An evening of food and wine pairings at Le Cordon Bleu
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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