length and intensity while remaining oh so delicate. A stunning wine for it’s 16 years of age, and something to cherish.

Other Loire wines talked about: 

Loire Tripping 2017 – The Salon & La Levée

Finally, my impressions from a day at the Salon des Vins de Loire. Contrary to last year, I only attended on Tuesday, due to the Salon changing its calendar and starting a day earlier, thus overlapping the numerous off-events. I don’t really know why this was done, nor did I get a straight answer from basically anyone, but I do think that it is to the detriment of the Salon. Visitors were few, perhaps also because it was the final day, but compounded with the fact that there was an entire tasting area gone in comparison to last year, this is not a good sign. I get that you want to be the biggest and the best, but look at Millésime Bio and Vinisud facing off just a week before the Loire events; no one really wins. Continue reading

London Food (II) – Ottolenghi Spitalfields

Do I still need to introduce Yotam Ottolenghi? The man’s books can be found everywhere, but in all fairness, rightly so. I think that I have made almost everything that can be found in Plenty, bar a couple of desserts, and while Nopi proves to be a bit more challenging, it has done its part in many successful dinner parties. Procrastination meant that only the deli in Spitalfields still had a table for two on a Saturday evening and the place was packed. Service ran smooth though, and we were given ample time to go through the menu and wine list.

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Week 37 – Guiberteau, Saumur Rouge 2014

IMG_3688When is a wine faulty? There are plenty of times when this is clear from the start; a messed up colour, raging volatile acidity, vinegar,…. Other times it is not always clear. For a long time, I did not like Cabernet Franc as there is often something unpleasant in the nose at first, especially in the case of young wines. You get aromas of degraded fruit, barnyard or just plain shit. This most often happens with wines that have been created in an oxygen-depraved environment, like I mentioned already when talking about Hanami about a year ago, but the trick is finding out if the smell stays, which makes it a fault, or if it dissipates and adds character in combination with other aromas and flavours.

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An overdue reflection on the Salon des Vins de Loire

If you are a serious winelover, France is definitely the place to be in the beginning of the new year as large events are organized throughout the country. Millésime Bio gives the kick-off in the final week of January, leading directly into the Salon des Vins de Loire (with its numerous off-events) and ending with Vinisud. Unfortunately, some winelovers have completed unrelated day jobs, meaning that choices have to be made. Last year I visited La Dive Bouteille, basically the first off-salon event, and this year I combined it with a visit to the actual Salon (yes, people still go there) as well as Renaissance (formerly Renaissance des Appelations). Even when spending four days in Angers, this still meant that I had to skip Pénitents (Thierry Puzelat and René Mosse inviting friends) and Les Anonymes.

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Dinner at Souvenir in Ieper

One of the most agonizing tasks for a winelover, aside from racking your brain for all kinds of exotic aromas that you can supposedly find in a wine, is coming up with a food pairing that elevates both wine and food. All too often people are enjoying a meal in a restaurant, absentmindedly sipping from their glasses whilst only discussing the food. A good food-wine match is however a conversation driver and almost demands to be noticed, to be placed in the spotlight. Continue reading