A couple of days ago, I took a wine and food pairing class at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. These classes are headed jointly by instructors from both the Wine and the Culinary programs at Le Cordon Bleu. It’s super interesting: the chef demonstrates the preparation of a three-course meal while the sommelier discusses the wines that he has chosen to accompany each course, also giving information on the wine maker and the wine region.
The menu featured an appetizer inspired by Niçoise cuisine: stuffed baby vegetables served with rocket coulis, and fennel granita. The stuffing is made with onions, olive oil, bread crumbs, parsley, and pine nuts.
All the wines for the evening were from Alsace – my favorite wine region in France! The appetizer was paired with a 2013 Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois blend made by Domaine Mittnacht.
This wine is super fresh with citrus aromas and minerality. When you taste it, the attack is round before the acidity of the wine reveals itself. The flavors are of citrus fruits, especially grapefruit. The wine finishes with a bit of pleasant bitterness.
The instructor explained the reasoning behind his choice of wine. The appetizer features a lot of vegetables and you need a fruity wine with freshness and enough acidity. Definitely no oaky wines with this dish! At the same time you need a bit of opulence in the wine (as displayed by the roundness in the taste) to stand up to the rich stuffing in the veggies. Otherwise, the wine might be overpowered. While the peppery qualities of the rocket can accentuate the bitterness in wine, the sweetness of the tomatoes and the richness of the stuffing balance this out nicely.
The main course of the evening was a crisp pigeon parcel served with crispy toast topped with an pigeon offal spread, crumbed macaroni, and young spinach leaves.
Pigeon is a red meat that has a slight gamey quality. Yet it has a very silky texture. This calls for a red that is smooth enough to go with the fine texture of the meat but still structured to stand up to the flavors of the pigeon: a pinot noir. The pinot we had is a 2014 made by Domaine Pfister.
Though Alsace is not famed for its reds, this pinot is quite good. There is definitely enough structure and body in the wine to keep up with the pigeon. The best temperature to serve an Alsace Pinot Noir is around 15-16 degrees Celsius, (not less because the more chilled the wine, the more pronounced the bitterness and the acidity become).
This pinot noir is very earthy. The predominant aroma that I get from it is earth and soil. It also has black fruits (especially sour cherry), which is characteristic of a pinot noir.
The wine had enough structure and tannins to work well with the pigeon. At the same time, the pigeon, especially the offal component of the dish, definitely brought out the cherry aromas in the wine. The transformation of the wine before and after the food is really remarkable! Before the food, the earthy aromas dominated. After the meal, as I continued to sip my glass, the primary aromas were definitely fruit driven.
Now on to dessert! It is definitely better to choose a sweet wine to go with dessert. I know that most people are put off by sweet wines but they really work amazingly well with dessert. If you pair a dry wine with a dessert, the relative sweetness of the food will make the wine taste a lot more sour than it actually is. At the same time, the sweetness of the dessert will detract from the sweetness of the wine where the wine will appear less pronounced compared to when it’s drunk on its own. If you are a sweet wine hater, I definitely urge you to give it a try next time you have dessert. You might be surprised as to how much you like it!
There are two ways to achieve sweetness in wines: late harvest or noble rot. The wine that the sommelier chose for dessert belongs to the former category: 2009 Pinot Gris “Clos la Courtille” Vendanges tardives by Domaine Mittnacht.
The dessert was simple – fresh exotic fruits (pineapple, mango, and lychee) served with hibiscus jelly.
The aromas of the wine definitely mirror those of the dessert. You definitely get fruity aromas that are richer and more exotic. There’s definitely pineapple; but also pear and lemon confit. This wine is also balanced very nicely by acidity, which gives it freshness so as to not be overwhelmingly sweet. This is a great wine that could be paired with many other foods, like foie gras (preferably goose foie gras from Alsace), or even Asian dishes like pork with pineapple or chicken with ginger.
This concluded our evening of food and wine pairing at Le Cordon Bleu. I really enjoyed this course and I will definitely be signing up for the next one.
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I can’t think of better wine to drink during summer than a rosé! One of my favorite rosé producing regions is Bandol in Provence. And my favorite rosé maker from Bandol is Domaine Tempier. I’m drinking a bottle of their rosé from 2014. While many rosés are meant to be enjoyed fairly soon after bottling, Bandol rosés can definitely stand the test of time. You can age them for years, if you can resist the urge to drink them. I’m actually aging a 2013 vintage of this rosé – we’ll see how long it will last in the wine fridge before I give in to temptation 😉
This Domaine Tempier is a fantastic rosé! Made with the Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Cinsault grapes – all hand picked. Owing mostly to the Mourvèdre, this rosé is robust in flavor yet still very smooth. This is also a fresh yet supple wine with a moderate level of acidity. Really, this is such a pleasure to drink!
And what a gorgeous color this wine is!
I will pair this wine with another one of my summer favorites: Niçoise salad. Bandol rosés actually go really well with canned tuna. More and more places are making Niçoise salads with seared tuna and if that’s the case, a dry rosé might still work but depending on the preparation technique of the tuna steak, a red might work better. For intance, I definitely prefer a pinot noir with a tuna steak if it is simply seared. However, if I add a pepper crust and grilled vegetables, I opt for a Cornas from the Rhone valley (the pepper in the dish mirrors the peppery flavors in the wine and the charred flavors of the vegetables are always a fantastic match with opulent wines like Cornas).
Here’s my version of the peppered tuna with grilled zucchini and carrots:
That I served with a Cornas made by Paul Jaboulet Aine from 2009. It was a fantastic pairing!
In this entry, I will focus on the Niçoise salad and I will stick to the classic recipe and use canned tuna. And with canned tuna, without a doubt, a Provence rosé is the best choice!
Since the tuna is the star of the dish, I’m splurging on a really nice one from Spain: yellowfin tuna in olive oil made by Agromar.
Besides the tuna, a Niçoise typically includes anchovies, olives, haricots verts, egg, potatoes, and tomatoes all piled on top of a bed of greens. There’s not a consensus as to how an original Niçoise salad was prepared back in the day. Some say it was just raw veggies (meaning potatoes are out and it’s uncooked haricots); others say it was either anchovies or tuna but not both. The classic Niçoise recipe I’m referring to the contemporary recipe as we see it now.
Here’s my version of a Niçoise:
I found some edible flowers at La Grande Epicérie last night and I really wanted to incorporate them into the salad (edible flowers are really hard, if not impossible, to find in Abu Dhabi). So colorful and pretty!
I also sprinkled one of my favorite spices on the eggs: piment d’Espelette, a mildly spicy but immensely flavorful chili pepper from the Basque region of France.
I think the Bandol and the Niçoise salad worked beautifully together! The wine goes especially well with all of the salty and briny elements on the plate. More specifically, the robustness of the wine holds up nicely to the strong flavors of the tuna, the anchovies, and the olives. At the same time the saltiness of these foods works really great with the acidity of the wine – acidic wines and salty foods are a heavenly match (think champagne and potato chips). Yet, this wine is light and fresh enough to go with the veggies and the greens. Normally wines are difficult to pair with salads and many vegetables but the Bandol rosé works well here. And finally the suppleness of the wine complements the olive oil component of the salad really well.
And if you’re in the mood for something more substantial than a salad, you can always go for a pan bannat – the sandwich version of the Niçoise.
Note: It’s been a fantastic first week in Paris! I’ve been eating some amazing food and drinking superb wines! Check out my Instagram page for daily updates on everything that I’m trying in Paris this summer! @thatperfectbottle