One of my favorite wines: Vin Jaune

One of the most interesting wines I know is vin jaune, which translates to yellow wine. It is a special wine, made with the oxidative method (rather than the reductive method like most wines are made with) from the Jura region of France. It is made exclusively from the savagnin grape.

It is a well-known fact that oxygen can be bad for wine. It is oxygen that allows the wine to develop and mature. And it is also oxygen that allows wine to eventually turn into vinegar. This is the case for wines that are made using the reductive method.

Oxidative wines are a whole another approach to winemaking. They actually thrive on oxygen. When a reductive wine is fermenting in the barrel, the liquid that evaporates with time – the angel’s share – is topped up with more wine so the amount of oxygen in the barrel can be minimized. On the other hand, with oxidative wines, the angel’s share is left as is and a film of yeast is allowed to form on top of the liquid. The wine develops in the barrel in this manner for years. The oxygen cultivates the yeast, and the yeast is what gives vin jaune its peculiar color, taste, and aroma. Because oxygen is such an integral part of vin jaune, it can age forever. And once you open a bottle, you can keep it for a couple of months, whereas with most reductive wines, it’s better to finish the bottle within a few days of opening.

The color, as the name suggests, is a deep yellow. The aroma is that of a sweet wine. Its signature aroma is nuts. There is also a bit of – for lack of a better word – funk. I think that’s what some people refer to when they say that this wine smells like curry 😉 But despite what the aroma suggests, vin jaune is bone dry, acidic, and intense in taste. Most people are taken aback when they try vin jaune for the first time. They either love it or hate it. I belong to the former camp – it’s actually one of my favorites.

There are a number of villages in Jura that produces vin jaune but the best come from Château Chalon. And, of course, that’s what I’ll be featuring in this post 🙂 Chateau Chalon spends a minimum of six years in the barrel before it can be released for sale.

Another particular characteristic of vin jaune is the bottle it comes in – the clavelin, which holds 62 cl of liquid (rather than the usual 75 cl) and the cork is sealed with wax (while I love vin jaune, I hate trying to scrape the wax off the bottle).

My favorite Château Chalon producer is Jean Macle and I have a bottle from 2003.

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You can see immediately from the picture how rich the color of the wine is. Even though this is not a young wine, I find that a bit of carafing helps to open up the wine. I wouldn’t necessarily do that to an older reductive wine (depending on what stage of its like the wine is at, the burst of oxygen from the carafing process might kill it). However, if there is a lot of sediment in the bottle, I might decant it.

Vin jaune is definitely not an aperitif wine and it demands food. There are two foods that go superbly with vin jaune: chicken with a cream sauce and comté cheese.

The free-range chicken dish I’m making is based on a Joel Robuchon recipe and it actually has vin jaune in the sauce. The sauce also has morel mushrooms, crème fraiche, and egg yolks (I got a little carried away when I was counting my eggs so my sauce is a bit more yellow than it should be). It’s a super quick recipe and takes less than an hour from start to finish.

I served myself the leg:

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And my dinner guest, the breast:

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The chicken turned out very tender and moist; and the sauce was so delicious! Chicken is a versatile food and it can go with either red or white wine. However, when it’s served in a creamy sauce, white wine works best. Especially if the sauce features a particular wine, the obvious choice of wine pairing is that same wine in the sauce. Anytime, you have a food that mirrors the flavors of the wine, it’s a good match.

The vin jaune adds complexity by creating another layer of flavor to the sauce. It’s also a source of acidity in a sauce that may otherwise be too rich with all the crème fraiche. That’s why acidic wines, like vin jaune, and creamy sauces pair really well together. The relationship works both ways: at the same time, the richness of the sauce works to balance the acidity and the sharpness in the wine.

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Now for the cheese course! The classic pairing for vin jaune is comté cheese, also from the Jura region. Comté is a nutty cheese with a slightly sweet finish. Both of these qualities echo the aromas of vin jaune. Another reason why comté works well with the wine is that it is an aged cow’s milk cheese (aging times can vary from 4 to 24 months). Through aging, the comté develops more complex and concentrated flavors, giving it the necessary strength to stand up to the flavors of the wine. This makes an aged comté a fantastic match to vin jaune based on intensity of flavors. One of the most important things about food and wine pairing is matching the intensities of the food and the wine so that neither overpowers the other.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The dessert was simple – fresh exotic fruits (pineapple, mango, and lychee) served with hibiscus jelly.

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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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Welcoming summer, Provence style!

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!

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And what a gorgeous color this wine is!

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

Irancy: a red with rustic charm from Burgundy

Today, I’m paying homage to one of my favorite restaurants in Paris: Chateaubriand. This past summer, I had one of the best meals there in a very long time – seared veal served with chanterelle mushrooms. I will try to recreate this dish and of course I will put my own twist on it. And I have the perfect bottle of wine for this meal! Irancy from the Burgundy region of France, made by Nicholas Vauthier. Vauthier is known for his low intervention winemaking style. For the “La Croix Buteix” he adds the smallest amount of sulphur once the wine goes in the bottle. His wines are produced under the label Vini Viti Vinci. This Irancy “La Croix Buteix” is from 2012. La Croix Buteix refers to the climat, or the particular plot of land on which the grapes are grown.

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Burgundy is famous for its fine and delicate reds made with the pinot noir grapes. It is also famous for producing very expensive wines, such as the grand crus from Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée (and especially the Romanée-Conti, which holds the #1 spot on my wine wish list.). Irancy, while while made with pinot noir, can be blended with up to 10% Cesar, which gives the wine more body and character, creating what some might call a charmingly rustic wine :).

Yet, the Vini Viti Vinci “La Croix Buteix” is still on the light side, not only in terms of aromas but also texture and taste. The tannins are more noticeable than a typical pinot noir from this region and this is due in large part to the addition of the Cesar grape. The tannins are balanced nicely with some refreshing acidity. Due to the natural wine making style, both the taste and the aroma are fruit driven – particularly berries, cassis, and cherry. This is a very interesting wine: you get both sweet and tart fruit notes simultaneously. There are also some spices and pepper (another characteristic of the Cesar grape). Even though this is a fruit dominant wine, there is a little bit of earthiness and minerality (especially flint). Overall, this is a very nicely balanced wine with enough body to give it good aging potential.

It has a beautiful red color, which is another characteristic from the Cesar grape:

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I think veal will pair very nicely with Irancy. A bolder red would overpower the flavors of the veal as it is milder in taste and texture than beef. At the same time, veal has bigger flavors than some of the lighter meats, such as chicken, so it needs a heartier wine than a delicate pinot. In this respect, Irancy, bolstered by the rustic Cesar grape is perfect.

I’m going with veal chops. This cut will not only add more flavor to the dish but also richness, which the acidity of the Irancy will balance nicely. For my veal, I really would have preferred rosé veal. I could not find it. The veal that I’m using is, however, still European sourced.

(Sidenote: The flavors and texture of veal can be quite variable based on whether the animal was milk or grass fed, whether it was allowed to roam, and how young it was slaughtered. That, along with the cut of meat and the cooking method can greatly affect the choice of wine and some might call for a glass of white or a rosé. In this case, because I am serving grilled chops from an older calf that was not confined in crates, a red wine that is not too delicate is a better choice. If Irancy is not available, a bolder pinot or even a Médoc would also work nicely.)

I will serve the chops with onions, rhubarb, and shimeji mushrooms. The onions will add sweetness to the dish, while the tartness of the rhubarb will lighten up some of the flavors. Even without taking the wine pairing into consideration, the interplay of sweet and tart flavors with veal add so many layers of flavor and complexity to the dish. Just delicious!

And especially with this Irancy, these flavors in the food will also echo and highlight the sweet and sour fruit aromas in the wine, which I find to be an interesting and nice characteristic of the wine. As such, I want to bring this characteristic a bit more into the spotlight. Finally, given the hint of earthiness in the Irancy, and the addition of the shimeji mushrooms will also bring out and enhance this earthiness.

I prepared two versions of the dish: one with a sauce and the other without. The sauce is super simple. I just added a bit of stock and butter to the pan drippings.

Here’s is the dish without the sauce:

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And with the sauce:

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I initially wasn’t sure whether the sauce would overpower the wine so I wanted to try the wine with both versions of the dish. However, because the sauce is not too bold in flavor and not too rich, it worked well with the wine. At the same time, it added yet another layer of texture to the dish and enhanced the flavors of the veal. In my opinion, the sauce was a winner!

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