Archive | August 2014

White wine with fish? Not always. Salmon and pinot noir are perfect together!

During my last week in Paris, my friend Kelly and I decided to do a wine pairing night. I had a bottle of pinot noir that I wanted to drink before I left Paris and she had another pinot that she wanted to try. So Kelly, her husband Tim, and I planned the menu around these two bottles.

As a grape, pinot noir may be finicky to grow but as a wine, it is quite versatile and goes really well with a variety of foods. Salmon is one food that it pairs well with, so that’s what’s on the menu tonight! I normally roast salmon in a casserole dish filled with olive oil, lemon, garlic and bay leaves. I tasted the pinot noir that I’m brining in a restaurant previously (and loved it so much that I decided to buy a bottle to take home with me right then and there) and I remember it being earthy. In order to complement these earthy aromas in the wine, I am also adding some earthy herbs to the mixture: fresh rosemary and thyme.

Salmon

There are a few side dishes that we are serving with the salmon:

Lentils with shallot, garlic, and parsley.

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Potatoes roasted with herbes de Provence, which is a wonderful mixture that includes such herbs as rosemary, thyme, savory, marjoram, oregano, and even lavender.

Potatoes

Buttered green beans and carrots.

Veggies

So now for the wines. The two pinots that we are having with dinner are:

2010 Clos des Barraults Premier Cru by Domaine Michel Juillot from Mercurey

Mercurey bottle

Mercurey label

2007 Les Fournaux Premier Cru by Domaine Simon Bize et Fils from Savigny-lès-Baune.

Savigny bottle

Savigny label

Both pinots have the typical aromas of red fruits, including red currant. Both also have amazing smokiness and earthiness. Mercurey, since it is younger, is a bit fruitier and more tannic.

I think both wines worked absolutely great with the salmon! While the salmon is a rich fish, its flavors are quite mild. The pinot noir is also a refined wine with flavors that are not overpowering. In that respect, both the wine and the salmon had an equal intensity of flavors, which allowed both the food and the wine to shine individually, rather than being drowned out by the other. You always want an equality of flavor intensity between the food and the wine for a great pairing.

Besides intensity of flavors, a good wine pairing should also strive for an equality of textures. For instance, smooth food textures go great with smooth wines. Pinot noir is definitely on the silky side of the spectrum and it goes perfectly with the tender and soft texture of the salmon. A wine with a harder, more aggressive body (which may come from tannins or acids) would go better with foods that have a rougher texture such as tough cuts of meat or games like venison or lamb.

One of the characteristics of a pinot noir is the lightness of the tannins – they are very refined and subtle. This is a characteristic that makes the pinot noir a great accompaniment to lentils. If you eat a tannic food – like lentils – with a tannic wine, the tannins in the food exaggerate the tannins in the wine. This can make the wine appear very aggressive and astringent. For instance, with such tannic foods as artichoke, asparagus, lentils (or any beans), a Cote du Rhone or a Cabarnet Sauvignon would be a bad choice. The pinot’s tannins are just light enough to complement the lentils, while being able to provide a refreshing element next to the richness of the salmon. We also added some rosemary and thyme to the lentils to echo the flavors in the salmon as well as the earthiness in the pinots.

The potatoes and the veggies were also a great accompaniment to the wine! The earthiness from the herbes the Provence in the potatoes really enhanced the earthy flavors in the wine. Green beans were a great choice to serve with the pinot for the same reason as the lentils – they are a tannic vegetable. Sweet flavors like carrots also bring out the best in a pinot.

It was such a delicious homemade meal! And both pinot noirs were a great choice to go with the meal.

Plate 1

Plate 2

We ended the evening with some pastries from one of my favorite bakeries in Paris – Aoki Sadaharu. Their lemon tart is the best that I’ve tasted!

dessert

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So many wines…. So little suitcase space!

After two wonderful months, my time in Paris is coming to an end and I’m going back to Abu Dhabi in a few days. Of course, I’m taking the best of Paris back with me: lots and lots of wine! I think I may have gone a bit overboard with my French wine collection – 23 bottles! Well, it would’ve been a lot more if there were no weight restrictions during air travel. I cannot wait to take them back home and start pairing them with food.

All wines

Here’s some information on each of the bottles in the picture:

I’m, of course, taking all seven bottles that I brought back from my wine tasting tour in Alsace a couple of weeks ago (for more info on these bottles, see: A tasting tour of Alsace: the land of Riesling and Gewurztraminer!).

Alsace wines

Besides the Alsace seven, I have wines from a variety of regions in France (not to mention a couple of bottles from other European countries).

Chateau La Pointe Pomerol. I got two vintages of this Pomerol: 2006 and 2009. The Pomerol region is known for being very velvety and silky. I am most excited about the 2009. We tasted this vintage in wine class and it was love at first taste! If only I had more space to bring back a few more bottles of this…

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Two red Bandols from Provence: Chateau Sainte Anne 1999 and Domaine Tempier La Tourtine 2011. Red Bandols are the perfect wines to serve with hearty and rich foods. When the weather gets chilly in Abu Dhabi (well, the weather hardly gets chilly in Abu Dhabi but we do suffer regularly from blasting A/Cs), I will serve these wines with some roasted lamb or stew.

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A rosé Bandol from Domaine Tempier 2013. Provence is famous for its rosés and Domaine Tempier is one of the best rosé makers out there. It’s a mix of a few grapes with the majority being Mourvèdre (other grapes include Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, and Syrah).

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Le Soula Cotes Catalanes 2010. A bottle recommended by my friend Kelly that I met in wine class. This is an IGP wine (Indication Géographique Protégée, which is a classification that denotes geographic origin) that is from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, near the border with Spain. Can’t wait to try this out!

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Mas Champart Saint-Chinian Clos de la Simonette 2011. Made from one of my favorite grapes: mourvèdre! This bottle was recommended to me by the sales person at La Dernière Goutte in Saint Germain when I told her that I loved mourvèdre.

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Meandro de Vole Meao 2011. A Portuguese Douro – a gift from my awesome brother. Douro wines come from the northern part of Portugal, which is a mountainous and rugged region (the fortified Port wine also comes from this region). Douro reds are very dark and full-bodied. I haven’t had this wine so I’m very excited to discover it.

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Another gift from my brother: a German Riesling (he lives in Germany). Battenfeld-Spanier 2010 Riesling from Molsheim. My brother explained to me that this Riesling is special because it spent some time in oak – this is very rare for a Riesling!

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Adonis La Grapperie 2012. I got this bottle from Septime Cave and asked the sales person to give me a red wine from France that is not very typical in terms of flavor and aroma profiles. He picked this bottle out for me. I’m very curious to find out what flavors and aromas this wine has.

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Vini Viti Vinci Irancy 2012. I had dinner at a fantastic restaurant recently – Le Chateaubriand in the 11th arrondissement. The sommelier recommended a bottle of Bourgogne Coulanges la Vineuse 2012 by Vini Viti Vinci. I absolutely fell in love with this wine. It smelled so amazingly delicious and tasted even better! I loved the aromas so much that I pretty much had my nose in my wine glass the entire meal.

Vini Viti Vinci always has very interesting drawings on their labels 😛

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I had to get that bottle to take back with me. While I couldn’t find exactly the same one, I did manage to track down an Irancy made by the same wine maker and according to the salesperson, it’s even better than the Coulanges la Vineuse! Yay!

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Two Madirans to serve with the foie gras that I’m bringing back with me. The first is the 2012 Chateau Barrejat that I paired with the fresh foie gras in an earlier blog entry (See: Madiran wine and fresh foie gras? Move over Sauternes!) The second is a 2010 Chateau Aydie, made by Famille Laplace. Since I am unable to take fresh foie gras with me to Abu Dhabi, I will be serving these bottles with mi-cuit and entier foie gras.

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A 2009 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine from the granite rich Clisson in the Loire Valley. I paired this wine with oysters in a previous entry and it was delicious (See: Four whites and oysters Galore!) I’m saving this wine for when I learn to shuck my own oysters. They sell my favorite oysters– the famous Gillardeau – at one of the grocery stores in Abu Dhabi. As far as I know, they don’t shuck them for you at the store. But learning to shuck oysters sounds like a great project to take up this year 🙂

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And finally two very special bottles of Champagne: 2002 Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut. This is my favorite find of the summer! The Egly-Ouriet is another wine that I featured in an earlier blog entry (See: Champagne and Potato Chips). It is so spectacular that I will definitely be saving these two bottles for a really special occasion!

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It was really fun to shop for these wines but now comes the tough part: Figuring out how to transport all of these wines back to Abu Dhabi! 😛

A tasting tour of Alsace: the land of Riesling and Gewurztraminer!

I just came back from a trip to Alsace – one of my most favorite wine regions in France! It’s the land of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Two fantastic grapes!

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Wines in Alsace can range from bone dry to sweet, though most tend to be on the dry or off-dry side. The cooler climate of Alsace produces wines that are quite acidic. In good Alsatian wines, this acidity makes dry wines very refreshing. As for sweet wines, acidity plays a key role in balancing them and making them much more enjoyable to drink. Sweet wines can be really great if they are well-balanced!

Another benefit of the Alsatian climate is the sunshine. The slopes on which the vines are planted face southeast, giving them maximum sun exposure. This access to sunshine allows the grapes to ripen fully, which in turn produces very rich, generous wines.

In this post, I will be focusing on my two favorite Alsatian wines: the Riesling and the Gewurztraminer (or the “Gewurz”), which are both highly aromatic. The Riesling is characterized by sweet, fruity and flowery aromas as well as some lime flavors. The Riesling grape is very terroir expressive, which means grapes that grow in different areas will reflect different characteristics. And there is so much variety in the type of soil and minerals that exist throughout Alsace, making the Riesling a very versatile and complex wine.

The Gewurz has very distinct and rich profile. The most obvious aroma is that of lychees. There are also some flowery notes such as roses. People often liken the smell of the Gewurz to Turkish delight. It often has stone fruit flavors with bits of gingery or cinnamonny spices (Gewurztraminer actually means spicy traminer, where traminer refers to a grape variety).

I have three days in Alsace and I am so excited to taste all the wines! Our base in the wine country is Tuckheim, a medieval village famous for its storks. In the picture below, you can see the nest and a stork or two on the roof of the entry gate.

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Turckheim is strategically located in the middle of the wine country, making it easy to visit different wine makers. It is also home to one of my favorite wine makers: Zind Humbrecht, which unfortunately was closed for their annual August vacation so I could not visit on this trip. But on the bright side, this gives me an excuse to go back to Alsace 🙂

I am visiting three wineries on this trip: Domaine Weinbach, Domaine Hugel et Fils, and Domaine Barmès Buecher.

Domaine Weinbach is a biodynamic winery that sits right outside of the village of Kaysersberg. The estate is owned by the Faller family, which is headed by three women: Collette Faller and her two daughters Laurence and Catherine. Laurence Faller was Weinbach’s winemaker for more than 20 years and had the reputation of a great and precise wine maker. Unfortunately, she passed away in May of this year of a suspected heart attack. I met her sister, Catherine Faller, who guided me through the tasting. I tasted six wines:

The Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2013

Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2013

Pinot Gris Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2013

Gewurztraminer Cuvée Laurence 2011

Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum 2011

Such delicious wines! I really enjoyed my tasting at Domaine Weinbach. The picture below is taken in the Weinbach home.

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I bought two bottles to take back with me. The first is the Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine. It is a dry wine made from grapes that are picked later, giving it more richness and more flesh. You can really smell the earthiness of this wine. I will age it for quite a few years before I drink it. Another great characteristic about Rieslings is their aging potential!

The second bottle is the Gewurz Cuvée Laurence. This definitely has the sweet aromatic profile of a Gewurz. It has medium sweetness that is very nicely balanced by acidity. As per Catherine’s recommendation, I will serve this with some smoked salmon.

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After the tasting, we walked through the vineyards of the Domaine Weinbach to the village of Kaysersberg.

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Kaysersberg is really picturesque and looks like it came straight out of a Christmas card.

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Next stop was Domaine Hugel et Fils in Riquewihr, another biodynamic winemaker. I tried about seven wines there:

Classic Riesling 2012

Classic Gewurz 2012

Tradition Pinot Gris 2011

Tradition Riesling 2010

Riesling Jubilee 2008

Grains Nobles Gewurz 1998 and 2005

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I really loved the Jubilee Riesling 2008. It is from the grand cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. (Grand Crus in Alsace refer to the best still white wines that are made with grapes from particular vineyards. Schoenenbourg is one of 51 grand cru vineyards in Alsace.) It has very nice and pronounced acidity, yet is also very round and generous. I bought a bottle of this Riesling and plan on serving it with a seafood dish.

My favorite from Hugel was the Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN) Gewurz 2005. This grand cru wine is produced from over-ripened and shriveled grapes in the Sporen wineyard. Each grape is selected and picked by hand – they don’t take the entire bunch but select each grape from the bunch individually. What makes this wine stand out is that the grapes have been subjected to the botrytis fungus (or noble rot). This adds so much more complexity to this wine. Grapes that have been affected by botrytis have a delightful bitter orange rind aroma. Botrytis also gives them a super long aging potential. Here is what botrytized grapes looks like:

botrytis

This is a sweet wine but an incredibly complex one that has layers of flavor from over-ripening and botrytis. And of course, this being Alsace, it is not overwhelmingly sweet as the acidity does a great job of creating a perfectly balanced wine. I am generally not a huge fan of sweet wines but this wine blew me out of the water! It is such an amazing wine!!! I will definitely be saving this for a special occasion.

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Yes, I’m definitely a happy customer.

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We hung out and explored Riquewihr in the afternoon before returning to Turckheim. Riquewihr looks even more like the quintessential Christmas village.

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The next day we visited the biodynamic Domaine Barmès-Buecher in the village of Wettolsheim. Wettolsheim is only about 4 km from Turckheim so I decided to walk there and enjoy the scenery. It was a great walk!

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My visit to the winery was very enjoyable. I talked to Geneviève Buecher, who along with her late husband François Barmès started this winery in the 1980s. She was very nice and super friendly. I tasted six of their wines, four of which were in the grand terroir category, or their non-grand crus:

Riesling Herrenweg 2011

Riesling Rosenberg 2011

Pinot Gris Rosenberg 2011

Gewurztraminer Rosenberg 2011.

I really loved the Rosenberg Riesling. It has so much roundness and intensity as well as minerality to it. I bought a bottle of this.

The other two wines that I tried were grand crus:

Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 2009

Riesling Grand Cru Steingrubler 2009

I really enjoyed both of these wines. I know that 2010 was a better year than the 2009 so I asked whether they still had the 2010 in stock. They only had it for the Hengst so I bought a bottle of that. But not wanting to miss out on the delicious Steingrubler, I also got a bottle of that in 2009.

 

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This concluded my wine tasting tour in Alsace. Seven great wines to take back with me! I really love my selection of Rieslings and Gewurz and I can’t wait to start pairing them with food.

Even though I’m back in Paris now, this was just a taste of Alsace! When I go back for another wine tasting tour, I will be visiting more wineries, such as:

Albert Boxler

Albert Mann

Zind-Humbrecht

Bott Geyl

Trimbach

Kuentz Bas

Seppi Landmann

Vignoble Klur

And to end things on a yummy note, I want to share photos of some of the amazing food in Alsace!

The spice bread that is in halfway between bread and cake, in terms of consistency and sweetness. It is apparently served with foie gras and fig preserves around here (instead of brioche). I bought a few loafs to take back home with me.

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The delicious mirabelles, which are most famously grown in Alsace.

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The sweet and tart red currants.

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Tarte Flambée, a very thin pizza-like concoction made with crème fraiche, and a variety of toppings – in this case, summer vegetables, roquette, and cured ham.

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And of course, a trip to Alsace wouldn’t be complete without eating Choucroute (paired with an Alsace wine, which are always served in the region’s traditional wine glass).

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Madiran wine and fresh foie gras? Move over Sauternes!

A couple of weeks ago, we covered the Southwestern region of France in my wine class. We tasted some beautiful wines such as Jurançon sec, Monbazillac, and Madiran. I’m not too familiar with these wines so it was a very enjoyable and informative class.

What really struck my interest is the Madiran wine. The Madiran is made from the tannat grape, which literally means “tanned” and as one might expect, it produces a very dark wine. In terms of taste and aromas, the Madiran is quite robust and rich. I think the perfect adjective to describe it is “rustic.” These qualities make this wine the perfect accompaniment to the regional cuisine of the Southwest – equally rich and rustic.

Duck and foie gras are key players in Southwestern French cuisine and one of the food recommendations that my wine instructor made for this wine is foie gras! Most people know that the textbook wine pairing with foie gras is Sauternes, a sweet wine from Bordeaux. I’ve had this pairing numerous times and yes, the Sauternes goes so well with foie gras, not to mention Roquefort. I usually open a bottle of Sauternes and serve it with the appetizer – foie gras – and then again at the end of the meal with the Roquefort cheese course. The Sauternes works really well with these two foods but I am very curious to try the foie gras with the Madiran.

I decided to try this pairing out at home in Paris. I always bring back months’ supply of foie gras from Paris – always entier, meaning cooked whole, and always mi-cuit, meaning semi-cooked. I only get the mi-cuit – which has to be refrigerated – because I find that it is much better quality than the canned stuff. However, since my reserves allow me to eat this foie gras throughout the year, I wanted to try a type of foie gras that is not easily accessible to me when I’m not in Paris: fresh, raw foie gras that I can pan sear at home!

I went to La Grande Épicerie de Paris and picked up two slices of fresh foie gras. I scored both of them on one side (just to enhance the appearance) and seared them in the pan. Searing only takes about 20-30 seconds on each side. I also prepared a red wine cherry reduction sauce, which is so easy to make, yet so delicious! Cherries are a classic accompaniment to foie gras. The tartness and the sweetness of the cherries are a great complement to the buttery richness of the foie gras.

Here’s how my food turned out. The first picture is my dinner companion’s plate with a regular amount of cherry reduction. I also didn’t put any cherry decorations on top to better show what seared fresh foie gras looks like.

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And below is my plate. I think you can tell from this picture that I love cherries (it’s my favorite fruit and I have fond memories of picking cherries from the tree in my grandfather’s garden when I was little). I think I may have gone just a tad overboard it with the cherry reduction sauce 🙂 but I ate and enjoyed every drop of it!

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Now for the wine. The Madiran that I’m pairing with these dishes is a 2012 Chateau Barréjat.

bottle and glass

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As expected from the tannat grape, this wine is very dark and concentrated. This wine is so thick that it is actually coating the glass. After I swirl the wine, you can see the tears slowly coming down.

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It has aromas of dark fruits, like cherry, plum, red currant as well as some sweet spices and a hint of chocolate. The taste also mirrors these aromas. So the cherry reduction sauce will be a great match for this wine.

This wine is also very full-bodied because of the fresh tannins. It completely coats your tongue. This is definitely a wine to be enjoyed with a meal. It would be a bit too robust to drink on its own. The juiciness and the richness of the pan seared foie gras will be perfect to tame these tannins and the tannins will do a great job of lightening up the buttery foie gras. At the same time, I definitely want to stay away from salty and savory flavors in the dish as they augment tannins in a wine.

So how did the Madiran work with the fresh foie gras?

All I have to say is, what a wonderful pairing!!! The buttery richness of the foie gras just melts away the tannins that were so strong prior to eating the food. The food makes the wine so much smoother.

As for the foie gras, even though the serving is tiny, it is such a rich food that you definitely need the tannins in the wine to lighten it up. Similarly, the cherry flavors in both the sauce and the wine are a great contrast to the richness of the foie gras and they both work wonderfully to create a lighter and much more balanced meal.

This might be my favorite food and wine pairing to date! It is a perfect example of wine and food simultaneously working together to enhance each other.

I will definitely take a couple of bottles of Madiran with me to Abu Dhabi and serve them with the entier mi-cuit foie gras that I’m also bringing back!

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The picture above doesn’t include goose foie gras by Georges Bruck from Alsace. This is another great foie gras that I always take back with me along with the pictured Vidal and Frères Gourmets.