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.
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.
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.
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.
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.