Happy Holidays to one and all! We had so much fun recently with a wine/food pairing, we figured we had to share.
Nicole and I spent the recent U.S. Thanksgiving holiday cloistered away in the Catskills Mountains of upstate New York. Nicole has made it a Thanksgiving tradition to prepare a traditional turkey day meal even though it is just the two of us celebrating (we are fine with leftovers). But this year she decided to mix it up after seeing a New York magazine article featuring a non-traditional Thanksgiving menu created by the chefs at Frenchette (a very popular new French bistro concept in lower-Manhattan where it’s nearly impossible to secure a dinner reservation during the times most New Yorkers eat dinner -- i.e., not 5:00pm or 10:30pm).
We had a ball, and spent weeks even just getting the ingredients together for this feast. Black truffle, a goose liver (à la foie gras) the size of my head, among others.
And then there was the, admittedly high level, problem of wine. What to serve with each course? Frenchette had made their own recommendations as part of the menu. But I quickly found out their recommendations seemed more about the restaurant flexing its oenological muscles. Think very obscure natural wines, which I’m sure are delicious, but for which we had no hope of sourcing on our own.
So Plan B. Unfortunately, even discerning the type of wines the restaurant recommended, in order to surmise a suitable substitute, proved difficult and required no small amount of research. For instance, to find information about Frenchette’s recommendation for the foie gras course — Jean-François Chêne, La Coulée d’Ambrosia, Aphrodite Douceur Angevine, VdF 2010 — I sifted through multiple websites, many written in French, and am still not sure I understand even the basics such as what grape varietal is involved.
But we’ve never been afraid of a challenge! So we hunted, and we improvised. In the end, our selections boiled down to two criteria: 1) Stay as true as possible to Frenchette’s suggested pairings and 2) utilize any “special bottles” we might want to drink. Regarding the latter, years ago, John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter, former wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal and who Nicole and I credit as being formative when we first started learning about wine (especially their wine memoir book Love By the Glass) created an Open That Bottle Night. On the last Saturday in February each year, participants open a bottle “they had been keeping for a special occasion that never arrived.” Nicole and I always seem to have a few bottles that qualify — for example, we currently have a $4 bottle of Ballatore sparkling wine with “New House” written in silver marker on the side that we purchased when we bought our first home … in 2004. Not exactly the type of wine that gets better with age, yet we’ve toted it from Washington to Arizona to New York and then to New Jersey. We will probably try it at some point, and end up pouring most of it down the drain. But it would have been fun to drink years ago.
All this to say that, this easily being the fanciest meal Nicole would prepare this year, if there was a special bottle of ours we could work into the lineup, all the better.
And this is how it went:
Comté Madeleines With Jambon de Pays and Grated Black Truffle
Something to amuse the palette! These pre-apps turned out delicious. Savory, earthy, and salty, with a cake like consistency. Nicole found the dish straightforward to make and is glad she followed the recipe’s instructions to serve right out of oven. (We’ve had a few as leftovers and they are better fresh.)
And we are new enough to the world of truffles that there certainly was an excitement in shaving a generous portion over the dish and inhaling all of the musty, earthy goodness.
Frenchette’e Suggested Wine Pairing: Francis Boulard, Grand Cru, Grande Montagne, Brut Nature 2009
What We Chose Instead: Domaine Bourillon Dorléans Premium Vouvray Brut (NV)
This one was easy enough. Frenchette suggested a Champagne to kick things off and we had this bottle of sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley (approximately a two hour drive south of the Champagne region) on hand which fit the bill nicely. Lately we’ve been into trying other sparkling wines across France, notably Cremant d’Alsace and Cremant d’Bourgogne, so the Vouvray fit the bill nicely.
How It Worked: Splendid! Lovely, pale yellow golden color. Yellow apples and pears on the nose, lots of fruit initially on the palete then turning more savory in the mouth. Moreover, the wine married well with the dish which brought out some floral notes in wine. A great way to kick things off.
Sucrine Lettuce With Roasted Delicata Squash, Fennel, Hazelnuts, and Shaved Pecorino
The salad course couldn’t have been better. The roasted squash made for a perfect bright, cold autumn feature. Nicole loved the vinaigrette, and wouldn't do anything different in the overall preparation, noting that roasting the hazelnuts ahead of time saved a lot of hassle.
Frenchette’e Suggested Wine Pairing: Laureano Serres-Montagut, Mendall, Abeurador Amforà, Catalunya 2017
What We Chose Instead: Bzikot Puligny Montrachet 2015
Here’s where we hit our first real wine road block. Best we could discern, the recommended wine, a Spanish white, is full bodied and features the Macabeo varietal, known for imparting dried yellow fruit flavors to the wine — think dehydrated yellow pear, dried pineapple, and banana chips. Trying to arrive at a reasonably close approximation, we chose a white Burgundy knowing it would be fuller bodied with rich flavors.
How It Worked: The wine itself didn’t disappoint. Very pale greenish colors, funky nose, low key tropical fruits on the palate that faded to vanilla, oak, and nutty notes. Nice complexity for a white wine.
Together with the salad, somehow it wasn’t our best wine/food combination of the day. We couldn’t figure out if the flavor profiles were too similar or if perhaps the salad had slightly too much acidity compared to the wine. Either way, they certainly weren’t bad together, just didn’t make us drop our forks with delight. And trying out various combinations is what makes wine pairing fun anyway.
Whole Roasted Foie Gras With Sunny-Side-Up Eggs
Wow, if there were one thing we would likely replace on the menu this would have been it. We love foie gras and its rich earthiness, but even for us this was overdoing it. The liver, eggs, and vinegar reduction together was just sooooo much richness. Admittedly, this dish likely could have fed twenty and, at least for me, part of the problem was seeing just how much foie gras remained after I had my fill. Just too much foie gras, something I never imagined myself complaining about!
Frenchette’e Suggested Wine Pairing: Jean-François Chêne, La Coulée d’Ambrosia, Aphrodite Douceur Angevine, VdF 2010
What We Chose Instead: Chateau Haut Bergeron, Sauternes, 2002
How It Worked: Again, with little hope of finding Frenchette’s recommendation, a late harvest Chenin Blanc from France’s Loire Valley, we looked for a suitable alternative. Sauternes is a classic foie gras pairing and we had a “special bottle” Nicole had purchased for me as a gift years ago, so we decided to “open that bottle.”
Part of the fun for us with Sauternes is the way the color deepens in the bottle over the years. Our 2002 selection had reached a magnificent dark amber hue apparent in the picture below.
The wine itself still showed fairly bright fruit flavors — we tasted plums and stonefruit. We did note that overall there weren’t as many layers of flavor as some older Sauternes we've had.
The rich sweetness of the wine paired fairly well with the foie gras dish. But again, for an appetizer, it was just too rich for our tastes. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Admittedly, we also had a hard time having a sweet wine, which we normally would have for dessert, prior to the main course.
Full Rack of Lamb Bracelet With Roasted Vegetables
(Having plenty of food already, we skipped the Tagine of Artichokes With Couscous, which was the vegetarian alternative to the lamb)
The lamb turned out to be a highlight of the meal. Delicious with the bread crumb crust and mustardy glaze. Same went for the potatoes. A fantastic, hearty main course. Perfect for the cold temperatures in upstate New York.
Frenchette’e Suggested Wine Pairing: René-Jean Dard & François Ribo, Les Rouges des Baties Crozes-Hermitage, 2016 Magnum
What We Chose Instead: Leonetti Cellars, Sangiovese, 2014
How It Worked: We certainly could have found a Rhone red to go with this dish as suggested. But we really wanted to try the Leonetti, another of our “special bottles”, with this dish. Leonetti is one of Washington State’s famed producers and one of the wines that, in earlier days, put Washington wine on the map — an O.G. of Pacific Northwest wine. We spent four years on the wait list before joining their wine club and receiving a yearly allotment. So we knew this special meal would be the perfect time to open one of our bottles.
First off, in chilling the wine beforehand, we accidentally left it in refrigerator too long. Rookie mistake! (Normally we find about 20 minutes in the refrigerator to be sufficient to chill a room temperature red wine.) So it took a little longer for all of the wine’s flavors to come out.
But it revealed itself to be a great wine. Deep dark purple color. Drier but juicy, steely, and earthy with a nice mineral finish.
And it worked perfect with the food. Maybe our best food/wine combination of the meal. The fruit in the wine layered beautifully on top of the lamb’s earthiness. This is why wine and food go together!
Black Swan Pavlova With Chocolate Crémeux and Raspberries
Ooh la la. A lovely chocolatey finish to the meal. And the raspberries added a nice tart sweetness. Even though the pavlova did not rise in the oven as much as it was supposed to, it didn’t take anything away from the dish. And the combination of light and dark chocolate added a nice complexity as well.
Frenchette’e Suggested Wine Pairing: Céline & Steve Gormally, Les Dolomies, Carmina Vin de Liqueur (Macvin)
What We Chose Instead: Larressingle Armagnac
How It Worked: Once we learned what Macvin du Jura was (a sweeter fortified wine we’d had as “pineau” when we visited Cognac), we decided to opt for an Armagnac instead. Mostly our calculus hinged on knowing that by the end of the meal we’d probably only want a taste — thus knowing we could cap the Armagnac and keep it indefinitely.
And so we did just that. A small glass of the spirit closed a nearly perfect holiday meal. For anyone who hasn’t tried Armagnac, it’s essentially Cognac, just produced in a French region about an hour and a half drive south of Cognac, with a few other tiny differences not important here. In our humble opinions, Cognac and Armagnac are two reasonably affordable yet underrated offerings in the wine world today. A way to extend a wonderful meal past the last course.
Overall, this meal will go down as one of the special holiday (and non-holiday) meals we’ve had. For sure, the preparation and anticipation itself contributed a lot to this, as did the top notch food and wine.
And to cap it all off on a very high note for us, Frenchette was kind enough to respond that Nicole “nailed it” when she posted pictures of the feast to Instagram. Happy Holidays!
Like this post? Want to read more about Travis and Nicole's travel, book, and wine adventures? Check out Visiting Chateaus Sigalas Rabaud and Rabaud-Promis -- A Look Back At The Sweet Wines Of Sauternes.
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