Avoid wine and vinegar. Really?

It’s one of the food-wine pairing wisdoms you will often hear or read : if you want to have a glass of wine with your salad, don’t use vinegar in the salad. Vinegar is said to cause your wine to taste spoiled. Or throw it off balance. This was even one of the things we were taught during our sommelier training.

The thing is : this does not match with my experience. First of all, I cannot eat a salad without a vinegar based dressing. I love the freshness that the vinegar gives to my salad. When it’s summer, you want something refreshing, and just having a splash of olive oil on my salad doesn’t do the trick for me. I need to have that sour kick underneath whatever goodness there is in my summer salad, whether it be ripe tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, you name it. I also like sweet and sour salad dressings, like balsamico vinegar, or vinegar with olive oil and honey, or apple or pear syrup. Plenty of possible combinations there, and they all add a fresh extra layer to your salad. And you know what? There’s plenty of white wines or rosé wines that will work perfectly well with your salad.

When I started the sommelier training we learned the basics of food and wine pairing by combining things such as a green apple with different kinds of white wine, like a fresh sauvignon blanc, a full-bodied chardonnay and a sweet wine. It will probably not come as a surprise that the sauvignon and the apple were the best match. For the very simple reason that both a green apple and a typical sauvignon have high acidity. So they echo each other. The acidity of the sauvignon does not shock you after you just had a piece of green apple. And vice versa. The same goes for fresh goat cheese, which is also high in acidity. It’s for obvious reasons that goat cheese and sauvignon blanc are such an exemplary food-wine pairing. So why would a nice vinaigrette on your salad not work with a fresh white wine?

Today I had a courgette carpaccio with pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, pine and sunflower seeds,  and parsley. The dressing I used was made with olive oil, balsamico vinegar and apple syrup.

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Not only delicious but also pleasing to the eye

I paired it with a lovely chenin blanc from Anjou, in the Loire Valley : the Blanc Ivoire 2016 of Château Soucherie.

IMG_1620I like this wine very much. It has everything I look for in chenin blanc : an almost ethereal minerality that sets the scene for ripe exotic fruit, and even a touch of honey. The ripe aromas of the fruit and the honey contrast with a fresh and zingy mouth feel. There’s plenty of green apple and lemon zest there that beg you to drink this wine in your garden with a nice summer salad. An attractive finish as well, with a touch of wood leaving its print on your tongue.

The wine paired very well with the courgette carpaccio. The dressing of course, but also the pomegranate seeds and the feta cheese offer plenty of elements to echo the freshness of the wine. Nothing offsetting here, no spoiled taste, just summer indulgence…

IMG_1618So don’t hesitate to have a glass of white or rosé with your salad and vinaigrette. Just look for something that’s not too heavy, no oaked chardonnay for example, but something fresh, think sauvignon, chenin, muscadet, albariño, plenty of options. Even unoaked chardonnay will work, if you really wanted to. So go ahead and experiment. And let me now what works for you! Cheers.

Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level

The Alsace uses a concept of “noble varieties” to define which grapes can be used in the areas that are designated as “Grand Cru”. I’ve always wondered what could be meant with “noble” varieties. The grapes that are used to make the highest quality wines, I read everywhere. OK. Riesling is one of those grapes that no one will question, I suppose. But why do the noble varieties in the Alsace include pinot gris and not pinot blanc? Or pinot noir for that matter? And then there is muscat and gewürztraminer, both noble varieties in the Alsace. On the one hand, I’m very happy that there are still regions that want to cultivate the traditional varieties, and that do not massively plant sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. On the other hand, these are not my go-to grapes in general. The grapy character of muscat and the aromas of lychee and rose in gewürztraminer tend to be rather dominant. I like it when a wine invites me to sniff and sniff and sniff again before I even consider having a sip. Then when you do take a sip, the wine sinks in and makes time stop for a couple of seconds. It gives you that whoa-moment that every wine lover wants to experience once every while. I think I have not tasted the right muscats and gewürztraminers until now to experience that. Luckily I recently had a chance to taste the wines of Domaine Lissner…

It was without great expectations that I went to a wine fair in Ghent, called PURr, dedicated to natural and organic wines. I’ve been to a couple of such wine fairs before and had my share of, well let’s say, animal aromas… I don’t mind when they are there a little bit, they can actually add complexity, if you’re open for it… But when it’s too much, it’s just too much, off-putting even. In whites you will then find aromas of apple cider or ashes. It was therefore a nice surprise to taste very fresh and complex wines at the stand of Theo Schloegel of Domaine Lissner. We started off with a muscat that was not grapy at all, and that had a crystal-clear acidic structure. Very refreshing and salivating. It was the gewürztraminer, however, that made me silent for a moment.

IMG_1594This gewürztraminer comes from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim. When Theo poured this wine, his tone became somewhat worried. He said : “Please, take your time to taste this wine, at least one full minute!” After he repeated this one or two times more, I was aware that this wine was a) very dear to him, b) not just a quaffer, and c) that he probably has his share of people who come to wine fairs to down as much as possible. He then said : “You should actually drink this wine in ten years time!”. He then repeated once more : “Really, take your time to taste this wine!”

The first sniff at my glass made it clear from the start : this is indeed not “just a gewürztraminer”. No can of lychees in my glass, but a mineral start, followed by orange, exotic fruit such as pineapple, and a bit of curry powder. Nothing overwhelming, rather a subtle, yet intense nose that makes you sniff and sniff again. The first sip revealed a bit of the spiciness that you can have with gewürztraminer, but again very well dosed. The mouth feel was very round and the concentration of the wine was enormous. You could almost chew on this. Definitely no simple summer quaffer. By then, I could perfectly imagine why this wine should be drunk in ten years time! And also why I needed to take my time… Another interesting thing about this wine is that it is completely dry. Gewürztraminer is sometimes made with a bit of residual sugar to make it off-dry. No such thing here. The remarkable consequence of that is that this wine has a whopping 15,5°C alcohol… Luckily well integrated.

As you might expect, this is the kind of wine that invites to eat with it. I matched this wine with rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad commonly found in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s an eclectic mix of pineapple, mango, bean sprouts, toasted peanuts and, in this version, fried tofu. The dressing is a mix of lime zest and juice, oil, sambal oelek and sugar. A very refreshing, tangy salad, yet at the same time lightly sweet and hot. This turned out to be an absolute winner with the gewürztraminer, because the lime and the chilis added a bit of structure to the wine, while the wine beautifully echoed the mango and the pineapple. A great example of how one and one can be three…

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Hit the ro-jak!

So here we are. All of this goes to show that you just need to keep tasting and exploring! Otherwise you miss out on these hidden gems, made by super passionate wine makers, who put their heart and soul in it. And with stunning results…

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Cheers!

I joined the French Winophiles this month, a group of wine bloggers who publish one article a month on one central topic. Please join our chat on Twitter. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of Alsace wine suggestions from the Winophiles :

 

Riesling with Asian food – an all-time favorite

It’s classic stuff… Riesling with Asian food. If you’re a bit of a foodie, then you surely know that Riesling is an often recommended companion for Asian dishes that are built around sweet and sour contrasts. Riesling basically has very similar characteristics : often you’ll find pine apple, candied lemon, peach, and honey if it’s sweet or evolved. And of course that magnificent acidity that makes that Riesling hardly ever comes across as flat or plump, no matter how sweet the wine is… When the dish has more spicy flavours coming from cardamom, cloves, cumin,… then muscat or gewürztraminer will also be a very good match.

Today I prepared Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian version of a Chinese classic dish : Black pepper tofu. This is one of our favorites here. But mind you, this is an extreme dish, in every possible way! In his recipe, Ottolenghi uses 8 chillies, 12 garlic cloves, three table spoons of ginger, and 5 (!) table spoons of crushed black pepper. It made me laugh when I read his version is already a milder version than the original… I can have a bit of pepper and chili, but I toned things down another notch or two, bringing the quantities down to 4 chillies, 6 garlic cloves and a few whiffs of pepper. Believe me, I found that hot enough.

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There’s a funny anecdote to this dish. You’re supposed to dust the tofu with corn flour to make it a bit crusty when you fry it. I had corn flour, but it was yellow corn flour to make polenta. That’s a much rougher version than the white corn flour, which is so fine you can hardly distinguish a single grain. On the picture above you can clearly see the corn flour I used. Well, this sure gives a crunchy coating! But we actually liked it. By now I’ve prepared this dish quite a few times, and I’ve tried both white corn flour and yellow corn flour. We actually prefer the yellow corn flour as it adds structure to the dish, which is interesting.

The wine we drank with it was a Riesling of Domaine Meyer-Fonné, a winery in the Alsace, France. It was the Pfoeller 2012. That’s a “lieux-dit”, a single vineyard coming from a specific place with the name Pfoeller.  On the website they describe the wine as follows : “The palate has a clean attack, distinguished, and an athletic acidity. As a slowly developing wine this is a riesling without compromise for the enlightened connoisseur.” Well, I can confirm that this wine has an “athletic” acidity (what a nice description, don’t you think?), but as is so often the case with Riesling, the acidity is not disturbing at all. This is a mouthwatering wine, very elegant, racy, complex. I also love the minerality in the nose, and there’s a hint of honey suckle as well. It’s true that this wine is no where near the point that it needs to be drunk. This wine will still develop for many years to come and will still get better, probably developing more mellow flavors alongside the racy acidity.

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The glass is empty and so is the bottle!

The combination worked really well. This black pepper tofu dish was very rich, and the riesling was a refreshing break in between the chili-loaded tofu. If you decide to make this dish and use the original amount of chili and black pepper, then by all means do not hesitate to take a riesling that’s slightly sweet, such as a Mosel Kabinett. It’s wrong to think that such wines are dessert wines. The sweeter versions, think of Spätlese, are indeed good partners for a fruit dessert. But a Kabinett can perfectly be paired with hot dishes and will help not to burn your tongue with the chili and pepper…

If you try this dish out, let me know how that went. Especially if you go for the hot version 🙂

 

 

 

Fish and Tea, please!

The end of my Tournée Minérale, or Dry February is in sight! Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting further with food and tea pairings. I read that green tea pairs well with fish, especially salmon. So I put that to the test. The green tea I had was regular Twinings green tea. I wanted to have pure green tea to be able to really appreciate how it works together with the food.

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Continue reading “Fish and Tea, please!”

Food and tea (!) pairing

Day two of my Tournée Minérale, aka Dry January in February.

During the week I spend quite some time thinking about what I will prepare in the weekend (when I have more time) and, of course, which wine we will have with it. I enjoy those moments looking for interesting recipes and the wine that will fit with it. I can sincerely call those meals the highlights of my week. And when the food wine pairing really works out, when the chemistry works, when the sum is greater than the parts… then I am profoundly happy! I suppose football fans will experience similarly intense feelings when their team scores against their arch rival, or music fans when they are at a concert of their favorite band. It’s all about having a special moment and sharing it with your loved ones. Continue reading “Food and tea (!) pairing”

If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!

Have I told you already I like Italian food? If I haven’t, punch me. I love Italian food! Whenever I have a proper Italian dish, I can’t help wondering how something fairly simple can taste so wonderful. Not that all Italian dishes are easy to make, but many classics are. And when they’re done well, they make me drool.

From time to time I have a go at making a few of these dishes at home. A recipe that gave me great satisfaction is the ragù bolognese of TV chef Antonio Carluccio. This recipe gives me the feeling I’m eating something authentically Italian. Many people in Belgium chuck in a lot more in the sauce, and I used to do so as well. And that’s ok. Everyone has his or her own way of making spaghetti sauce and many of these versions are also really yummy. But try Carluccio’s recipe for once. It’s pretty good stuff and actually not so difficult to make!

But the ragù bolognese is not the dish I want to talk about in today’s 1+1=3. I want to talk about a Sicilian dish : the pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines. Continue reading “If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!”

Slower food, please!

I am not a fan of slow food. With slow food I don’t mean good quality food that’s sourced locally. I mean slow food, like in waiting one hour for your food. If you’re hungry and you’re drinking your third aperitif because the food is not coming, then you’ll end up drunk at table. That’s probably not the ideal scenario for a romantic dinner.

Last weekend I was in London with my wife for a surprise weekend, including romantic dinners, in Margot, top Italian food, and in Nopi, the restaurant of celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. We certainly did not have to wait long for our food in these restaurants. Actually, we hardly had to wait at all. Continue reading “Slower food, please!”