A wine to go with every course of dinner: Madiran
The Southwest is one of my favorite culinary regions of France. It is also home to some lovely wines with interesting personality, including the Madiran. The Southwest is a vast region between Toulouse and the Basque country. It is distinct from the Languedoc-Roussilon region (which also produces some of my favorite wines). Besides the Madiran, some prominent southwestern wines also include the Monbazillac, Jurançon, Bergerac, Cahors, among many others. What makes these wines special, in my opinion, is their robustness and rustic quality. At the same time, they also have so much character. To me the Southwest evokes the countryside, farms, and sitting down to a simple yet rich and hearty meal after a hard day’s work like stews, Dordogne pork, and especially duck!
Duck especially features prominently in the cuisine of the Southwest, including such dishes as cassoulet, foie gras, duck confit, and salade landaise. Madiran is one of my favorite wines from the Southwest and it goes especially well with duck.
I’ve already written a post on pairing Madiran with fresh duck foie gras last summer (see: Madiran wine and fresh foie gras? Move over Sauternes!), which has got to be my favorite wine pairing I have done to date! However, since that post was published, I’ve been so amazed by the versatility of the Madiran and how well it goes with so many different dishes that I thought it deserved another post.
I’m featuring a different Madiran today: Chateau Aydie from 2010.
While I didn’t prepare duck confit for this post, it would be my top pairing for the Madiran. The key to finding the perfect match for Madiran wine is rich, fatty, and unctuous foods. Duck confit, where duck thighs are cooked in their own fat (and the Southwest is known for its plump ducks), definitely fits the bill. When I opened my Madiran, It was during a multi-course wine and food pairing party and I wanted to make things a bit easier on myself. Instead of preparing a lengthy duck dish, I opted something much simpler: terrine of foie gras. I know that Madiran goes super well with seared fresh foie gras but I also wanted to see how well it paired with the kind you can find in a jar (hopefully in the refrigerated section of the store). My favorite foie gras is entier, meaning the liver is cooked whole; and mi-cuit, meaning it is half-cooked (and generally contains no preservatives). And my favorite duck foie gras producer is Vidal from the Périgord region (also in the Southwest).
Now, the classic pairing for this kind of foie gras is a sweet white wine – especially Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. When eaten with brioche or spice bread and fruit preserves, foie gras pairs perfectly with the Sauternes. However, any sweet white wine will work nicely. A friend brought back a Moscatel produced by Chateau Ksara from his recent trip to Lebanon and it was a great pairing!
This way of eating foie gras is more on the dainty side. The one word that best describes the Madiran and other southwestern French wines is rustic and I wanted the food to match the style of the wine. So I excluded the fruit preserves and replaced the brioche with crusty country bread.
It was the richness and the unctuousness of the foie gras (it’s almost like butter) that made this pairing a win. Madiran is a powerful red with strong tannins. The tannins are so pronounced that, they coat the wine glass.
Tannins, while they give structure and body to a wine (as well as aging potential), can also make a wine taste harsh. Madiran, because it is such a tannic wine, would be hard to drink on its own – this is definitely a food wine. Strong tannins is not a flaw in the wine, as long as the wine is balanced. Far from it, this Madiran is an excellent wine and the tannins are part of this wine’s style. You need the right food to bring out the best in the wine. The best tannin tamers in food are protein, fat, and richness. Foie gras has all three and it melted away the tannins! It’s really incredible how smooth the wine became once I started eating the foie gras.
Another great tannin buster is mushrooms. They really do a fantastic job of soaking up tannins in wine and the next dish I’m pairing with the Madiran is a mushroom crostini.
I included three types of mushrooms: portabella, shitake, and crimini. I also drizzled some truffle oil at the end (truffles are another specialty of the Southwest). And in order to make the crostini richer, I spread the crostini with a generous amount of butter (amazing fresh butter from the Black Sea region of Turkey that I brought back from my recent trip to Turkey. It was so good that I brought back a whole kilo of it!). Again, the tannins disappeared and the Madiran became so much softer and enjoyable to drink!
Now time for dessert 🙂 Generally, I do not like pairing tannic wines with chocolate, which can also be quite tannic. Tannins in wine + tannins in food = tannin overload (and super dry mouth).
However, I’ve heard of Madiran going really well with ganache and dark chocolate and I just wanted to give this a try. I got an assortment of dark chocolates, especially if it contained ganache.
The creaminess of the ganache gave these chocolates enough fat and richness to prevent the tannin overload. These chocolates were so rich and smooth like butter that they just melted in your mouth – just what was necessary to balance out the tannins in the wine. And because these are dark chocolates, the flavors were strong enough to keep up with the intensity of the wine. I’ve mentioned this before but you always want to achieve an equality of flavor intensity between the wine and the food so neither overshadows the other.
At the same time, the hint of sweetness of the ganache definitely mellowed out the bitterness from not only the tannins in the chocolate but also those in the wine. But dark chocolate is still not too sweet as to make the wine seem overly sour. Sweet foods paired with less sweet wines will make the latter taste sour (that’s why desserts should always be paired with sweet wines).
Another reason why chocolate generally doesn’t work well with tannic wines is that chocolate can be a highly acidic food. Acid in food can make the tannins in the wine feel harsher, making the wine taste more astringent. Again the creaminess of the ganache was definitely a plus in this pairing, precisely because it made the chocolate less acidic. While I would still personally prefer a sweeter red wine (like port) with chocolate, the right balance between the sweetness, bitterness, and richness in these chocolates made it work really well with the Madiran.