Food and Wine Matching in the Loire

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There was quite a buzz in our household a few weeks ago when I was invited by Vins de Loire to match two of their wines with foods of my choice from around the world. We have  been fans of this wine region for some years now and having recently presented a Loire Valley wine tasting to a local wine appreciation society, I was in the zone and ready for the challenge.

The region stretches inland from the vines of Muscadet on France’s northwest coast following the River Loire to Sancerre some 400kms to the east, and there are lots of different styles of wine to be found along the way from still red, white and rosé to sparkling wines.  Being one of the most northerly wine-producing regions, the wines are typically low in alcohol and refreshing.   Whatsmore, they represent good value for money and there’s a lot of fun to be had in matching them with food.

IMG_20130729_155953[1]Wine number one was a Muscadet from Château du Cléray in the Nantais, the area around the city of Nantes.  The proximity of the sea to the vineyards here can give these wines a briney, ozone crispness and this wine is no exception.  It’s from the 2011 vintage and the ‘sur Lie’ reference on the label tells us that the wine has been matured on its lees (the spent yeasts from the fermentation process) which gives it more flavour.  Indeed this wine is rich in citrus and stone fruit flavours, fresh and with good length. The ABV is 12% and you can buy the wine for £8.99 at Majestic (2012 now in stock at £9.99 or £8.99 if you buy two bottles).

Muscadet is an excellent match for fresh seafood, so think oysters, lobster or a platter of fruits de mer.  Whilst that combination is undoubtedly delicious and wonderfully simple, I was on the lookout for something a little bit different to go with my bottle of Muscadet.  So we took it two ways.

As you may have seen in my previous blog post, I have been making a fair bit of pesto recently so I was keen to see if the Muscadet would manage to cut through the oiliness of a mild pesto.  So I rustled up a batch of fresh pasta, whizzed the ingredients for a basil pesto, pureed some fresh peas with olive oil and lemon, then seared some baby scallops.  The resulting pea and scallop ravioli with pesto dressing went down a treat with the Muscadet, the citrus flavours working with each element of the dish.  We were so busy enjoying it that we almost polished off the bottle without leaving some for the next evening’s experiment but we were relieved that we’d saved a drop as this next match was arguably even better.

Pea & scallop ravioli with pesto dressing - a great match for Muscadet

Pea & scallop ravioli with pesto dressing – a great match for Muscadet

A recent fascination with Scandinavian cuisine and a few successes with recipe attempts from Trine Hahnemann’s The Scandinavian Cookbook, led me to try the Muscadet with haddock, parsley and dill fishcakes with courgette and chive remoulade.  The Muscadet seemed perfectly at home and even enhanced by this fish and mayonnaise/sour cream combination and I was reminded of it again last weekend in Stockholm where I tried Toast Skagen (prawns mixed with mayonnaise, sour cream and dill, topped with white fish roe) with a glass of Muscadet.  Perhaps it was the thrill of being in Östermalms Saluhall, one of the most beautiful food markets I have come across, but after a lot of sipping and assessing I came away convinced that this is a pairing to be enjoyed again.

Toast Skagen with a glass of Muscadet in Stockholm

Toast Skagen with a glass of Muscadet in Stockholm

IMG_20130729_172643[1]Onto wine number two – a rosé from Anjou which is a little further inland than Muscadet and to the south of the town of Angers.  This wine, from the 2012 vintage and produced by Champteloup is a blend of some six grapes, Cabernet Franc being the lead.  I was tempted by its vivid pink colour and could have popped it straight in the fridge to open that same day, but there was food and wine matching to be considered first.  When I did finally open the bottle, a lovely, crisp acidity and delicious berry fruit tastes were unveiled with a hint of sweetness – the wine is medium dry in style.  The ABV is 11% and the wine is stocked by Waitrose where it sells for £7.99 a bottle.

This style of rosé has enough freshness and punch to sit well with lightly spiced food and the element of sweetness enhances those bold flavours.  It is also a wine that can cope with barbecue flavours and the recent heatwave found us matching it with prawns marinated in olive oil, lemon and Moroccan spices.  It would even stand up to lightly spiced lamb koftas.  For our second experiment, we tried a spicy rice dish – chorizo, broad bean and cumin pilaf – and we agreed that the wine was more enjoyable when paired with the food than when drunk as an aperitif.  Definitely a wine for food.

Nailed it - barbecued moroccan spiced prawns with the Anjou rosé

Nailed it – barbecued Moroccan spiced prawns with the Anjou rosé

So, it’s been quite an experiment and I must thank Vins de Loire for inviting me to join in with the challenge.  Both these wines are readily available (see the links above) so why not have a go at some food matching yourself and if you do, let me know how it goes.

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A weekend in Stockholm: ABBA The Museum

IMG_20130726_135748[1]For the first time in four years, I have written a blog post with no mention of food nor wine, but if you’re an Abba fan you might enjoy it anyway.  We’re just back from Stockholm and here are the highlights from our trip to ABBA The Museum which opened in May of this year.   Having been an avid Abba fan since childhood, I couldn’t wait to go round it and we weren’t disappointed.  Even the husband got right into it.

I am Anna-Frid!

I am Anna-Frid!

First off, we were ushered into a small room with a huge screen where a two-minute movie was played featuring snippets of video footage and a reminder of all the best hits.

This led into a section covering the history of each Abba member with particular focus on what they were doing pre-Abba, each of them having been well-known performers in Sweden prior to the band taking shape.

In the Abba The Arrival helicopter

In the Abba The Arrival helicopter

From then on, things got increasingly interactive: we had a go at mixing Mamma Mia, we were recorded dancing along to a song (Just Dance 3 style), we did karaoke in a booth and the husband got up on stage and sang with holograms of the group dancing along with him – quite something to behold, believe me.  Some of these exploits were recorded and a record of them can be found at abbathemuseum.com.  I’m not sure I dare look!

Spot the new addition to the group

Spot the new addition to the group

There’s plenty to keep Abba fans amused at the museum.  The disco space plays non-stop Abba music which you can just dance along with.  There are displays of costumes, record awards, sets from videos and the Abba recording studio.   Mamma Mia (the film and the musical) gets a mention too.  The last stop on the map is the cinema which shows ABBA The Movie non-stop and we sat down for a few minutes to watch, exhausted by this stage.

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A superb trip and huge fun.  Tickets cost 195 SEK (£19.50 approx) and the website advises booking in advance.

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Wild About Pesto

IMG_20130704_152054[1]Seldom a week passes without my mini magimix being called upon to whizz up a batch of pesto and at this time of year with so many herbs sprouting in the garden, I’m making loads of it and loving the experiments.  My kids are pesto fanatics too – pasta and a dollop of pesto with a few tomatoes and a shaving of cheese is such a quick and easy staple.   They have always been happy with fresh, shop-bought pesto but these days their tastes are much more refined:  ‘Is it homemade, mum?’ they ask.  I always detect an air of disappointment if it’s not. 

Fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta & fresh basil pesto

Fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta & fresh basil pesto

There seems to be much variation on the topic of ingredient proportions and pesto recipes can vary wildly.  I prefer to keep the cheese element to a minimum and so go with Kate Caldesi’s version of Genovese pesto in her book ‘The Italian Cookery School’ where she suggests 50g basil, 50g pine nuts, 25g parmesan, 125ml extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic.  I stick to these general proportions when using other herbs but strong, punchy herbs go further so start with less and see how you go.  My sage and almond pesto recipe is below.

Lamb & mint pesto burgers with halloumi, aubergine & courgette tzatziki

Lamb & mint pesto burgers with halloumi, aubergine & courgette tzatziki

There are two other recipes which I love and often refer to.  The first is the Wild Garlic Pesto recipe on the West Dorset Foodie’s very approachable blog.  The second, which you can find on www.londonbakes.com suggests using sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts which is an interesting variation and keeps the cost down.  Finally, check out www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com whose beautifully illustrated blog has some great pesto recipes.  Just type pesto into the search bar on the site.

So why not have a go?  It’s quick, easy and versatile with so many dishes.  Mint is all over the place at this time of year and a pesto made with this rampaging herb is delightfully fresh and we love to serve it with a summer vegetable risotto (asparagus, peas, broad beans perhaps) or spread on pizza and topped with halloumi cheese and thinly sliced courgettes.

Pasta with mint pesto and summer vegetables

Pasta with mint pesto and summer vegetables

But what about wine matching you ask?  Well, my advice is to stick to a crisp, fresh, white wine in most instances.  Think Vermentino, Aligoté or Sauvignon Blanc.  If you’re serving the pesto with a weighty accompaniment, you could try a slightly heavier white but the acidity is still important to cut through the wonderful olive oil.  A sundried tomato pesto with baked salmon or tuna could cope with a light and refreshing red but make sure you lightly chill the wine for maximum enjoyment.

Buon appetito!

Sage & Almond Pesto

Combine the following ingredients in a food mixer.  I don’t usually add salt as the cheese makes it salty enough for me.

20g fresh sage
15g pecorino, finely grated
25g almonds, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
80ml extra virgin olive oil

We asked our butcher to open up a pork fillet for us and we spread the inside with parma ham and a few dollops of this sage pesto, rolled it up and barbecued it.  Delicious!

Pork fillet stuffed with parma ham & sage and almond pesto

Pork fillet stuffed with parma ham & sage and almond pesto

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More tales from Emilia Romagna: Pignoletto

Delicious still and sparkling Pignoletto from brother and sister team Cesare and Silvia Lodi Corazza

Delicious still and sparkling Pignoletto from brother and sister team Cesare and Silvia Lodi Corazza

The Colli Bolognese winemaking area to the south west of Bologna is home to the Pignoletto grape, an indigenous variety which gives crisp, dry whites in both still and sparkling styles.  Little known outside Emilia Romagna, these wines were the find of my trip particularly the sparkling versions which, for me, were crisper and more refreshing than Prosecco, a wine now seen all over wine stores and supermarkets here in the UK.

Pignoletto Frizzante is made under the Colli Bolognese Classico DOC classification and is made from the grapes of one vintage.  It is typically refreshing and light with citrus and green apple flavours, making it an excellent aperitif and an unusual match for fresh, young cheeses and light starters.  The still wines which are produced under the Colli Bolognese Classico DOCG are dry and fuller-bodied with citrus flavours again and sometimes a hint of tropical fruit.   The Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna, situated in the charming hilltop town of Dozza, is a regional wine board promoting the quality of the region’s wines and they list these tempting pairings for the still Pignoletto: toasted bread with truffle, tortellini in broth, tortelli filled with courgette flowers, fried shellfish and fish in general.

I’m wondering which dish to try with my sole bottle of still Pignoletto brought home from Lodi Corazza, a family-run business whose Pignolettos are stunning and are shown in the photo at the top of this post.  The label on the still wine shows the statue of Neptune which can be found in Bologna’s main square and Zigant is the local dialect term for a giant.

Pignoletto was once thought to be Riesling.

Pignoletto was once thought to be Riesling.

The Pignoletto grape was for some time thought to be Riesling but actually it is more similar to Grechetto, grown mostly in Umbria and one of the varieties used in making Orvieto.  Whilst the Colli Bolognese area is thought to produce the best Pignoletto, it can be found in other parts of Emilia Romagna. At Tenuta Montecatone in the hills above Imola we tried a sparkling version with stone fruit characteristics made under the Pignoletto dell’Emilia IGT classification.  I wait with anticipation for a sample of still Pignoletto, also labelled under the regional Emilia category, from Cantina Barone in Castel San Pietro Terme where they will be bottling the new vintage in the next few days.

tappi e carta

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A wine tour in Emilia Romagna

A visit to the wine producing area of Bursôn near Ravenna

A visit to the wine producing area of Bursôn near Ravenna

Last week I was in Italy, near Bologna, to tour some vineyards with Sarah, an old schoolfriend who lives in the area.  I was keen to taste some wines typical of the Emilia Romagna region and Sarah planned a varied programme of appointments with producers making wines not commonly seen in the UK, such as Pignoletto, Albana di Romagna Passito and Bursôn.

After driving round the Romagna countryside inland from Ravenna with the almost impossible task of finding our destination, we eventually rolled up in the little Panda hire car at Daniele Longanesi’s vineyard just outside the beautiful small town of Bagnacavallo.  Here they make red wine from the Longanesi grape which gives big, beefy wines that demand hearty dishes.  Although this grape variety is thought to have been growing here for centuries, there is nothing documented to prove that it was ever used for winemaking until more recent times.  Daniele’s family planted the first known Longanesi vineyard in 1956 after his grandfather found a single vine growing round an oak tree and decided to take cuttings.  The vine was later named after him and wine is now being made from the Longanesi grape by sixteen producers around Bagnacavallo.  The bottled wine is known as Bursôn and is marketed under the Ravenna IGP classification.

The charming Daniele is president of the Consorzio Il Bagnacavallo which promotes typical products from the area around the town, including wine, vinegar, grappa and confectionary.

Daniele Longanesi amongst his vines

Daniele Longanesi amongst his vines

We tried three of Daniele’s Longanesi wines.  The first, Bursôn Etichetta Blu 2011 (blue label) is matured in oak for twelve months.  It has bold, cherry flavours and packs a powerful punch.  I thought it would be perfect with barbecued red meat, ragu or baked, meaty pasta dishes. Next up was the Bursôn Etichetta Nero 2008 (black label) which has a feel of Amarone about it as 50% of the grapes are partially dried giving an intense raisiny palate to this full-bodied wine.  It spends 24 months in barrel with a further six months’ ageing in bottle prior to release. This is a wine that would be well-suited to venison casserole, slow-cooked beef ribs or gorgonzola picante.

The third wine was called Anemo which is the old name for the local Lamone river.  A red passito, it is sweet and unctuous, made with 90% Longanesi grapes and 10% Balsamina, also known as Marzemino.  It is matured in 500 litre barrels for sixteen months with a further six-month bottle ageing before release.  No vintage is given on the label despite the fact that the grapes are from the 2010 vintage and the wine is labelled as Vina da Uve Passito.   An ideal pairing for strong, hard cheeses such as aged parmesan or cheddar and chocolate was also mentioned as being a fantastic match.

Along with several other fine examples of Emilia Romagna wines, I managed to pack a bottle of each of the Bursôn wines into my hold baggage to try again at home.  On taking my damp suitcase off the carousel at Gatwick, I felt sure one or more bottles must have broken and the thought of the ensuing mess was more than I could bear.  On further inspection, however, it seems that my bag had been left on the tarmac in a heavy rain shower and all nine, meticulously bubble-wrapped bottles had survived the rigours of both the Bologna and Gatwick baggage handlers.  I’m looking forward to the food matching experiments already.

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Does this Thai go with my Chablis?

Thai takeaway prawns with garlic and pepper - a great match for Chablis

Thai takeaway prawns with garlic and pepper – a great match for Chablis

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to take part in a blogger challenge to match Chablis wine with takeaway food, an opportunity I was excited to accept despite living in a takeaway desert in the wilds of North Dorset. Two bottles of wine duly arrived from the competition organisers – a Petit Chablis on sale at Marks & Spencer and a Chablis from the Wine Society, both from the 2011 vintage (another good year for Chablis) – and it was time to decide on my preferred takeaway style.

I must admit right here to having enjoyed more than a few glasses of Chablis in recent years and the wines are commonly thought to pair well with seafood, elegant fish dishes, white meats and local Burgundian favourites such as snails in garlic butter and gougères, the delicious little cheese puffs often served as canapés in the area. Anne Willan, describing the wines of Chablis in her book ‘A Kitchen in Burgundy’, tells us “No visit to Chablis is complete without a glass at the café….. If I’m lucky there’ll be a basket of gougères on the counter, the perfect accompaniment”. And Michel Roux Jr’s book ‘Matching Food and Wine’ suggests matching a young Chablis with a lovely dish of tartare of sea bass with dill, a combination I can certainly vouch for.

The wines of Chablis are made in and around the town of the same name which is situated in the northern part of Burgundy some 120 miles south-east of Paris. I am a fan of the fresh, minerally and elegant style of the wines from this area despite never having visited Chablis itself. Depending on the site of the vineyards where the grapes were grown, the wines are labelled according to the rules of four separate appellations – Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. The wines gain added complexity, weight and ageing potential as you move up through these four levels and the specific exposure and rich subsoil of the Grand Cru sites are the most prized. Chablis wines are made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape and their steely acidity and mineral qualities make Chablis one of the great white wines of the world.

Grand Cru Chablis vines

Grand Cru Chablis vines

So, Chablis with takeaway? A little research seemed to suggest that Chablis can stand up well to foods with a hint of chilli, garlic and perhaps a creamy, lightly spiced sauce. Armed with this information I headed off down the Indian takeaway route initially but, after hearing recent comments from friends about a local Thai place, we got hold of their menu and made our selections.

I wanted to avoid ordering anything too chilli-hot and the menu was helpfully labelled to indicate the styles of the dishes from mild through to spicy. Hefty doses of chilli in a dish can kill the flavours of the wine and you would be better advised to go for a beer instead. We chose four dishes and then settled down to try them with the wines.

Jean-Marc Brocard's Petit Chablis 2011The Petit Chablis 2011 from Jean-Marc Brocard (Domaine Sainte Claire) is a fresh, unoaked Chablis with flinty, citrus flavours and a palate-cleansing and long, limey finish. The retail price of £7.50 represents excellent value for money. It could serve as a refreshing aperitif but it also worked extremely well with two of our Thai dishes. Tod Mun Pla, or Thai style fishcakes, were subtly spiced and the fresh, chilli, peanut and coriander dip added an extra dimension – the citrus flavours of the wine complimented the fish and its steely crispness was not at all overwhelmed by the chilli dip. The Petit Chablis was a good match for Massaman Gai, a lightly spiced chicken curry with a coconut sauce. Again the wine was not fazed by the hint of chilli and its personality held up alongside this traditional Thai curry.

Chablis 2011 - Louis Michel & FilsPerhaps the surprise of the evening was how perfectly the Chablis 2011 from Louis Michel & Fils (£16 a bottle) paired with chicken satay and peanut sauce. This Chablis was heavier and more complex than the Petit Chablis with ripe stone fruit flavours but the same fresh, minerally style. With the satay dish, it was a triumph, seeming to be perfectly at home with the delicate spiciness of the peanut sauce. We went on to agree it was the better of the two wines alongside Goong Krathiem (fried tiger prawns in garlic and pepper) and confirmed my earlier research that young, cool-climate Chardonnay is a delicious match for garlic-based dishes.

Chicken satay and peanut sauce - the best match of the evening

Chicken satay and peanut sauce – the best match of the evening

I am happy to report that our Chablis and takeaway matching evening was a great success and a lot of fun. My husband reckons we should try a fish and chip takeout tonight with the rest of the wine. The crisp style of Chablis would certainly work well with the fish and cut through the oiliness of the dish admirably but perhaps that’s an experiment to bear in mind for another day…

I received two bottles of wine from the Bureau Interprofessional des Vins de Bourgogne free of charge in order to take part in this Chablis Blogger Challenge and I would like to thank them for inviting me to be involved.

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The five AOP cheeses of the Auvergne

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The five AOP cheeses of Auvergne

We recently spent a week in the Auvergne ski station of Super-Besse where the sun shone, the slopes glistened and a glass of vin chaud was a welcome pick-me-up after long and exilharating days on the mountain.  I had done a little cheese research prior to visiting the area and whilst I already knew some of the local cheeses well, there were others that I was looking forward to trying in situ.

Auvergne cheese selection

An amazing selection of local cheeses in one of the food shops in Super-Besse.

Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert and the pasteurised version of St Nectaire are widely available in the UK but Cantal, Salers and the unpasteurised St Nectaire were new to me so on Day One I found the Fromagerie in the main street, and went in to check out the selection.  I was not to be disappointed as the cheese counter was packed with each of these five cheeses to the detriment of some of the more commonly seen French varieties like Comté or Camembert.  The inhabitants of the Auvergne are clearly very proud of their local cheeses.

Three days into our stay, whilst standing at the bottom of the bubble lift, I was interested to see an array of tents being put up advertising these five AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegée) cheeses of the Auvergne region.  By lunchtime a mini-festival was in full swing with tastings of all five cheeses and recipe demonstrations incorporating each one.  I worked my way down the tasting table, savouring each cheese and finding out more about them which was made easy as there were several experts on hand to answer questions and a terrific selection of free information leaflets.

Cheese festival

Mini Auvergne cheese festival on the slopes

Of the five cheeses, my favourites were Cantal and Salers.  Cantal, a cow’s milk cheese is released at three different stages of maturity.  The young ‘Cantal Jeune’ is sweet, milky and mild and is matured for one to two months.  The ‘Cantal Entre-Deux’, a stronger, cheddar-like cheese is our favourite and is sold when it has aged for three to seven months.  Accompanied by a glass of white Burgundy or the local Côtes d’Auvergne white (both from Chardonnay), Cantal Entre-Deux makes a tasty, simple lunch with a hunk of crusty bread.  The mature ‘Cantal Vieux’ is aged for eight months or more making it a very strong cheese which by this stage has a red and white-mold stained crust.

Two types of Cantal

Cantal Jeune and Cantal Entre-Deux

We also loved Salers which is similar to Cantal but can only be made from unpasteurised milk – Cantal can be made from raw or pasteurised milk.  Another important difference is that Salers can only be made from the milk of cows that graze on mountain pastures in the summer, whereas Cantal producers can use the milk of any season.  The sweet, nutty flavour of a Salers that has been matured for ten months or so is quite addictive and I shall be on the lookout for some here in the UK as the large slab we brought home has long since disappeared.  A bottle of another Auvergne white wine, Saint Pourçain, is in the wine rack awaiting this discovery.

Salers

Salers

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