Tour France: French Sparkling Wine & Dessert Pairings for the Holidays

Tour France Champagne

This photo is from a trip we did through Reims, in Champagne. We toured Mumm.

Food and wine pairings, especially things with bubbles are great. Over the holidays you can have entire parties based around these things. So, whether you are looking to have a champagne and chocolate party or simply serve an elegant finale to a celebratory meal, here are some ideas for pairing the two that we tasted in a class I taught on December 11, 2012.

All of the wines were purchased at the Princeton Corkscrew’s wine shop. Laurent Chapuis, the owner, is a master at finding great wines from around the world, and at reasonable prices.

Dessert Item #1: Choice or roasted pears or a goat cheese tart with a rosemary walnut shortbread crust, topped with figs or pears.

Poire Authentique:

“A sommelier by training, in 1992 the maker of this cider took over his family’s estate and orchards. His goal was to revolutionize the cider industry and bring it into restaurants, high-end retail and export markets. A close friend of his, Didier Dagueneau, the icon wine-maker in Pouilly-sur-Loire encouraged him down the path of producing ciders from apples and pears that are like no others. Ciders that make one draw comparisons to fine vintage wine. The core of Bordelet’s estate is the 1.5 hectares of antique varietal apple and pear trees that are 40-50 years old. He plants only true varietal (non-hybrid, non-cross) trees, and the trees are balanced between sweet, bitter and sour varieties. Currently, he has 20 varieties of apples and 14 varieties of pears planted. The orchards are farmed organically and biodynamically, and Eric believes that this is the regimen that produces the best fruit for ciders. Bordelet’s Poiré Authentique, which is done in a traditionally off-dry, sparkling style, works brilliantly with goat cheese roasted pears”

Poached pear with orange and a four grain tulle from one of our new fav's in Provence

Poached pear with orange and a four grain tulle from one of our new fav’s in Provence

The class enjoyed this cider, finding it light and not too sweet. Concensus was that this would go well, not just with pear based desserts, but also with salads, goat cheeses, cheese courses generally and summer lunches. Think: outside, warm weather, salad or light lunch of bread and cheese….

Roasted pear with orange and four grain tuile, served by one of our new fav's in Provence

Think about pairing the cider with a cheese and salad plate as a light lunch. Round it off with walnut bread and baguette.

Idea #2 –Anything goes with….

Armance B-“This a fantastic value sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method. A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Folle Blanche makes for a beautifully floral sparkling wine of considerable finesse and elegance. A lovely pale gold color, the Armance B. shows impressively fine, persistent effervescence and a Champagne-like yeasty, toasty, brioche-driven nose. Rich and creamy on the palate, the bottling fuses brisk Côtes-des-Blancs-like acidity with gripping, resinous texture and warm notes of homemade bread. Hints of clover honey, grated ginger, lemon zest and pain grillé appear on the wine’s impressively long, complex finish. No, this is not Champagne, but it will fool – and impress – a lot of wine lovers. Here’s the value choice sparkling wine to open your holiday festivities, to be used for celebratory toasts, and for superb pairing with all things seafood, especially sole in a beurre blanc sauce, broiled true cod, and bivalves. Impressive, inimitably French sparkling wine for a song!”

This was the class favorite for all of the reasons above. People liked it on its own and with every item we tasted. The “balance” is what made this so likable.

Pair this with something truly elegant, like this creative seafood dish, from our June 2012 trip to Paris.

Pair this with something truly elegant, like this creative seafood dish, from our June 2012 trip to Paris.

Dessert item #3: Biscotti and cookies or chocolate covered treats (think about salted cashews, espresso beans…) with the following

Cravantine Brut, Fabrice Gasnier –Cabernet France, Loire, near Chinon. Originally just made for the family, was commercialized in the last few years.  Strawberry notes. This wine was less popular for it’s nose, which nobody enjoyed. However, the class was split on its pairing with foods. Some people felt the pairing with dark chocolate and espresso worked well -the bitter elements of the food blending with the bitter notes in the wine. Sweeter desserts made the wine taste “off”.

In general, though, the class preferred the Alsace sparkler with the above flavors –and even on it’s own. It was clean, crisp and was a good marriage with all of the desserts.

Cremant d’Alsace. From Alsace. Organically produced.: “A zero-dosage sparkling wine whose initial impression of lively petillance and keen, refreshing citrus slowly settles into a wine of gentle, charming textures, fringed with brioche, meringue, and jasmine-blossom tea.” – Jeremy QuinnGasnier

Last, our goat cheese tart with walnut herb short crust was a hit with all of the sparkling wines. This tart  is good year around and can be served savory or sweet. We make this in Provence. In summer, we top it with incredible, juicy fresh figs. In spring we use strawberries. You can even make a savory version topped with tomato and drizzled with olive oil. Watch for the recipe –coming up in our next blog!

Any questions? Write us!

Tour France: 5 Tips for Holiday Wine & Cheeses Combos

5 Special French Wine & Cheese Pairings for the Holidays

There are so many great French cheeses, and so many great French wines. It’s almost too much to contemplate. However, we decided to profile the ones you are less likely to know about, and which, not coincidentally, go best with our favorite wines –those wines being Burgundy whites and reds, Provencal roses, Chateauneuf du Pape reds (and whites), and Champagne….(The pairings also have a seasonal element to them. The first and second pairing are ones we prefer over the holidays, while the 3rd  is a fall favorite. The fourth reminds us of Provence in the spring and summer. And the 5th is a fall and winter treat to have anywhere!)

1. Chaource: Chaource is a creamy cow’s milk cheese with a bloomy rind that is made in both Champagne and Burgundy. This cheese has been made since the 14th century. When ripe it gets extra creamy and almost liquid. It’s a great cheese for those who like creamy cow’s milk cheeses and want something with a rich, balanced flavor. Pair it with Champagne –which is a wonderful combination –the creamy rich cheese and the sparkling wine. Or pair it with a Chablis. The ideal way to have this cheese is after a wonderful roasted Turbot with beurre blanc. Drink with Champagne –preferably in Champagne or Paris , in nice chilly weather over the holidays!

2. Comte: Comte is a pressed cooked cow’s milk cheese. The young ones are fruity with a softer, pliant texture. The older ones are crystalized and have a stronger more sharp flavor. And if you find one that has been properly aged, it’s an unbelievably delicious cheese. The flavor of a great Comte is quite complex and hits you in different places on your palate. We have been lucky enough to find a cheese monger in Paris, who, over the holidays, carries a 48 month old “holiday” Comte that is truly remarkable with a full and deep complex flavor and crystallization that adds crunch and interest. It’s a remarkable find. This wine goes well with either a very light red (Beaujolais) or a very rich white (a full, rich, oak, Burgundy) in my opinion.

3. Epoisses: Is a stinky (really) raw cow’s milk cheese that has been washed while aging in a Marc de Bourgogne (a form of brandy from Burgundy). It is amazing. Because it is a raw milk cheese, you can only buy it in the US if aged more than 60 days. Thus, the best Epoisses is still found in Burgundy. Many people will tell you to pair this cheese with a red wine, since it is strong. However, I think the best pairing for this cheese is a white Burgundy. A full, round, buttery one. Try a Meursault Les Charmes, 1ere cru.  Or for more minerality, a Puligny Montrachet. And, do try it in France if you can! Every time we go to Burgundy, I make sure to have this cheese with a wine that fits this profile. We are never disappointed by this combination.

4. Banon: This is our absolute favorite Provencal cheese! It is primarily made of  goat’s milk which is washed in a marc (from Provence) and then wrapped in Chestnut leaves that are tied with raffia. Legend has it that it has been made since the first century A.D. This goes nicely with the scenery in Provence, which is also that old! When it is younger it has a creamy, slightly crumbly texture and a mild flavor. As it ages, it becomes creamier and runny. Both versions are delicious. This cheese pairs nicely (bien sur) with a Provencal rose. Also, though a crisp, slightly sweet white works. This cheese is best served with fruit before dessert, but is also good on a green salad as a starter or light lunch. We have a special cheesemonger we go to in one of the area markets who sells Banon “bien fait” (well aged and runny) and “moins fait” (creamy and younger) –at an astoundingly reasonable price. People line up 10-20 deep at the market just for her cheeses. They are Bliss!

5. Roquefort: Is a sheep’s milk cheese aged in caves with a strong flavor profile. It can be paired with a variety of wines. I like it with a Chateauneuf du Pape or other Rhone red. The full bodied reds compliment and stand up to the cheese. Of course, you can also have this with a port or other slightly sweet drink at the finish of a meal. Think about Roquefort served with roasted pears or figs –or even a fig confit — slightly sweet fruit breads or oat crackers and port. Yum.  Wonderful varieties of Roquefort can be found in the U.S. Pair it as we did below, with a Chateauneuf du Pape, Beaurenard 2007! Wow.

A post Thanksgiving gift of Chateauneuf du Pape and cheese reminded us of this past October in Provence! What a treat.

Have a Blissful Holiday Season!

A Bientot,

Wendy

Paris: Top 6 Culinary Treats During the Holidays

One of the great things about French food is that it’s so seasonal….Unlike our large supermarkets where you can find “n’importe quoi, n’importe quand” (anything, anytime), that’s not the case in France. April/May are for strawberries and asparagus. July and August for peaches and melons, and so on. Well, the December holidays, though not during a “growing” season, have some of the most special culinary treats of any time of year. This is the time of year for….

1. Foie Gras. Too hot to keep well (and too rich) for summer. This is prime time for foie gras. Best served with dried fruits, fruit breads, chutney…Don’t miss out on this. There are even “stands” at some of the Christmas markets that serve this as street food. And also, there are fabulous specialty places that make or bring in the best of the best. We have a restaurant we frequent who does this beautifully.

foie gras by the “master” (photo by Anthony Bianciella)

2. Oysters and Champagne. Yes, you can have this along the streets or by the river bank during the holidays only. The vendors are set up, and a heater or fire is not too far away. Contemplate the lit up night sky while having these treats. Best of the best, at the best time of year. Walk to find the best market streets or by the river bank, where the views are “manifique”.

3. Chestnuts. In many forms. Roasted, and sold on the streets, or pureed and served with lamb or venison. Or candied and soaked in cognac (and sold by the best gourmet shops. Try Fauchon for this special treat. They do it particularly well.) A nutty but sweet flavor, that can be an accompaniment to both savories and desserts (think, Mont Blanc)!

photo by Sarah Miller Photography

4. Anything…in a Truffle Sauce. (Still remembering that dish as it simmered for Christmas Eve dinner in a little –very little– bistrot we frequent, on the Left Bank). I met the chef that morning as I was out shopping and he was taking a cigarette break. When i commented on the heavenly smell coming from his kitchen, he invited me in. He showed me the boudin blanc and the truffle sauce he was making. Also cooking a stuffed game hen for the night, he gave me a personal recommendation –Get the hen, and then ask for the truffle sauce on the hen. Sublime!

 (And just as an aside, I have to tell you the most amazing story. I was in Provence, finishing a very small group trip, when a 2 star Michelin chef asked to speak with me to thank me for bringing my clients to his establishment. He asked what he could do for me, and I jokingly said, “you can give me a truffle” and pointed to the huge (and I mean huge) box of truffles sitting a few feet away….He laughed. And a few minutes later started barking orders to people in the kitchen. Within 30 seconds a bag was handed to me with 3 giant black truffles, and a warm thank you. I was in shock –and very, very grateful. I shared my good fortune with the people who had helped make the trip a success, and we used the truffles to make eggs, truffle butter, top pasta, and marvelous sandwiches with cheese. Yum.)

5. Warm Wines. As we stroll the Christmas markets, there are vendors who sell warm mulled wine, both white and red. They add calvados or cognac to them for an added degree of “warmth” and you take your cup and stroll along the miles of markets looking for your favorite artisan products or gifts. Highly recommend this. We visit several of the markets each year. One with art and antiques, one with traditional gifts and crafts…And always some with fabulous gourmet products.

6. Chocolates. This is the time of year the really fine, and very perishable chocolates come out of hiding–and in full view. Perhaps you’ve heard of the wonderful Maison du Chocolat. Truly a great place. But, there are some remarkable, amazing, smaller (lesser known outside of Paris, but feted as masters in Paris) chocolate houses….And dare I say, it’s worth going to Brussels to experience some of this magic. We often do day or overnight trips to Brussels for just this purpose (along with some mussels, or amazing savory waffles). One year, I insist, I’m doing this over the Holidays with a group. You don’t know what you’re missing!

Brussels, at Christmas (photo by Sarah Miller Photography)