Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to make food more wine friendly

Some food is not easy to pair with wine — asparagus, artichokes, green salad with vinaigrette — but apparently, you can now purchase a seasoning blend called Vignon that makes food more wine friendly.

Vignon's secret ingredient is umami, as the seasoning is an umami-rich blend of Parmesan cheese, mushroom, and tomato, balanced with salt, garlic, and citric acid. Umami, a Japanese word that means tasty, savory, is one of the five basic tastes sensed by the tongue. The four others are sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Now, is this working? Fiona Beckett, a food and drink journalist that writes for Decanter Magzine, is unconvinced:

With cooked asparagus, it was weird, again removing the vegetable's characteristic grassiness, but also having no perceptible effect on the two unlikely wine pairings I'd put up against it, an over-oaked Languedoc Merlot and a Blossom Hill white Zinfandel.

Vignon is obviously not intended for people like me, who believe in the art of food and wine pairing,“ she concludes. ”But that's not saying it won't be successful. It can be ordered, if you're curious, from

Now, can't you simply add a stir-fry of mushroom to your asparagus or some shaved Parmesan and a drop or two of balsamic vinegar to your salad? I am sure that that should do the trick.

Fiona Beckett's article can be found here.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Magret de Canard and Côtes de Castillon on the Île de la Grande Jatte

While I was in Paris earlier this month, my father-in-law took me out to a nice lunch on the Île de la Grande Jatte.

The Île de la Grande Jatte is a 2 km long island just outside Paris. It has been made famous by the painting Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte), by the French artist Georges Seurat. Seurat was not the only artist inspired by the island. Other painters, like Monet and van Gogh, also found their inspiration there. At the time, the island's grassy banks provided a popular getaway for Parisians.

Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte

Nowadays, the island of La Grande Jatte is a posh residential area but the Guinguette de Neuilly is still around with its pleasant riverside terrace (in the early 20th century, Guinguette was the name given to small restaurants by the river Seine where people were going on Sundays to have lunch and party in the afternoon).

La Guinguette de Neuilly

For lunch, I chose the duck breast accompanied by a 2005 Château de Clotte from the Côtes de Castillon appellation. Roughly a third Merlot, a third Cabernet Franc, and a third Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine had a dense garnet color and aromas of black cherry and cassis on the nose. It was still pretty young but had a good structure on the palate and a fruity finish. The duck was tender and tasty and worked quite well with the wine.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Paris, Oysters, and Muscadet

If you happen to be in Paris in winter, don't pass up the chance to eat oysters. Whether you choose to go to a simple bar à huitres (oyster bar) or one of these glamourous brasserie, you can check how fresh and bright they are as oysters are traditionally kept on display on stalls that stand outside the restaurant.

In France, they typically come from three main production areas, all located on the Atlantic coast: Arachon near Bordeaux, Brittany, and Marennes-Oléron. One of my favorite oyster varieties is the green-tinged Fine de Claire from Marennes. They have a firm flesh and a bright ocean sea taste. Actually, that's what I had last week in a brasserie near the Saint-Lazare train station. The oysters were heavenly and the wine, a 2007 Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie Château du Cléray Réserve, was delicious.

Muscadet is usually a light, refreshing and affordable wine produced at the western end of the Loire Valley and made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Because the grape itself does not have much flavor, most Muscadets today are vinified sur lie to add complexity. This means that after fermentation, the wine is not racked off the lees at the bottom of the vat. To be allowed to mention sur lie on the label, the wine must stay on its lees until at least the 1st of March following harvest before being bottled.

Nevertheless, the best producers can craft a much richer and deeper wine than the average production and I have to say that our Château du Cléray Réserve was a real treat with the oyster: tangy and sappy with citrus and mineral aromas, quite creamy and rich on the palate with a savoury aftertaste.

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