The flavors of Greece

On my last trip to Greece, I brought back a bottle of Xinomavro: 2010 Alpha Reserve Vieille Vignes (old vines). This is a delicious wine with fruity aromas – dark fruits and cherries – with a bit of spice. It has a lovely texture with a good amount of soft tannins as well as some acidity.

alpha xinomavro

I have written another blog entry on xinomavro (check out Albion Restaurant: Xinomavro with Squid, feta, and Kalamata) and there I discovered that I really love pairing kalamata olives with this wine.

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Salty food and acidic wines pair wonderfully (think champagne and potato chips)! Salt really works well to balance out the acidity in a wine. With the kalamata olives, the xinomavro becomes so much smoother and richer. And the fruitiness of the wine offers a nice contrast to the briny flavors of the olives. Fantastic!

Another food that works well with xinomavro is beets. The acidity in the wine balances the sweetness and the richness of the beets. And the earthiness of the beets is the perfect contrast to the fruitiness of the wine. Of course, I had to add some kalamata olives to my beet dish. So I decided to make a baby beetroot salad served on wilted beetroot greens and topped with kalamata olives and feta.

baby beetroot

I really loved using baby beets because not only is the texture more tender but also the flavor tends to be sweeter. But they are also just gorgeous – I truly believe that we eat mostly with our eyes and I always try to make my food as beautiful as I can.

baby beetroot salad

Now for the main course. To me, lamb is one of the most quintessential Greek dishes and I couldn’t think of a better meat dish to serve with this wine than lamb chops. I kept the fat on the chops for more flavor. This makes the dish richer too but the acidity in the xinomavro is perfect to cut through any heaviness you might get from the fat. I bought some grass-fed, free-range lamb. I marinated it for a few hours in some Cretan olive oil (that I also brought back from my trip to Greece), thyme still on the branch (that I brought back from Turkey), and crushed rose garlic (that I brought back from Paris).

lamb chops

I cooked the lamb chops for a few minutes on each side in an iron cast skillet on the stove. This dish is so easy to make but it’s oh so delicious!

grilled lamb chops

The earthiness of the lamb and its mild gamey flavor (while I do enjoy gamey flavors in general, I tend to opt for mildness with lamb) both work really well with the fruitiness of the wine. And as predicted, the acidity in the wine cuts right through the fat.

Finally as a side dish, I served some roasted baby potatoes with rosemary (to add earthiness).

rosemary roasted potatoes

Throughout this meal, the theme was juxtaposing earthy flavors in the food with fruity elements in the wine. Worked perfectly!

Burger night!

One of my favorite foods is a big and juicy burger cooked to medium rare. Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest things to find in Abu Dhabi restaurants. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of places here where I can get my burger fix, from Shake Shack to the five star venues that serve Wagyu burgers and everything in between. However, they are often overpriced and overcooked (why is it so hard to get a medium rare burger around here?).

After a number disappointments, I finally gave up on eating burgers at restaurants in Abu Dhabi and started to make my own. Since I like my burger patties without any spices or binders or extra flavorings, the choice of meat is very important. I want the meat to shine on its own. So I splurged on the cut and went with an Angus rib-eye. To make a good burger, you need quite a bit of fat. Rib-eye is already quite fatty but I supplemented the fat content with some short rib (30% of the meat mixture). I got the butcher to freshly grind the meat for me. When I got home I formed the patties, making sure to put a dimple in the center so the patties don’t puff up when you cook them:

burger patties

Now for the wine. I can’t think of a better wine to match with a burger than a zinfandel! Zinfandel is a robust red wine from California. A lot of people tend to confuse this with blush zinfandel, which tends to be undrinkably awful. In contrast, red zinfandel is a much more complex wine with intense flavors. I have  a 2012 Turley Fredericks from Sonoma Valley. This is a beautiful wine with ripe dark fruit, spice, and a slight hint of sweetness – this is not a sweet wine by any means but zinfandels characteristically have a hint of sweetness that comes from the grapes. There are also some really nice and velvety tannins. This is such a lovely wine!

turley zinfandel

turley zinfandel label

My friends who joined me for dinner brought over delicious homemade buns for the burgers (baked by @uneebgram).

burger buns

And I made some homemade mayonnaise, which is exponentially more delicious than the store-bought kind.

homemade mayonnaise

I wanted to try various flavors with the wine so I decided to opt for smaller, slider sized burgers, each with a different topping.

trio of sliders

From the right, the first one has feta and beetroot juice infused caramelized red onions:

beetroot feta caramelized onion burger

The second is topped with Wensleydale cheese from North Yorkshire, which is a blue cheese made from cow’s milk:

blue cheese burger

And finally the third has cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, and fried quail’s egg:

quail egg burger

All three sliders were paired fabulously the zinfandel! The burger patty is perfectly rich and fatty: just what you need to pair with a tannic wine. The pairing simultaneously enhances both the food and the wine. First, the tannins in the wine work to cut through the fat in the food; and second, the proteins in the beef are just what you need to soften the tannins (though the Fredericks is already so smooth and velvety that there isn’t much softening that needs to be done).

The toppings allows each slider to work with the wine in a slightly different way. In the first slider, the sweetness of the beetroot infused caramelized red onions mirrors the ripe fruit aromas of the wine as well as complementing the ever slight hint of sweetness in the wine.

In the second slider, the blue cheese adds more robustness to the flavors of the burger and marries well with the sweet elements in the wine (Sweet + blue cheese = heaven). Blue cheese pairs wonderfully with sweet wines and I would not pair it on its own with a dry and tannic red wine (even though I talk about sweet tones in the zinfandel, this is still very much a dry wine). However, I use the blue cheese as a flavor enhancer in the burger. And as an element that adds more power to the dish, it enhances the pairing as zinfandel is quite a robust wine – you should always opt for an equality of intensity between the wine and the food –  without the saltiness of the blue cheese turning the tannins bitter (Salt + tannins = no bueno). And as it turns out, the fruitiness of the zinfandel actually works well to contrast and balance the pungent flavors of the blue cheese.

Finally, the sharp cheddar in the third slider also adds intensity to the flavors and mushrooms are always great for soaking up the tannins in wine and their earthiness always brings out the fruitiness in a wine (you could pair earthy mushrooms with earthy wines too. But pairing them with fruity wines creates a nice interplay of flavors).

As a side dish with burgers, you have to have french fries. I prepared some homemade fries made with sage and thyme. Even though I baked these in the oven, they came out so delicious and crispy that it was hard to tell they were not deep fried. You wouldn’t normally think of adding sage when making french fries but it worked superbly!

sage french fries

It was a lovely dinner that we ended on a sweet note with a delicious homemade dessert that my friends brought (baked by @jessicaelsbethe). Coconut and lime cheesecake with a ginger crust!

coconut lime cheesecake

Delicious food, fantastic wine, and even better company!

Even Mr. Cuteness wanted to get in on the burger action.

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Cooking at home in Paris

As much as I enjoy exploring different restaurants in Paris, a trip to this beautiful city would not be complete without a visit to its markets and food shops. I love cooking in general but cooking in Paris is really special as there are so many interesting products to try and you can find so many fresh and seasonal ingredients. I especially like to use products that are easily available in Paris but are difficult to find (or are super expensive) back home. I took full advantage of all that Paris has to offer and cooked lots of meals at home during my trip  and I wanted to share some of them in this post.

I came across some of the most beautiful chanterelles I’ve ever seen at my neighborhood fruit and veggie stand. Sautée in some butter and they are great in pasta dishes and make a fantastic topping for eggs.

chanterelle mushrooms

And I absolutely love wild smoked salmon (wild salmon is virtually impossible to find in the UAE). Add some crème fraiche, chives, and freshly cracked black pepper, it’s the perfect snack or breakfast. If having wine with it, go for a Gewurz or a Riesling from Alsace or even a fino sherry.

wild smoked salmon

I am actually a huge fan of all seafood and I feel like a kid in a candy store when I visit the fish market. In the winter time, you can find lots of shellfish such as sea urchins, clams, cockles, and oysters (check out my last post on Eating oysters in Paris) everywhere.

sea urchin uni

langoustine

l'ecume st. honore

When I saw the scallops still in the shell, I couldn’t resist – I got some to prepare for that evening’s dinner.

scallops in the shell

The fact that these scallops had their corals attached was a real treat. The adductor muscle, which is the white part of the scallop is delicious on its own but the flavors of the coral are out of this world!

scallops in the shell

I roasted them in the oven still in the shell with a garlicky parsley-butter mixture. Super simple yet super delicious!

scallops in the shell

I got a great wine to pair with this dish: a bottle of Premier Cru Meursault-Blagny. It’s called Pièce sous le Bois and is produced by Domaine Sylvain Langoureau. This is a full-bodied Chardonnay from the Blagny hamlet of the Burgundy region in France. When it comes to buttery dishes, I always prefer to match textures and opt for a full-bodied Chardonnay, which can also take on buttery characteristics to mirror the food. I didn’t have any at the time but this recipe would be even better with some slivered almonds sprinkled on top. The almonds would make the pairing even better as Meursault often has nutty notes. I’ll definitely add the almonds next time…

Meursault-Blagny Langoureau

Because there’s a lot of fat in this dish, I wanted to keep the wine a bit on the fresh side – hence the 2014 vintage. However, you can equally opt for an older vintage as time will make the wine richer and more unctuous and this would also go superbly with the buttery scallops. Whether you go with young or old is just a matter a preference… However it’s important to note that not all Meursaults are drinkable young. Some need a few years in the bottle before drinking and opening them too soon would be a waste. This bottle of Meursault-Blagny had enough acidity to make it really enjoyable despite being very young. And if you like a mature Meursault, you’ll need around 7-10  years of bottle aging, sometimes even longer. That may seem long but a mature Meursault is truly a beautiful wine and I think the proverb “good things come to those who wait” especially applies here. So if you come across a bottle in a shop or have the patience to age some yourself, it’s definitely worth the money and/or time.

An important thing I want to bring up about this pairing is the garlic. Garlic is one of only 4 ingredients in my scallop dish and it can be really difficult to pair with wine as its potent flavor and aroma can easily overwhelm most wines. But I recently stumbled upon the pink garlic from Brittany, which is much more delicate than regular garlic. And rather than including actual pieces of garlic in the dish, I crushed the cloves and flavored the melted butter with it and removed it before putting the scallops in the oven. Garlic is definitely present in the dish but it is subtle and this subtlety allows the dish to work well with the Meursault-Blagny. I really love this Breton garlic and brought a nice supply of it with me to the UAE.

pink garlic

On the other hand, if your dish features strong garlicky flavors, it’s better to go with an aromatic wine that’s also high in acidity – like a sauvignon blanc – and avoid oaked wines.  Obviously the longer you cook the garlic, the less pronounced the flavors and aromas and the easier the dish becomes to pair with wine.

Another food that I can’t resist when in Paris is fresh foie gras! I was lucky enough to be staying right off of Rue Daguerre in the 14e arrondissement, which is one of my favorite streets in Paris. This street still has small, specialized shops that were so common in Paris before the proliferation of supermarkets.

rue daguerre

One of them is a shop that focuses on foie gras and other specialties from the Périgord region of France.

gastronomie du perigord

So I got a whole duck liver, which weighs 1 lb … because why not?

fresh foie gras whole

I simply sliced the liver, scored it, and then pan seared it. I also made a red currant and rosemary compote, which added sweet, tart, and earthy dimensions to the dish.

seared fresh foie gras

What we couldn’t finish of the liver, I decided to make into foie gras au torchon. I’ve always been intimidated by this but it turns out it is quite simple, though it takes about 4 days to make. I really liked how this turned out and I will definitely be making it again.

foie gras au torchon

The classic pairing with foie gras is sweet wine, such as a Sauternes. But if not in the mood for a sweet wine, it will also pair nicely with a rich chardonnay. But with foie gras, it’s better to opt for an older Meursault. So we tried a 2010 by Albert Bichot (I actually would’ve preferred an even older vintage had I had one on hand – at least a 2008 – but c’est la vie.  Though not as mature as I would have liked, the 2010 still worked well with the foie gras).

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If you don’t have an old Meursault, a Condrieu would also work very nicely. Even a St. Joseph or a Madiran (check out my post on Madiran with fresh foie gras for more information on this pairing) are great choices if you want to avoid whites all together.

Of course, I can’t go to Paris without frequenting the amazing cheese shops! I went to Fromagerie Quatrehomme quite a few times. This is such an amazing shop that even if you only need 1 cheese, you’ll end up coming home with a lot more. Case in point is the photo below: I only went in to buy the wedge on the right… 50 euros later…

fromagerie quatrehomme

A real special cheese that’s in season in the winter months is Mont d’Or – a raw cow milk’s cheese. What makes the Mont d’Or special is that it’s baked in the oven and becomes delightfully ooey gooey! Because it is quite rich, it is only popular in the cold winter months.

mont d'or cheese

Get some crusty bread to serve with the Mont d’Or and you’re all set. Luckily, there’s a Moisan bakery right off of Rue Daguerre. I love Boulangerie Moisan – not only is everything delicious but also organic and really fresh. They bake throughout day and I’ve gotten piping hot breads just out of the oven plenty of times.

fig bread

You can pair a few different wines with this cheese but my favorite is champagne. Mont d’Or is mostly served for special occasions and pairing it with champagne makes it even more special while the acidity of the champagne helps to cut down on the richness of the cheese so you can keep on eating 😉 I got a bottle of non-vintage Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée. I love their rosé champagne and the white did not disappoint. Delicate bubbles, nutty, with a hint of toastiness.

bruno paillard champagne

If not in the mood for champagne, you can also opt for a white from the Jura region of France.

And of course, we can’t forget about dessert! We had a fabulous bûche from Cyril Lignac, made with coconut, almonds, banana-passion fruit compote, and chocolate.

buche de noel cyril lignac

And it is also candied chestnut season and I love these chocolate covered ones from Pierre Hermé.

candied chestnut pierre herme

While at Pierre Hermé, I also had to try the Flocon Ispahan. It is a macaron based dessert made with rose, lychee, and raspberries. Almost too pretty to eat. Almost…

flocon ispahan pierre herme

It was a lovely trip to Paris and from now on, I definitely plan on spending more time here in the winter. Such amazing food… And you can’t beat the gorgeous Parisian sunrises, which happen after 8am in the winter so no need to set the alarm 🙂

paris sunrise

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account: @thatperfectbottle

Oystermania in Paris!

I spent the winter holidays in Paris. It was such a wonderful time to be there. The city gets festive, lights up for Christmas, and the food is out of this world!

Around the holidays, some of the foods that the French love to eat include foie gras, smoked salmon, scallops, bûche de Noël (or yule log), duck, roast chicken, mont d’or cheese, etc. Oysters are a particular favorite. And for good reason – it is prime oyster season in the winter and you can find them everywhere in Paris! Being an oyster lover, I ate as many as I could during my trip. Here is my list of the best spots to eat oysters in Paris (in no particular order):

1. L’Huîtrade: A tiny little spot in the 17e arrondissement just off of l’Arc de Triomphe. Owned by Guy Savoy.

I started out with the tartine des alers, which is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life! Toasted rye bread topped with an oyster tartare (the tartare is dressed with some lemon and spring onion). I’m still dreaming about this dish. Yum!

l'huitrade oyster tartare

Then I had les trois huîtres en préparation froide – three oysters, each prepared differently: the left one has the same tartare as the tartine and but is also topped with some seaweed granita; the middle one is prepared with an escabèche sauce and topped with tapioca pearls; and the oyster on the right is one of Guy Savoy’s signature dishes – an oyster gelée.

l'huitrade 3 oysters

Finally, le “grande huître”, which literally translates to “the big oyster” but is really a play-on-words meaning the big eight, or one oyster from each of the eight kinds that they offer on the menu. From left to right: Seven by Tarbouriech, Royale no. 2 by Hervé, Spéciale no. 2 by Tarbouriech, Perle de l’Impératrice no. 3 by Dupuch, Spéciale no. 2 by Gillardeau, Fine de Bretagne no. 2 by Cadoret, and Belon no. 0 by Cadoret.

l'huitrade le grande huitre

Lovely little spot and the server spends a lot of time explaining the dishes and each oyster. And I really liked eating 8 kinds of oysters at once, which allows you to compare the different flavors.

2. L’Huîtrier: A small neighborhood spot in a very charming part (Poncelet) of the 17e arrondissement. Filled with locals and has very friendly service.

l'huitrier sign

We ordered a dozen oysters (two different types: Tarbouriech and Normandes) as well as some cockles, which are so firm and sweet – I absolutely love them!

l'huitrier oyster platter

Tarbouriech oysters come from the South of France and are farmed using  solar tide technology (using solar panels to create tidal movements, which are rare in the Mediterranean). They are known for their pink shells caused by the sun’s rays and their firm flesh. Sweet and iodine.

tarbouriech oyster

Spéciales Normande – I forgot to ask which part of Normandy these were from :/ though most likely from Isigny. They are fleshy yet super firm.

normandie oysters

3. L’Écume St. Honoré: This place started out as strictly a seafood shop but they eventually opened a tiny area in the back for eating fresh oysters on the spot. Frequented by locals and tourists alike. You can still buy fresh seafood to take home from the front.

l'ecume st. honore seafood

l'ecume st. honore seafood

I had the Eméraude oysters, which come from Marennes d’Oléron in the Atlantic coast of France. “Eméraude” means emerald, named so because of their beautiful green flesh. They get this green color from a microscopic algae. Iodine in taste and very fleshy.

emeraude oyster

I also had some cockles.

l'ecume st. honore oysters cockles

And some scallops, which they serve as “dessert” 😉 They come with the coral attached – such a rare sight in the US or in the UAE.

l'ecume st. honore scallop carpaccio

These scallops from Brittany are harvested by hand – a much more humane method than using a dredge (which can be very stressful for the bivalves).

After my lunch, I decided to buy some scallops to prepare for that night’s dinner. I bought them still in the shell but I had the shucker open and clean them for me – he even showed me how to do it so I can attempt it myself next time.

l'ecume st. honore seafood

4. Bar à Iode: A popular little spot on Boulevard Saint Germain in the 5e arrondissement. Lots of local here.

bar a iode

They have different things on the menu, including a seafood terrine – delicious! This is not a great photo but here it is:

bar a iode seafood terrine

Then the oysters: St. Vaast and Cancales. St. Vaast are from Normandy. Fleshy and iodine, they are most characteristically nutty (hazelnut). Again, this is not the best photo:

st. vaast oysters

Cancales are some of my favorite oysters. They are from Brittany (they take their name from the town where they originate) and they are at their prime year-round. They are deliciously firm and salty and you can smell the sea. History has it that even Louis XIV had his oysters brought to Versailles from Cancale. And they are always gorgeous and photogenic:

cancale oysters

5. L’Écailler du Bistrot: “Écailler” means oyster shucker and the restaurant name translates to the “Shucker of the Bistrot” and the bistro in question is Paul Bert, which is right next door. L’Écailler is a lot less frequented by tourists than Paul Bert (where English can be all you hear at times). While L’Écailler has a full seafood menu, I generally stick to the raw bar (I hear that the dishes can be a hit or a miss) as the oysters are always spot-on.

L’Écailler is famous for its Utah Beach oysters, which are from Normandy. They are fleshy and sweet. Delicious oysters!

utah beach oysters l'ecailler du bistrot

Spéciales de Belon are from Brittany and I never had these before. I was expecting them to be flat (as Belon is a name given to a variety of flat oysters in Europe) but they are actually “creuse” or cupped-shelled. Firm flesh, iodine in flavor and smells deliciously like the sea.

belon oysters l'ecailler du bistrot

I couldn’t resist trying the scallop carpaccio, served with a lemon purée and shiso leaves. Delicious!

scallop carpaccio l'ecailler du bistrot

6. Huîtrerie Régis: A popular spot in the 6e arrondissement. A mix of locals and tourists. They don’t take reservations so get ready to stand in line for a table in the tiny restaurant (or like me, get there 15 minutes before it opens).

huitrerie regis

Belon no. 00 – Not cheap (64‎€ a dozen) but these are big, fleshy and oh so good!

belon no 00 oysters

And they have the most stunning shells.

belon oyster shell

I’ve actually written an entire blog entry about Huîtrerie Régis a while back. Check it out here: Four whites and oysters galore!

7. Breizh Café: A must-go for galettes and crêpes. But this is also a great spot for those delicious Cancales from Brittany.

Breizh cafe cancale oysters

Always busy and lots of tourists but Cancales are worth the trip to Breizh Café.

This concludes the list of my favorite oyster spots in Paris. And if you don’t feel like sitting in a restaurant, you can get them to go –  almost all of the restaurants on this list do take out. You don’t even have to go to a restaurant to get your oyster fix in the winter in Paris. I was staying right off of Rue Daguerre in the 14e arrondissement  (this street is fantastic for food shopping). The seafood shop there – Daguerre Marée – set up an oyster stand where you can get your oysters (and other raw bar items) to go.

rue daguerre oysters shuckers

You can find stands like this attached to shops and even cafes all over the city. From my super friendly neighborhood oyster shuckers, I got some Gillardeau no. 3 and some sea urchins to take home. Gillardeau from the Atlantic Coast are famous for being less briny, super fleshy, and nutty.

gillardeau oysters

Just plate them up and enjoy 🙂

take out oysters paris

In the winter time, you can even find oysters in bars like Le Baron Rouge or Le Mary Celeste. For instance, check out this photo from Le Mary Celeste Instagram account, which looks out of this world.

Now time for the wines! What to drink with oysters? There are a variety of choices. Even though white wine is the most common, you can even go with a rosé or a red (as long as it’s fresh and light). Generally, as long as the wine is high in acidity and low in tannins, it’s a good choice for oysters. I personally always opt for whites and among them, my favorites are:

Sancerre: I really like Domaine Vacheron and François Crochet.

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine: Especially if it’s made with the “sur lie” method (which gives it a more complex character), such as Amphibolite by Landron. And if you can get a hold of some Muscadet from Clisson (which gives the wine lots of minerality), such as Domaine de la Pepière, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Other whites that are good choices are Champagne (dry and non-vintage) and Chablis (as long as it is light and young).

Don’t miss my next post on eating during the holidays in Paris (a non-oyster post) – coming soon!

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

Brangelina’s latest venture in Provence

Today I’m trying out Brangelina’s latest venture – Miraval rosé. Normally, I would run away from a celebrity wine, but this is a seriously well-made rosé. Obviously, it’s not actually Brad or Angelina who are making the wine, but rather Famille Perrin – the family behind the renowned Château Beaucastel which produces excellent Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. So the stars of Hollywood team up with the stars of the wine world for this rosé!

Miraval is a Côtes de Provence rosé, which is typically light and dry and can be enjoyed with light foods like salads and seafood or on their own as an aperitif. This is the perfect wine to drink on a hot summer’s day!

Miraval doesn’t come in a typical Provence bottle or even a regular wine bottle – the shape resembles rather that of a Ruinart Champagne.

DSC01241 - bottle.jpg

It’s not just the bottle that’s attractive. The color of the wine is in itself gorgeous – a bright copper color, similar Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé, which has got to be my all time favorite rosé. (See: Welcoming summer, Provence style! to read my recent post on that wine.)

DSC01249Note to self: Buy some smaller wine glasses. These glasses are as big as the bottle!

I’m drinking a 2014, which is very fruity with dominant aromas of mature red berries, especially strawberries (on the macerated or candied side). The mouth is round and smooth; yet it is balanced very nicely with acidity, giving it a lot of freshness. Not as complex as Domaine Tempier but definitely more so than the average Provence rosé. This is a well-made wine (even Robert Parker gave it 91 points)! Though not cheap. I paid about 18 or 19 € for this bottle at the duty-free (and I imagine it’s more expensive at the stores – it costs a whopping 150aed in Abu Dhabi, which is roughly 40 bucks). Even at the duty-free price level, it is a bit more than what I would normally pay for a Provence rosé, even if this bottle is above the bar. I guess the Brangelina brand doesn’t come cheap. But having said that, even at this price, I would purchase this wine again.

Now for the food! As a said in the beginning, this is not strictly a food wine and I could easily drink it on its own or just with some olives if I’m sitting in a bar. I have some fantastic green olives from Turkey that are salty yet light because the brine has lemon juice and wedges. These olives worked really well with the wine.

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I’m actually loving all things salty with this wine. In order for salt to work with wine, it’s important to choose a wine that’s low in tannins (in the case of reds) and high in acidity, which this wine is.

I’m also serving some lakerda (or salt cured bonito) that I brought back from my last trip to Greece. Unlike a typical lakerda, this one is also smoked. Smoked fish generally pairs well with rosés because smoky elements in the food complements fruitiness in wines superbly.

I am also really loving a bit of spice with this wine because it provides a nice contrast the dominant sweet aromas and the fruitiness of the wine. So I sprinkled some cracked black pepper on the lakerda. At the same time, it’s important to keep the spiciness of the food on the mild side; otherwise the heat will overpower the wine.

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A variety of seafood dishes besides the lakerda would go really well with the Miraval. I decided on a tuna crudo dish that I’m serving with wasabi oil, sliced radish, and greens. I included the wasabi oil and the radish in the dish to provide the light spicy elements that go so well with the Miraval. I loved this dish! And it is so easy to prepare.

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I could have easily served salmon instead of tuna and it would be have worked just as well with the wine. And with both fish sashimi, sushi or tartare would’ve worked equally well. However, if you decide to opt for seared or grilled fish rather than raw, I think a bolder rosé or a red – especially pinot noir and chinon; or even syrah if there are enough char marks – would work better.

Rosé wine also surprisingly goes really well with middle eastern foods, like hummus and eggplant dip. I am very lucky to be living in a country where Lebanese food is ubiquitous. I got some take out from my favorite spot, which just happens to be next door to me 🙂 This place makes my favorite hummus in Abu Dhabi.

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And the moutabal, which is a fire-roasted eggplant dip made with tahini.

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The smokiness that comes from the roasted eggplant works especially well with the rosé, similar to the smoked fish. They usually serve moutabal with pomegranate seeds and this is exactly as a result of how well smoky and fruity flavors work together.

Finally the raheb, which is a lighter roasted eggplant salad with olive oil, tomatoes, and peppers.

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To add a bit of spice, I sprinkled some piment d’espelette to the dips. Piment d’espelette is a mild chili powder made from the Basque region of France. The added spice from the piment really made the pairings amazing!

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Rosé is such a versatile wine that depending on the style, it can go with such a wide variety of foods. And it is my favorite summer drink (and it’s always summer in Abu Dhabi) so what better way to spend the warmer months experimenting with different rosés and foods and see which pairings work well and which do not! The semester is just about to end and I think I’m gonna make this my project for the winter break. There’s nothing better than having a glass of rosé and enjoying the views.

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For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

A delicious trip to Greece

I just came back from a fantastic trip to Greece! I went to Athens to visit a very dear friend of mine. Since I’ve already been to Athens twice before, I didn’t do much sightseeing on this trip but I did lots of restaurant-seeing instead 😉

We went to some fantastic restaurants such as the Holy Goat Punk Bistrot. This restaurant features modern Greek cuisine with some eclectic influences. We had the octopus chorizo served with a squid ink sauce and red pepper sorbet.

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Also, the cuttlefish and squid served in a creamy ouzo sauce

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Both of these dishes (and especially the octopus) paired wonderfully with a bottle of Assyrtiko that we ordered: 2012 Nikteri by Koutsoyannopoulos. It is barrel aged, giving the wine deep and rich flavors. This was a divine bottle of wine – definitely much more complex than any Assyrtiko I’ve had before!

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We also went to a neighborhood seafood restaurant called Antonia. We ate so much food! We ordered lot of dips, such as skordalia (garlic & potato), tirokafteri (spicy feta), and tzatziki. And the hand cut fries looked so good that we just had to get some:

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Fried zucchini that we dipped in the tzatziki:

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The grilled jumbo shrimp:

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Each shrimp was more than 100 grams. Wowza!

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We paired all of the food with the house wine, a light and crisp white wine which worked wonderfully to lighten up the rich and fried foods that we were eating. When eating fried foods, you always want to opt for refreshing wines that are high in acidity to cut through the grease from frying.

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We also tried a Cretan restaurant named Dimaratis. In this restaurant, the thing to drink is raki, a clear brandy made from distilled grape pomace (which we drank so much of that night!) and Cretan wine, which was not bottled and is darker, tea-like color.

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Cretan food is super interesting. I had snails baked with rosemary in a vinegar based sauce. You got a whole plate of them that you had to eat Cretan style: crack the shells with your teeth and pull out the snails. No silwerware needed.

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We also had french fries served with staka, which is a super creamy sauce made with sun-kissed goat milk’s butter. The way staka is made is so interesting: once you collect the fat from the milk, you leave it out in the sun for 4-5 days!

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And crumbed mizithra cheese with thyme and green olive oil from Crete.

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That olive oil was amazing! So amazing that I just had to bring some back home with me. My friend talked to owner to ask him whether he would sell us some. He said yes, but the only size he had available were 5 liter tins. I said, sure! He sold the 5 liters for 25 euros. What an great deal! I was so excited about this purchase that I had to do a photo session with it when I got back to Abu Dhabi.

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Besides Athens, we spent a couple of days in Arachova, where my friend’s mother owns the most picturesque stone house.

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While I was there, it was also October 21, 2015 so we had to do a Back to the Future marathon to commemorate Marty McFly time-travel to that day. It was a bit chilly that day so we lit up the fireplace, prepared lots of meze, and drank some amazing wine while watching the movies. A perfect evening!

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We made amazing breakfasts each morning. I especially loved the fig preserves that my friend’s mom made and I ate that with toast every morning:

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Nearby is Galaxidi, which is a town by the water. We did a daytrip to Galaxidi and ate at a great seafood restaurant called Skeletovrachos. As usual, we ate so much food!

The taramasalata was mixed with avocado. So yummy!

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Of course, we had to have the grilled octopus:

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And the grilled sea bass, which was so scrumptious!

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So much so that the local dog couldn’t keep his eyes off of it:

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The sparrows were also keen on trying some of our food.

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And of course a carafe of the house wine:

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On the drive back to Arachova, we stopped by a shop that sells his own shellfish. We bought mussels and cockles for next day’s lunch.

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We made two dishes, first of which was the cockles cooked in a garlicky white wine sauce and served with whole-wheat pasta – known in Italy as spaghetti alla vongole.

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Second, mussels cooked in an ouzo sauce with dill.

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I paired my mussels with a glass of ouzo rather than wine. Perfect!

All of these pictures are but a small fraction of all of the food that we ate in Greece (for more pictures, check out my Instagram account). Greek food is simply fantastic and the wines are great! And I had to bring back as much of it back with me as possible.

Of course, I stuffed my suitcases with as much wine as I could fit. I brought back a few bottles of Assyrtiko from Santorini, which is really versatile white wine that you can pair with a variety of foods. The obvious choices are seafood (especially shellfish) and also squid and grilled octopus.

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And some bottles of Xinomavro, which is an inky and dark red wine that is tannic yet refreshingly acidic from Northern Greece that I really love! Xinomavro pairs really well with spiced meatballs, meatloaf, especially if made with lamb. I also really love pairing kalamata olives with xinomavro, as long as the wine is not too tannic.

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A couple of bottles of Malagousia, which is a highly aromatic wine that pairs beautifully with fried zucchini (a dish that I fell in love with at Antonia restaurant, which I will definitely try to make at home).

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And some sweet wine from Samos. Samos is famous for its sweet wines, and rightly so – they’re really delicious!

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I also bought some homemade wine that they fill inside plastic bottles when you order – I really love these homemade wines; they are simple yet delightful! I got a bottle of the crisp Moschofilero and the off-dry Moscato (which pairs really well with feta).

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Then the cheese! Two kinds of feta and some local cheese from Arachova. Yum!

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Some white tarama, or salted fish roe, which I will use to make homemade taramasalata. Can’t to try making this!

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Lots of preserves! From left to right: young walnut (with the shell), squash, fig, and cherry.

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And of course, some dried herbs. From left to right, verbena, oregano, savory (or thesprotia), and olive leaves (not sure hot to cook with olive leaves yet but I will experiment).

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This was such a wonderful trip to Greece and I can’t wait to go back!

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

A trip to the wineries of the Loire Valley

Yesterday, I was looking over my pictures from my trip to the Loire valley. We went there for a few days in July to visit some wineries and do wine tastings. The Loire Valley is a great destination because not only is the scenery absolutely gorgeous but it has some amazing and refreshing wines, that often times do not get exported out of France. At the time, I didn’t have time to write up a blog entry on the trip but now I think that it would be a shame to not share it. So even though this entry is a couple of months late, here it is!

The Loire Valley is a vast region that can be split into three sub-regions: 1) the Upper Loire, known for its mineral driven whites made from the sauvignon blanc grape, namely Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé; 2) the Middle Loire, a diverse wine area where the cabernet franc and chenin blanc grapes thrive; 3) the Lower Loire, known mostly for the Muscadet made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape (which pairs wonderfully with oysters).

We chose to go to the Middle Loire because I really wanted to explore the wines of Bourgueil, Saumur, and especially Savennières. The Middle Loire is only a two-hour drive away from Paris so we rented a car. We left in time to stop at le Bon Laboureur in Chenonceaux for lunch. I had the brill with seaweed tartar sauce and artichokes.

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We then continued on to Bourgueil. We visited two wineries: Yannick Amirault and P-J Druet. Amirault produces wines under both the Bourgueil and the St. Nicholas de Bourgueil appellations and I bought a nice selection of both. When I returned to Paris, I paired one of the wines – La Petite Cave – with a homemade seared free-range chicken breast that I served with jus, chives, and red currants. The red currants really brought out the fruity and berry qualities of the Bourgueil. Great pairing!

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P-J Druet spent a long time with us, talking about how he got started in the wine making business, explaining his wines, and opening a variety of different vintages (even very old ones). I bought three of his wines, pictured below. The 2009 Grand Mont was just exquisite!

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Our hotel for the first night was in Huismes and the views from my room were just spectacular!

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That evening we had dinner at La Cave Voltaire in Chinon, where we tried different wines from that area with cheese and pork platters.

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This place had very interesting wines and I bought a bottle of La Diablesse (meaning she-devil) that still needs a couple of years of aging before it is ready to be drunk.

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Next day, we moved on to Saumur. The only winery visited in Saumur was Chateau Filliatreau. On the premises, they had lots of informative displays, including on where cork comes from, which I found really interesting.

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We tasted many bottles and I really loved their 2003 old vine red. Delicious! Of course, I bought a few bottles of this (among others).

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While in Saumur, I really wanted to visit the frères Foucault, two brothers who are 8th generation wine makers at Clos Rougeard. They make reds that are considered to be the best expression of the cabernet franc grape. So much so that they have acquired a cult following of their wines. But apparently nobody gets a visit at Clos Rougeard. So I had to make do with a bottle of their wine we ordered at a lovely gastronomic restaurant in Angers – Une Île. I highly recommend this restaurant!

The wine that we ordered at dinner was a bottle of Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux from 2009 – an excellent vintage for Saumur Champigny.

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This was truly an amazing bottle of wine! I was surprised that such a complex and rich wine can come from cabernet franc grown in a cool climate. Clos Rougeard also makes a wine called Le Bourg, which is supposed to be even better. Next time I’m in France, I will definitely try to score a bottle of each of these wines.

Our next wine region was Savennières. Made from the chenin blanc grape, this, in my opinion, is the most complex white wine produced in the Loire Valley. On our way to Savennieres, we stopped by Domaine Saint Pierre in Chaudefonds-sur-Layon for lunch. The views were unbeatable!

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In Savennieres we went first to Nicolas Joly. Joly has whole ownership of the famous Coulée de Serant plot, which produces the most complex wines from savennières. Savennières is not easy to drink – it requires a lot of time to age and a lot of time to breathe once you open a bottle. And more importantly, this is a food wine and not to be enjoyed as an aperitif. We tasted a number of wines at Joly:

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Our last winery visit was at Damien Laureau. During this visit, we learned a lot about the wine-making process. Unfortunately, he was sold out of many of his more complex bottles so I got a few of his simpler ones, namely Les Genets and Le Bel Ouvrage. Savennières pairs well with boudin blanc and when I got home to Paris, I paired a bottle of les Genets with it. I also had some herb roasted potatoes and celery rémoulade, which all went superbly with the wine.

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Overall, I brought back 24 bottles of wine from our visit to the Loire Valley!  It’s time to create meals and dishes that pair well with these wines. Can’t wait 🙂

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For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

How to finish a bottle of sweet wine – Part 2

In the first part of this blog entry, I served a sweet white wine, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, with three different desserts and these pairings worked beautifully.

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In this second part, I’m coming up with the rest of the dinner menu to pair with this wine. The goal here is to be able to finish an entire bottle of sweet wine between two people at a single dinner so none of the wine goes to waste. I know that sweet wines are hard to drink in large amounts and they are also less conventional to pair with savory foods. However, the menu that I came up with works really harmoniously with the wine from start to finish.

First up is the appetizer. A classic pairing with sweet white wine is foie gras. You can go with either goose or duck, the latter having stronger flavors and former being more delicate in flavor yet unctuous in texture. If opting for canned or jarred foie gras, it’s always best to go for entier, meaning the liver was cooked whole, and mi-cuit, meaning it is the cooking time is a lot shorter. The best duck foie gras is made in the Perigord region, in the southwest of France. Perigord is the ultimate duck region!

My favorite duck foie-gras producer is Vidal:

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I’m  serving the foie gras with some homemade brioche. It takes a long time to make brioche from scratch but it is well worth the effort!

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You really can’t go wrong with the foie gras and sweet wine pairing. So opulent and delicious!

For the main course, I got inspired by Asian flavors. Sweet and spicy flavors in food go really well with sweet wine and I decided to make pork tenderloin. I marinaded the tenderloin in Japanese dried red chilies, ginger, garlic, and shallots. I then used the marinade to make the sauce, adding jus and some of the wine – it is the wine that gives this dish its sweetness. I seared the tenderloin and served it with some pea puree, blanched cherry tomatoes, and greens. I loved the interplay of sweet, savory, and spicy flavors.

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The wine worked with this dish for a couple of reason. First, with a spicy dish it’s better to choose a sweet wine, as that will alleviate the heat. You definitely want to stay away from tannic wines as spice accentuates the bitter flavors that come from tannins. Second, sweet foods always pair best with sweet wines, and worst with dry wines (see more on this in Part I of this entry).

Now for the cheese course! When it comes to cheese and wine pairings, one of my favorites is blue cheese and sweet white wine. Such an amazing pairing! The sweetness and the richness of the wine work wonderfully to soften the sharp and salty flavors in the cheese. For this very reason, I also love sweet fresh figs with blue cheese. At the same time, the pungent and strong flavors in the cheese are perfect to moderate the sweetness of the wine, making the wine appear lighter not only in terms of flavor but also texture. For the cheese course, I have a very special blue cheese that I brought back from Istanbul. It is called Obruk cheese and it is aged in sheep’s skin. When you buy it, it still has the skin attached on the outside.

Obruk is drier and saltier than many blue cheeses, such as Gorgonzola or Roquefort and the flavors are more concentrated. I love this cheese! If you take a trip to Turkey, I definitely recommend giving this a try.

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The final course is, of course, dessert, which I covered in Part 1 of this entry. If you haven’t already, check out: How to finish a bottle of sweet wine – Part I.

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account:@thatperfectbottle

How to finish a bottle of sweet wine – Part I

I just got some lovely apricots at the market. I think I got a little too much so I’m going to use them up by making dessert. I rarely make dessert but my goal this year is to be a bit more diverse in the kitchen, so here we go.

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I decided to make an apricot millefeuille. A vanilla pastry cream and apricots sautéed in butter and sugar will go in between each puff pastry layer. To finish it off, I just dusted the millefeuille with a bit of powdered sugar. Delicious!

Since it was the first time I was making millefeuille, I wanted to experiment a bit with how I assembled them.

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And of course, I will pair this millefeuille with a wine. I know most people do not like sweet wines but during dessert course, a sweet wine is a must! If you opt for a dry wine, the sweetness of the dessert will make the wine appear sour-tasting and just unpleasant overall. On the other hand, if you pair dessert with a sweet wine, the relative sweetness of the dessert will actually make the wine appear less sweet. And you should always choose a sweet wine that is balanced with acidity. Definitely no Blue Nuns here! And because you’re pairing dessert with something sweet the sweetness of the dessert will actually reduce the sweetness of the wine, making it appear more acidic and dry.

Since apricot and cream are on the dessert menu, I’m going with a sweet white wine. My choice is from the Bordeaux region: Sainte Croix du Mont. This appellation is from the same region as the famous Sauternes but much more reasonably priced. It is made by Chateau Crabitan Bellevue and the vintage is 2006.

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The color of this wine is gorgeous! I love the aromas in this wine! Honey, apricot, and orange peel. The flavors are also quite nice: it is obviously sweet but very nicely balanced by acidity and it has a slight citrusy bitter finish.

After tasting the wine, I decided to make another dessert to highlight the orange flavors of the wine. I think an orange zest dark chocolate mousse will pair nicely with this wine. I’m topping the mousse with some orange peel confit (which I learned how to make it my sauce-making class this past summer at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris – we were learning how to make duck á l’orange), freshly whipped cream, and dark chocolate shavings. In this recipe, instead of baking chocolate, I used a super high quality organic dark chocolate bar. This is such a decadent dessert!

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Lastly, I also made some orange rice pudding. I simply added some orange zest to the milk along with some sugar, vanilla, and arborio rice. Super simple!

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All three desserts was a lovely match to the wine! I especially loved the chocolate mousse pairing, which I thought was interesting because I would normally go for a sweet red wine, like a port, to pair with chocolate. I thought that the chocolate flavors would overpower the orange flavors when it came to the wine pairing. In addition, I usually avoid pairing bitter foods like chocolate with bitter wines. However, the bitter finish in this wine is offset by enough sweetness (and also the bitter flavors that are in the wine actually closely mirror the orange flavors in the dessert), which explains why the pairing worked well. And this is why I love doing this blog! It’s always an interesting learning experience 🙂

My friend and I really enjoyed the desserts and the wine. However, there is only so much sweetness that I can  handle before going in to a sugar coma. But when we were finished with dessert, we still had more a lot of wine left in the bottle. This got me thinking… Usually between two people, if each person has a glass of sweet wine with dessert, about half of the bottle gets wasted – I don’t eat sweets that frequently so by the time I eat dessert again, the open bottle can easily go bad in the fridge. What to do with the rest of the bottle so we don’t waste any of it (especially since well-made sweet wines are not cheap)?

I decided come up with an entire dinner menu that would pair well with sweet wine. A savory menu where two people would easily be able to finish a bottle of sweet wine without being overwhelmed by sugar. In part II of this blog entry, I’ll feature an appetizer, main course, and a cheese to pair with this wine. Stay tuned!

For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account: @thatperfectbottle

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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For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account: @thatperfectbottle