Archive | July 2014

A meal at Septime: Dordogne pork and a whole new appreciation for Beaujolais!

My brother and my sister-in-law were visiting me in Paris recently and I took them to eat at my favorite restaurant in the entire world – Septime! Septime is an amazing restaurant in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. Chef Bertrand Grébaut is very creative with his menu and always maintains the integrity of each of his ingredients in his dishes. Every time I come to Paris, I make sure to have a meal here.

The menu changes frequently. The day that we ate there, for the appetizers, we had a choice between jack mackerel, beetroot with feta, and leeks with smoked egg and cecina de Leon. My brother had the leeks, my sister-in-law had the beetroot and I chose the jack mackerel, which was served with kohlrabi, cornichons, parsley oil, and raw cream (I absolutely love raw cream. I dollop it on my baguette with blueberry preserves every morning).

Mackerel 2

For the entrée, we had a choice between monkfish and pork from the Dordogne region of France. Since we had eaten monkfish for last night’s dinner, we all chose the pork. The pork was served with roasted onions, a jus with tamarind, and toasted buckwheat.

Pork 1

For my wine pairing with the pork, I chose a 2013 Beaujolais Villages made by Jean Claude Lapalu. The name of the wine is Tentation. Beaujolais often gets a bad rap because of the mass produced Beaujolais Nouveau that often sacrifices quality for quantity and that is unfortunately most of the Beaujolais we see on the shelves. However, there is much better Beaujolais out there! Beaujolais Villages and especially Beaujolais Cru are much higher quality wines and they are definitely worth a try. There are some really notable wine makers in the region and the Tentation is a great bottle of wine in the Beaujolais Villages classification.

bottle

label

The Tentation is a beautiful bright ruby color. It is bursting with fruit aromas, especially cherries, which are on the jammy side. There are also some warm and sweet spices as well as just a hint of earthiness. This is definitely a lot more complex than your typical, mass produced Beaujolais Nouveau.

glass

Three characteristics of this wine make it a great choice for the pork dish. First, Beaujolais is made 100% with the gamay grape, which produces a fruitier wine. The vinification process contributes even more to the  fruitiness of this wine. The Tentation is made using the carbonic maceration technique, where whole grapes (rather than macerated ones) are fermented in an environment rich in carbon dioxide. Fermentation of whole grapes rather than the juice, is another factor that contributes to the fruitiness of this Beaujolais. In fact, the Tentation so fruity that it feels like cherries are exploding in my mouth. Overall, Beaujolais and pork are a fantastic pairing, whether you’re serving pork loin or a plate of charcuterie. Pork loves fruit and the fruitiness of the Tentation makes it a great accompaniment to this dish.

Second, This wine is also quite light. It has a relatively low alcohol content (12%), is very light and refreshing in flavors, and is super low in tannins. Because the gamay has a thin skin, it produces a red wine that’s light in tannins and gives it a much lighter body. The carbonic maceration technique also contributes to low level of tannins in wine.  The pork that we had was light. It was simply roasted and served with a light tamarind jus. The lightness of the Beaujolais worked really well with the food whereas a heavier wine would definitely overpower it.

Finally, this wine is very juicy – it definitely satisfies your thirst. Pork is one of those meats that can easily become dry, in which case the thirst quenching quality of the wine would be a great addition to the meal. Our pork of course was expertly cooked and it was already super soft and juicy 🙂

Overall, this was yet another heavenly meal in my favorite restaurant. I love coming to Septime! They always have amazing food and very interesting wines. They also sell the wines featured in the restaurant in the wine bar they opened around the corner at rue Basfroi. I’ve gotten quite a few interesting bottles of wines to take home with me.

And to leave us all drooling, here is a small selection of pictures from previous meals I’ve had at Septime.

Bean and peaches

Fish and tomatoes

squid

Below, the onions at the top of the plate were to die for. So much flavor!

Chick, rabbit2?

lamb

Below, on the left is the organic sheep’s milk cheese from Larzac that I fell in love with. After I tasted it in the restaurant, I searched high and low to find this cheese in Paris. Now, it is always on my list of cheeses to bring back home with me. So tasty!

larzac

Cheese series: Virginia wines with French cheeses? Mais, bien sur!

I spent this past weekend in Washington, D.C. to celebrate my best friend’s bachelorette party. One of the activities we did over the weekend was visiting a winery in Virginia – Fox Meadow Winery. Even though California is the most famous wine-producing region (and produces about 90% of all American wines), Virginia is historically the first producer of wines in the US, dating back to the 17th century. Virginia is still the 5th largest producer of grapes in the US.

Fox Meadow Winery sits on a hill in Linden, VA and the scenery is just gorgeous!

fox picture

We did two separate tastings. The first was a mix of their various wines – white and red – in the main reception area. While I wasn’t too impressed with their whites, the reds were quite nice – especially the Reserve Cabernet Franc.

The second tasting took place in the vat/barrel room, focusing only on their Renard Rouge with five different vintages – 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012. I loved the 2007 and the 2010, which incidentally correspond to drought years. Droughts lead to low-yield grape production, which in turns produces a wine that is really concentrated in terms of flavor and aroma.

We ordered a bottle of the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Franc for our picnic. I bought a second bottle of the Cabernet Franc and a bottle of the 2007 Renard Rouge to take home with me.

2 bottles

Cabernet franc is a grape very commonly found in the wines of Bordeaux and St. Emilion. I really like this grape as it often has aromas of sweet spices as well as some complexity added by some tobacco and coffee nuances. This Reserve Cabernet Franc also has great fruity aromas, such as red and black fruits. It is a lighter wine in color and appearance with a beautiful ruby red color.

Picture of bottle and glass

picture of glass

So now for the food… I brought lots of cheese from Paris for the picnic and some of the highlights are (I was so excited when we sat down for the picnic that I forgot to take pictures of the cheese so these pictures were taken after I got back Paris and replenished my cheese supply 🙂 ):

A perfectly ripe raw cow’s milk Camembert by Isigny Sainte Mère, that is neither too hard nor too soft.

Camembert

One of my favorites! Epoisses cheese made with cow’s milk by Berthaut.

Epoisses

Raw goat’s milk Grataron D’Arèches from Savoy. This cheese has a wonderful thick crust, which gives it a nutty flavor.

savoy

Raw sheep’s milk U Pecurinu, a tangy, salty, and creamy cheese from Corsica.

corsica

I tried the wine with all of the cheese and the best pairing was the Epoisses. Epoisses is a delightfully stinky cow’s milk cheese. As the cheese is made, it is regularly washed with Marc, a pomace brandy from Burgundy. This process gives the cheese a much more complex and stronger flavor. I think the best characteristic of Epoisses is its runniness so it’s best enjoyed after it’s been out of the fridge for an hour or two. It fact, a spoon is a much better utensil for this cheese than a knife.

Since Epoisses can be quite pungent, a sweet wine is the best pairing. I absolutely love a late harvest gewurztraminer with this cheese! However, I think that the cabernet franc was another great choice.

The Epoisses has bold flavors so you want a wine to match the cheese’s boldness. Being a stinky cheese, it has, for lack of a better word, “funky” characteristics. I think the cabernet franc is bold enough to match the cheese and the coffee and the tobacco hints in the wine also give it the funk that goes well with the Epoisses. Yet, Epoisses is also really smooth and refined so you don’t want a wine that is too robust either. Amongst red wines, I think a Syrah or a Cabernet Sauvignon would be too strong for this cheese. The cabernet franc is softer and more feminine to match the cheese and just complex enough to match the strength of its flavors and aromas. I think this is a great match with neither the wine or the food overpowering the other. This cabernet franc also has some soft and silky tannins balanced by a bit of acidity. The richness and creaminess of the Epoisses – it just melts in your mouth – seeks just that to compliment it. A wine with stronger tannins would be an undesirable match with such creamy cheeses, leading instead to a metallic aftertaste.

Amongst the rest of the cheeses, the Camembert was good too. Camembert is another super creamy cheese that has more complexity of flavors than the brie. Though I’d prefer to eat Camembert with a lighter and fruitier red wine or preferably with a cider from Normandy.

The rest of the cheeses did not work so well and that’s no surprise. If there is one thing I learned in my wine classes, it’s that lumping together a bunch of cheeses – such as in a cheese platter one orders at the end of dinner – with a single wine is a big mistake. My wine instructor, in fact, emphatically exclaimed that “c’est une catastrophe!” and cringed at the thought. Generally, it is one wine with one cheese and that is what I do if I have a dinner party. At the end of dinner, I bring out one cheese at a time, each paired with its own wine.

So I ate the Epoisses like there is no tomorrow. I even skipped the baguette and spooned it directly in to my mouth. It was so amazingly good!

Overall, I have say that Fox Meadow is a beautiful winery and they make great reds. It is so nice to sit outside and have a picnic with that beautiful scenery to enjoy. There was even live music.

Kate Juli Jeewon

Kate and Juli

All four of us really enjoyed our picnic and all three of us – 4 minus 1 pregnant friend, Kate, who is not drinking during pregnancy 🙂 – really enjoyed the wine. I will be coming back to this winery next time I’m in the region.

The mandatory jumping picture with the bachelorette 🙂 :

jumping pic

Jeewon, Juli, Kate and me loving the scenery:

picture of all 4

Huîtrerie Régis: Four whites and oysters galore!

This week I’m eating at my favorite oyster eatery in Paris – Huîtrerie Régis. I love this place! They are closed half of the summer. Luckily I was able to eat here a few times before the dreaded July 14 closure. There’s a reason why this place closes for such a long time in the summer time – much longer than the typical August closure you’d come across in other Parisian restaurants. Oysters are best eaten in the cooler months (months that contain the letter “r”). The months that don’t contain that letter correspond to warm waters, when the oysters tend to be milky, fatty and softer in texture. The oysters don’t assume these characteristics because they are going bad due to the summer heat. Rather, this transformation takes place because they are getting ready to spawn.

Even if you do come across milky oysters, there’s no health risk associated with eating them – though they are not all that pleasant to eat.

Oysters harvested in the winter months (or the summer months if they are from cold enough waters), tend to be lighter and firmer, and also saltier and they need a lighter, crisp wine, like a Sancerre or a Muscadet. You want a wine made from grapes grown in colder climates. Cool climate grapes produce crisp and fresh wines, two characteristics that help to cut down on the salty and the briny flavors of the oysters and cleanse your palate in between bites. Both the Sancerre and the Muscadet come from the Loire Valley in France, which fits that profile. Champagne also fits the profile and it has the added benefit of effervescence, which can do wonders to refresh and cleanse the palate between each slurp 😉

Now, back to the oysters. Huîtrerie Régis has oysters only from Marennes Oleron in the Atlantic coast of France. My friend and I ordered a dozen of Les Fines de Claires No. 3 and a dozen of Les Spéciales de Claires No. 2.

oyster platter

Oysters on plate

I truly love oysters and I don’t get to eat them very often. They are just so overpriced in Abu Dhabi. So when I get to sit down to two-dozen oysters, I’m in my happy place.

Me & Oysters 2

Even though it’s already July, the oysters I had at Huîtrerie Régis are not milky – to be honest, no reputable restaurant should serve its customers milky oysters. To the contrary, these oysters are firm, lean, salty, and have that great ocean flavor. I will go with a Sancerre to pair with these beauties: a 2012 Daniel Crochet Cuvée Prestige.

Sancerre 1 label

This Sancerre is so light in color to be almost clear but there is body to this wine. It is very citrusy and has hints of green plants as well as a good level of minerality. The acidity is high but pleasant – exactly what you would want for oysters.

Sancerre carafe

I am also curious about another wine that is on the menu – Pouilly Fumé, another sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley. So I will order that as well to compare. This wine is called Les Charmes and it’s from Domaine Chatelain. The vintage is 2011.

Pouilly Fume label

The Pouilly Fumé has more body and flavor than the Sancerre. It is also darker in color – it’s a nice golden color. It is an aromatic wine with hints of toastiness.

Pouilly carafe

Sancerre is definitely the winner between the two wines. I think the Pouilly Fumé slightly overpowers the delicate flavors of the oysters (I might prefer the pouilly fumé with some grilled fish instead of oysters). On the other hand, the Sancerre is definitely light enough in flavor to make the oysters shine. And it is crisp enough to balance their salty ocean flavors.

I also wanted to try a Muscadet, another traditional pairing with oysters. So a few days later, I ordered take-out from Huîtrerie Régis. I think I got a little carried away and ordered two-dozen Les Spéciales de Claires No. 2 for myself. Well, it is the last time I’m eating at Regis’s oysters before the restaurant closes. So, why not?

At the restaurant, they opened the oysters for me but kept the top shells on for easy transport. I jumped in a taxi to get home quickly and this is the amazingness that I sat down to.

Home Oyster Platter

Each oysters is wonderfully firm, lean and beautiful.

take home oyster on plate

I will go ahead with Sancerre. But I also wanted to compare Muscadet to Sancerre to see which one works best with oysters. This time, I’m trying a different Sancerre. It is a really young Sancerre (2013 vintage) by François Crochet.

Sancerre bottle

Sancerre 2 label

Typical of Sancerre, this is again bursting with acidity. Its aromas are super refreshing with citrus and apples. It has minerality, adding more freshness to the wine. It is again very pale yellow in color with green tinges. It is super acidic but nicely balanced. The flavor is a lot lighter is quite tart in comparison to the Muscadet.

Sancerre glass

The Muscadet belongs to the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appelation. It’s called Granite de Clisson from the Loire valley. Granite de Clisson means the granite from Clisson because of the granitic fault on which the vines are planted. It is made by Domaine de la Pepière and it is from 2009.

Clisson bottle

Clisson label

The Clisson has heavier aromas than the Sancerre, like peaches and flowers. But the aroma I notice the most is minerals. It has much more pronounced than the Sancerre. It is also a bit darker in color and has a bit more body than the Sancerre.

Clisson glass

So how did the wines do with the oysters? I think both the Sancerre and the Muscadet worked great. I tried the oysters with and without lemon and Sancerre did better with the lemon while the Muscadet was my choice for oysters without lemon.

The Sancerre is delightfully refreshing and does a wonderful job of cleansing my palate in between each oyster (otherwise, I don’t think I could’ve eaten all 24 oysters). The Sancerre actually tastes much tarter when I eat the oyster without the lemon and when I add the lemon it actually balances and tames the acidity in the wine. However, it’s important that the acidity of the lemon not overpower the acidity in the wine. If my food were more acidic than the wine, it would make the wine appear flatter, taking away from its wonderful crisp and fresh qualities.

The Clisson is also quite acidic, less than the Sancerre though. I don’t think it needs the lemon to balance out its acidity. In fact, the lemon makes the wine taste bitter. But without the lemon, I think this wine is a great pairing for oysters. It’s acidic enough to lighten up the flavors and cleanse the palate. And the marriage of salt and acidity is just perfect.

I like a little bit of lemon on my oysters to cut down on the saltiness and because of that the Sancerre is still my favorite wine for oysters.

Another classic pairing with oysters is Chablis – though it’s not my preferred pairing. I had a bottle of Chablis at home and I was just curious wanted to see how it would work with these oysters. It is called Bel-Air et Clardy and is made by Alice and Olivier de Moor (this is a fantastic Chablis by the way so if you come across this, this is a definitely must-buy). The vintage is 2011.

Chablis bottle

Chablis label

This Chablis, like the Clisson has very pronounced mineral aromas as well as some citrus and white fruit. Upon aeration, white flower elements also become noticeable. It is a fuller bodied wine that has some great smoothness, which nicely balances out the acidity. It almost feels like there’s honey in this wine based on how smooth it is (just based how the wine feels in your mouth, not sweetness – Chablis is not a sweet wine).

chablis glass

I think the Bel-Air et Clardy was okay but not outstanding with the oysters – a younger and lighter Chablis would work much better and this was just a tad too rich for the oysters (de Moor also makes lighter wines). This just goes to show that just because a wine is labeled a Chablis, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that it will pair well with oysters – the style of the particular wine and producer are just as important in determining the success of the pairing. I think the Sancerre and the Clisson were better pairings for the oysters and I would prefer to drink the Bel-Air et Clardy instead with richer seafood, like scallops, or if you happen to be served milky oysters.

Albion Restaurant: Xinomavro with Squid, feta, and Kalamata

This week I ate at a great restaurant. Albion is a neo-bistro in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. The cuisine is very inventive and fresh, with the menu changing frequently. Everything I ate was mouth-watering and delicious! I definitely recommend this restaurant. For my starter, I had a beautiful carpaccio of beefsteak tomato with salmon eggs, salted, cured fish roe, and capers.

Tomato

For my entrée, I had the squid à la plancha served with artisanal feta, kalamata olives, heirloom tomatoes, and wild herbs.

squid 3

I asked the server for a wine to accompany the main course and she suggested a red wine from Naoussa, Greece. It is made by Thymiopoulos Vineyards and it’s called the “Young Vines of Xinomavro” as the age of the vines are about 5 to­ 7 years. The vintage is 2012.

bottle

bottle upclose

The xinomavro grape used in making this wine literally means acidic black (xino meaning acid and mavro meaning black) so it is not surprising that there’s lots of acidity to this wine, giving it lots of freshness. It is a beautiful dark red color with hints of purple. It has aromas of red fruits, a bit or earthiness, herbs, and even floral tones like violets. As it oxygenates, the wine takes on more earthy and spicy aromas. It is very light and fruity in taste. It is an amazingly refreshing wine with lots of soft tannins.

wine glass

The xinomavro with the squid dish was a bit tricky in terms of a pairing. The flavors of the dish are typically Greek. I think the server suggested this wine based on a regional pairing. The idea behind a regional pairing is that foods from specific regions generally complement the aromas and the flavors of the wine from that same region because they share the same terroir, which refers to the set of characteristics of a food or wine in terms of its geography, climate, soil, genetic make up, etc. So when in doubt, choose a wine from the same region as the dish you are eating. For instance, if I’m eating tartiflette or raclette in the Savoy region of France, I’ll order a wine from Savoy as well. This type of pairing isn’t limited to wines. Gravlax goes really well with akvavit; galettes from Brittany go really well with ciders from that region, etc…

So how did this Greek wine do with the Greek flavors in the food?  The wine did not work for the squid alone. Even when I added the feta, the wine definitely improved but wasn’t perfect. However, the kalamata olive completely changed everything! When I put all three flavors in my mouth and tasted the wine, it was such a fantastic pairing!

Bitter foods like kalamata olives accentuate a wine’s bitterness so you need a wine that is the opposite of bitter – something that is a bit on the fruity side and this wine fits that profile. Also olives are quite salty and briny so you want a bit of acidity to complement these characteristics of the olives and balance the acidity of the wine. This wine wins again in this respect. And of course, the kalamatas are definitely a regional match. I’m not sure where the squid or the feta originated but the similarity of the kalamata’s and the wine’s terroirs created a perfect mix of flavors and qualities that went really well together. Perhaps another reason why the kalamatas went so well with the wine is due to the matching of the colors. Generally, dark foods with dark wines go very well together as so light foods with white wine. The kalamatas provide a much better color match to the Xinomavro than the feta or the squid.  But more on color matching in another post!

Overall, I think this Xinomavro from Naoussa is an excellent bottle of wine. It is very well made. I will make sure to look for this bottle when I go to Greece in November.