Saturday, June 16, 2018

ALSACE: A GEOLOGIST'S DREAM

This month at the #frenchwinophiles we've been all about Alsace! Another cool weather wine region in France, this time in the NE. Alsace, as we know, is in the rain shadow of the ancient Vosges mountains in NE France at the border of Germany. So on the border in fact, that it's been back and forth between Germany and France numerous times although these days Alsace is in France. I received four splendid samples of Alsace wines from the generous folks at Alsace Rocks and I've reviewed three here, the last one to come shortly.


When thinking of Alsatian wine few, if any, of us might immediately think of the paleozoic evolution of the Vosges mountains or the fact that the Rhine Valley, home to a majority of Alsace wines, was the site of Central Europe's most significant seismological event, the Basel earthquake in 1356. In fact, the Rhine Valley, so favourable to grapevine growing, is a rift valley, a zone where the the lithosphere is being pulled apart, much like pull apart bread where if you pull one section off, an adjacent piece might start to cleave off as well.  In other words, it's on a geological fault. Needless to say, the earth in Alsace has been very active for not just centuries, but millennia, and continues to be so. The granitic Vosges mountains are over 570 million years old but after their formation and well before the Rhine Valley formed, the Vosges were below sea level, and subjected to layers of sedimentitious deposits... sandstone - which is essentially pressed sand - at the bottom, limestone - which is essentially decomposed seashells next, and marl - calcium carbonate-rich clay, also sometimes called mudstone at the top.

It's safe to say that the soil in the majority of the Rhine Valley is a marble cake of calcium carbonate-based soils from various geologic eras, along with granite on the hillsides of the Vosges and volcanic soil on the other side, a remnant from the now extinct Kaiserstuhl which is no longer useful as a volcano but is home to the largest wine cellars in Western Europe.

What does all this mean vis-à-vis Alsace wine? In a nutshell, this:
  • Sandstone: elegant restrained aromatic wines, pale color
  • Limestone: sprightly fresh acidity and citrus-y juiciness to the wine
  • Marl: complex wines with well defined structure
  • Granite: lower acidity, balanced wine
  • Volcanic: aromatic wine with discernible minerality on the nose and palate

Beyond vine growing and other agriculture, geology matters in daily life. The next time you look at an old building think about what the stone is, and whether it came from a place that was below sea level at some point long ago, or from rock formed from the folding of layers of the earth, or from rock formed from soil being trapped and heated to intensely high temperatures. In forensics, we use all these clues and more to piece together the puzzle when solving problems. Geology is everywhere, and Alsace offers an entire course on it in one area!

2013 GEWÜRZTRAMINER TRADITION
DOMAINE PFISTER, http://www.domaine-pfister.com/

Domaine Pfister is a family owned and operated winemaker, seven generations strong, growing a select variety of grapes on their primarily argilo-calcareous (clay/sand-limestone) soils. The resulting wines, no matter the grape, have the bright acidity imparted by limestone (calcareous) soils and the richness and depth from the clay. And since Alsace is already a cool climate, and clayey limestone soils are cooler soils, the wine also has a delightful astringency without being overbearing.

The grapes are grown in limestone soil, and the wine has 13.5% ABV. The bouquet is fairly straightforward, not too complex, with overripe stone fruit and an undeniable whiff of petrol, but not in a bad way. On the palate it is elegant, off-dry with a medium finish, minerality, and notes of dried roses, stone fruit, and citrus.





This gewürztraminer is discernibly different from German gewürztraminers since it's drier and less sweet. We wouldn't mind a bit higher acidity, but it's excellent nevertheless with the classic pairing of muenster and petit muenster cheeses. + grapes, and dried apricots and cranberries.

We also had it with spiced elk, lemony hummus, pickled onions, peppers and cucumbers, and olives... outstanding with the wine! We also enjoyed it on its own, and at $30 it won't break the bank if you want to give it a go. You won't regret it!












2015 RIESLING "CUVÉE CHARLES"
CHARLES BAUR, http://www.vinscharlesbaur.fr/en/

The Baur family has owned the Charles Baur estate in the heart of Alsace since the early 18th century. The Riesling we sampled is fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for several months. It is a 13% ABV wine, grown in sandy gravel soil. The wine is a beautiful pale yellow, clear with a bouquet and tasting notes mainly of citrus, citrus zest, and white flowers. It's sprightly and balanced with a medium-long finish. Not too complex a wine but still superb.


We had it with coq au riesling (chicken in riesling sauce, made with this same wine) and buttered spätzle. Perfect for a leisurely weekend dinner! At $23, this bottle is a must-buy for warm days!








2015 PINOT BLANC
CAVE DE RIBEAUVILLÉ, http://www.vins-ribeauville.com/en/

Cave de Ribeauvillé has been around since 1885, making it the oldest wine co-op (cave, kaav, is co-op in French) in France. 38 members only, and the co-op buys the entire harvest from each member, so everyone has a vested interest in the wine that comes from the co-op. This particular wine is from grapes grown on a 22.5 acre vineyard near Ribeauvillé. Jean Baltenweck, the vineyard owner, cultivates the grapes on limestone soil using organic agriculture methods with no chemical treatments, and low yields. At 12.5% ABV, this organic 2015 Pinot Blanc is a refreshing but intense wine, perfect for a warm day and a light lunch. A clear wine with a greenish-gold hue, and a gorgeous, primarily grapefruit-citrus zest bouquet with some dried stone fruit. On the palate, it's dry, not very complex or lingering, but has a mouthwatering acidity, is crisp, fresh, and pleasantly lemony. We relished it with galettes de sarrasin complète (Brittany-style buckwheat crepes, eggs, comté cheese, sautéed mushrooms) and butter lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette. Good now or within the next 3 years. Priced at <$20 a bottle this is even more 
of a winner!

All the wines we received were terrific, and we'd most certainly buy more bottles of each for the summer. Perfect to bring to a party as well!

See how the other #winophiles are enjoying Alsace and what they're saying about it:

Friday, June 15, 2018

MUSHROOM + GRUYERE QUICHE



Mushroom + Gruyere Quiche
Makes: 6 servings

- 1 recipe shortcrust pastry 
- 6 eggs 
- 2/3 cup crème fraîche (or heavy cream) 
- 1 cup whole milk
- 8 ounces gruyère cheese, grated 
- 8 oz mushrooms, sliced (white, crimini, baby portabellas, or shiitake are excellent)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg 
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 tbsp butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C. 
  2. Roll out the pastry to fit a 10-1/2 inch pie plate or a cake pan with removable bottom. Press the edges against the pie plate or cake pan, poke the bottom with a fork, and place the pastry in the freezer for 30 minutes. 
  3. In the meantime, heat the butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms until they're cooked and somewhat crisped at the edges. Turn the heat off and set aside. 
  4. Remove the pastry from the freezer and line with parchment paper. Add pie weights (I use dried beans that are solely for use as pie weights) and bake in the middle rack of the oven until the pastry is just browned at the edges, about 15 minutes. 
  5. Remove from the oven, remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Return the pastry to the oven to bake until the bottom is lighty browned, an additional 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. 
  6. In a blender, process together the eggs, cream, milk, and all the spices and seasonings. 
  7. In the par baked pastry, spread the grated cheese in a layer, then add the egg mixture and the mushrooms. 
  8. Bake in the center of the oven until the filling is golden and puffed, and is completely baked through, about 30 - 40 minutes. The quiche is done if it's not shaking in the center, or if a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  9. Remove the quiche from the oven and serve immediately.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A LIP-SMACKING LIP-STINGER: PICPOUL DE PINET


This month the French #winophiles are in the Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, bordering Spain, Andorra, and the Mediterranean Sea. If the geography hasn't given it away: this region is home to a variety of warm weather wines including those made from Picpoul, aka Folle Blanche. The soil - often the soul - of wine, here is primarily limestone and sand.

Limestone soil is an abundant source of plant-accessible CaCO3, calcium carbonate, and because limestone is basic, it allows greater nutrient uptake by the vines. It also has excellent water retention and drainage capacity, which allow less irrigation and less chance of water-logged soils that grapevines dislike. Calcareous (calcium carbonate-based) soil is also cooler in temperature, allowing delayed ripening of grapes. Delayed ripening in naturally acidic grapes further increases the acidity of the wine pressed from these grapes, and results in wines with a mouthwatering, delicious, acidity such as in Picpoul de Pinet or even Muscadet (melon de bourgogne) wines from the Loire Valley. A majority of these wines are best enjoyed within 3 years or so, although a rare few can be cellared for a few decades. I cant imagine why anyone would want to cellar such delicious wines that are perfect for summer and seafood!

Picpoul is not a grape commonly seen in the US, and neither is wine made from it. The one I was able to easily find was the 2016 Hugues Beaulieu (HB) Picpoul de Pinet. HB is a  cave cooperative in the Pomérols region of Languedoc. This wine has no oak, is a pale yellow colour with a green tinge. It is a "steely" bone-dry, crisp wine with juicy acidity and aromas and flavour notes of grapefruit, lemon, green apple, and salinity. The finish is medium and clean - overall a delicious wine!

As with Muscadet, the Picpoul would pair splendidly with seafood - oysters especially, or fatty river fish such as trout or eels. But it also holds well with rich dishes - ones with bechamel sauce, chèvre, or cream. Wild mushrooms are a delicacy of Languedoc and a favourite around our house, so we paired the Picpoul with croûtes aux champignons: creamy mushrooms on toast, and a green salad.


See what the other #winophiles are saying here:
  • Michelle of Rockin Red Blog says, "Picpoul...Take Me Away."
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm encourages us to Pick a Picpoul to Enjoy al Fresco This Summer.
  • Susannah of Avvinare features Picpoul de Pinet - A Refreshing White from the Languedoc.
  • Jill of L'Occasion shares Mediterranean Bliss: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick! pairs Picpoul de Pinet and Steak Tartare Redemption. 
  • Nicole of Somm's Table writes Cooking to the Wines: Font-Mars Picpoul de Pinet with Crab Cakes and Fennel-Apple Salad.
  • Payal of Keep the Peas posts A Lip-Smacking Lip-Stinger: Picpoul de Pinet.
  • David of Cooking Chat makes a case for Picpoul Wine with Pesto and Other Pairings.
  • Lauren of The Swirling Dervish says Picpoul de Pinet: Your Go-To Wine for Spring.
  • Lynn of Savor the Harvest asserts The Single Variety Wine For Summer- Picpoul de Pinet.
  • Gwendolyn of Wine Predator has Picpoul Goes Southern with Shrimp and Grits.
  • Rupal of Syrah Queen will also have a title soon.
  • Jane of Always Ravenous pairs Halibut with Spring Vegetables and Picpoul Wine.
  • Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles shares Picpouls from Pinet and California and a Seaside Pairing
  • At Culinary Adventures with Camilla, we're Pairing Bourride à la Sétoise with Picpoul From France to California's Central Coast.

CROÛTES AUX CHAMPIGNONS: CREAMY MUSHROOMS ON TOAST



CROÛTES AUX CHAMPIGNONS: CREAMY MUSHROOMS ON TOAST
- 1⁄4 cup onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 8 oz. wild mushrooms, sliced (chanterelles, cepes, morels - or crimini if it's easier)
- 4 oz. dry white wine, such as Picpoul or Muscadet
- 3 oz. cream (or you can use a fresh cheese like cream cheese or farmers cheese)
- 2 slices of a whole grain country-style bread
- shavings of goat's milk gouda or a hard salty cheese like parmesan cheese
chives, for garnish (optional)
  1. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook over medium heat until the juices start to run. Uncover, and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates, making sure the mushrooms don't stick to the pan.
  2. Add the wine, reduce by half, then stir in the cream or cream cheese. Let it all simmer for a few minutes, until thickened.
  3. Lightly toast the bread and place on a baking sheet. Top with the mushroom mixture and grated cheese.
  4. Broil just until the top starts to brown. Garnish with chives if using, and serve immediately, preferably with a glass of a bone-dry wine like Picpoul de Pinet or Muscadet!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

THE RHÔNE: A TASTE OF TERROIR WITH THE #WINOPHILES

While Bordeaux may be a prolific and perhaps most famous wine region of France, the Rhône offers the edgy and raw side of French wine with overt expressions of terroir. Whether it's a cool weather northern rhone Crozes-Hermitage grown in granitic soils mixed with clay and sand, or a warmer weather Châteauneuf-du-Pape grown in galet (pebble) laden vineyards that often hide any hint of underlying soil. These pebbles, mostly quartzite, absorb heat during the day and emanate it at night, creating a warm microclimate around the vines, and allowing the grapes to fully ripen. Incidentally, quartzite is the same material often used in road construction! And then there is juicy and refreshing wine from the Luberon, a warm and very sunny region that allows white grapes to fully ripen and regain composure at night when temperatures drop significantly.

Maison Chapoutier, one of the Rhône's oldest wine producers and the first to print their labels in Braille as a matter of course. In fact, the Braille print is the very first thing I noticed on the labels when I received sample wines for the #winophiles March wine event. Why Braille? Why not Braille, because wine is one of life's sensory pleasures that can be enjoyed sign unseen!

On to the wine... thanks to Liz Barrett, I received a Luberon Ciboise (white), a Ch.-du-Pape (red), and a Crozes-Hermitage (red) to try. And...


The 2016 Luberon La Ciboise is a blend of grenache blanc, vermentino, roussanne and clairette, and is unoaked. With notes of citrus blossoms, herbs and light flowers, this youthful wine is balanced, fresh, clean, and juicy. We had it on its own before dinner (no food pairing) because it's delightful and we did not want to burden it with any competing flavours since it's almost delicate in aromas and flavours. And then...



We enjoyed the reds with a terrific cheese and charcuterie board with garlic sausage, a dry cured sausage, Pont-l'eveque, Epoisses, and tomette vendeenne cheeses, olives, and mustard amongst other things. The 2015 La Bernardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a young, delicious wine with a beautiful clear ruby colour and notes of freshly turned earth, white pepper, dried roses, fresh ripe red fruit. A medium bodied wine, soft tannins, generally straightforward and not too complex, with a medium finish. We had the 2015 vintage in 2018, but this wine is still developing and would do well with a few years in the bottle.


The 2015 Les Meysonniers Crozes Hermitage is 100% syrah and it's a bold, forthcoming wine with a gorgeous purple-ruby-violet colour. The nose shows earth, mushroom, black fruit, dried flowers, and undeniable spice. On the palate: earth, black fruit, leather, black pepper, and slight herbal notes. This full-bodied wine is a cool climate wine and doesn't have the juiciness of warm weather wines. But it's delicious after an hour or so of decanter time, and will do very well with at least another 4-5 years in the bottle.


Also see the food pairings and Rhône wine reviews by my fellow French #Winophiles:
  • Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
  • Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label and Other Pioneering Moments of Chapoutier”
  • J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012  (Ventoux)”
  • Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
  • David Crowley at Cooking Chat at tells us about “London Broil Steak with Châteauneuf-du-Pape”
  • Rob Frisch at Odd Bacchus writes about “Return to the Rhône”
  • Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
  • Camilla Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares a post on “Sober Clams + a French Syrah”
  • Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous shares “Bison Burger Paired with Northern Rhône Syrah”
  • Martin Redmond Enofylz at shares “A Taste of The House of Chapoutier”
  • Rupal Desai Shankar at Syrah Queen writes about “Chapoutier: King of the Rhône”
  • Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”
  • Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”

Monday, March 27, 2017

FONDANT AU CHOCOLAT: MELTED CHOCOLATE CAKE + WALNUTS



This fondant (melted, in French) is so easy to make, keeps well overnight so it's perfect to make ahead if you're serving it at a party, and - most importantly - it's unbelievably delicious! No need for special ingredients other than the very best dark chocolate you can get, no complicated techniques, no gadgets needed other than a whisk or a spoon, and takes no more than 45 min. from start to finish (once you have all the ingredients lined up... mise en place)!

In all the years I've made this cake, I can't believe I haven't photographed it until now. Enjoy!

FONDANT AU CHOCOLAT: MELTED CHOCOLATE CAKE + WALNUTS
makes: 1 8 in. cake, 6-8 servings

- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup water
- 6 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I usually use 55%-65% Valrhona)
- 3/4 cup butter, diced
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or any other nuts, or none if you want a plain cake)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)
  1. Combine the sugar with the water in a medium saucepan and heat until it simmers and the sugar is dissolved. Don't boil the sugar and water mixture! Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and let it cool for a few minutes while you prep the next steps. 
  2. Put a deep baking sheet (or an oven-proof pan large enough to hold the cake pan) in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven (with the baking sheet/pan in it) to 350F/180C. Grease an 8 in. cake pan with butter and line the bottom with parchment paper; lightly brush the parchment with butter. Boil 2-3 cups water.
  3. Add the lightly beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture and whisk until mixed well. Mix in the flour and chopped walnuts (or whatever nuts you're using, if any). Pour the batter into the greased cake pan, set the pan on the rimmed baking sheet in the oven, and pour hot water into the rimmed baking sheet until it reaches a depth of 1/2 in. or so.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the center is firm (but not too firm or else the sides will be overcooked). Let it cool for a while before turning it out onto a serving plate, and let it cool completely before dusting with confectioner's sugar.
  5. Serve as is with coffee, or with whipped cream (the cake is sweet enough that we like it with unsweetened whipped cream). Or if you have an impossibly sweet tooth: serve with vanilla ice-cream.

Monday, February 13, 2017

CHOCOLATE ALMOND CANTUCCI (BISCOTTI)


Adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, one of my favourite American cookery books.

Cantucci are made to last a long time so the dough has no perishable fats that could go rancid (oil, butter, etc.), so if anyone is trying to pass off cantucci containing any fat other than eggs, they're not cantucci! These are also known as biscotti (biscuits) outside Italy/Europe. But really, they're a specific biscotti from Prato. Regardless, they come together in no time and are very versatile... delicious with pine nuts or any other nut, raisins, chocolate shavings, etc.

They're supposed to be very dry, and are usually enjoyed dipped into coffee or a sweet dessert wine - traditionally Vin Santo -  when they soften a bit, making them bite-able.

Chocolate Almond Cantucci (Biscotti)
Makes 2-3 dozen biscuits, depending on the size of the loaf and thickness of slices


- 2 cups sliced almonds
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp almond or vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp citrus zest (lemon or any type of orange)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Spread the sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until just fragrant, about 7 min.
  2. In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla (or almond) extract, and zest until the mixture falls in a nice ribbon (3-4 min.).
  3. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, and fold the almonds into the dough (it will be a very stiff batter rather than a dough).
  4. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, divide the dough into two portions. Shape into 3-4 in. wide logs using moistened hands so it doesn't stick. The dough will spread a bit so space logs at least 3-4 in. apart. Re-moisten hands as needed and smoothen out any lumps or unevenness in the logs.
  5. Bake until just firm, 25-30 min. Remove from the oven and cool for 10-15 min. (If baked or cooled for too long the logs might harden, making it difficult to slice them so do keep and eye on the time).
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F/150 C.
  7. Remove each cooled log from the parchment and set on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut log into diagonal slices, about 1/2 in. thick  Lay the slices on the baking sheet - they can be quite close together, don't need to be spaced (use two baking sheets if needed, although I have never needed to do that).
  8. Bake cut cantucci for 10 min., then flip onto the other side and bake another 10-15 minutes until crisp.
  9. Enjoy with a coffee, espresso, or a dessert wine. The crumbs from cutting the biscuits are terrific on ice-cream! 



Sunday, May 15, 2016

EASY PÂTE BRISÉE (SHORTCRUST PASTRY)



This is an easy fool-proof recipe for a classic French pastry dough, aka pate brisée, great for any recipe that needs a flaky pastry crust - pies, tarts, quiches, even empanadas / baked samosas. Enjoy!

Pate Brisee (Shortcrust Pastry)
Makes: 1 10-1/2 in. crust (enough for one quiche, pie or tart)

- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 large pinch salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in small pieces
- 3 to 4 tbsp chilled water
  1. Put the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process to mix.
  2. Cut the butter in chunks and add it to the flour. Process it, using pulses, until the butter is incorporated into the flour and the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal.
  3. With the food processor running, add water 2 tbsp at a time and process briefly, using pulses, just until the pastry beings to hold together in large clumps. A way to check is to take a few tbsp of the flour-butter-water mix and press into a clump. If it holds well, it's got enough water. If it crumbles, it needs more water, 1 tbsp at a time.
  4. Remove the pastry onto a floured work surface and gather it into a ball.
  5. Refrigerate for 15 min before using in any tart, pie or quiche recipe.