Reds Fit For Veggie Fare

October 12, 2013

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Autumn veggies can handle weightier wines

Upon putting together a pairing flight for a roasted vegetable dish at the wine bar last week I discovered a commonly held belief among wine-drinkers: that wine and vegetables don’t mix – but if they must, then it’s got to be a light-bodied White.

My guess is that this stems from the notion that veggies are delicate and therefore can’t handle a robust wine. But, as with all food and wine marriages, the type of vegetable, how you cook it, and what you add to it makes all the difference and suddenly opens up all sorts of pairing possibilities.

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Roast veggies for maximum flavour

  • Firstly, autumn vegetables like beetroot, parsnips, turnip tend to be heartier than Spring or Summer ones (think, asparagus, artichokes).
  • Secondly, roasting or caramelizing vegetables (as opposed to say, boiling or steaming) intensifies flavour, texture and sugars.
  • Thirdly, adding fat, protein and grains to the dish – for example, in the form of cheese, nuts or barley – adds substance and weight.

Once you turn up flavour, add protein and fat, you’ve got yourself something that can quite easily take on and tame a tannic Red or woody White.

That said, this is still not grilled-steak territory, so when picking a veggie-friendly wine, I would avoid full-on, punchy Reds and veer toward something subtler: think, fruity with mild-moderate tannins, low alcohol and good acidity. For example: Rosé, Beaujolais, Chianti Classico.

The More We Get Together

August 6, 2012

I haven’t posted in ages. But, don’t worry, I won’t tire you with the poor-me-I-just-had-a-baby and I-hardly-have-time-to-drink-wine-any-more blather. (Even though that’s the truth.)

Baby Crying

credit: bilinick.blogspot.ca

Allow me to celebrate my comeback with a post about beer. Actually, it’s a re-post. I initially wrote this for cheese-wizard Sue Riedl’s blog Cheese and Toast – whom I had the good fortune to meet last June at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Sue had tweeted an article on English beer & cheese pairings last month and I responded by suggesting we do a Canadian version. She agreed so I asked friend and beer wizard Craig Pinhey if he’d pick a few of his favourite Canadian brewskies, and I’d select cheeses to match and write it all up! Ta da!

What Grows Together, Goes Together

Canada makes phenomenal beer and cheese. But rarely do we think of pairing them together. “What grows together goes together” is a fundamental food pairing principle: by combining food and drink from the same region there are automatic similarities in aroma and flavour which set the foundation for a harmonious pairing.

Here we pick six of our favourite Canadian beers and pair them with an outstanding cheese from the same province. Try them yourself. You may never reach for potato chips and pizza with your brewski again.

1. Creemore Springs Premium Lager & Comfort Cream – Ontario

The combination of vibrant carbonation and sweet biscuit-like malt in this Lager make it an ideal partner for a rich, bloomy-rind, Camembert-style cheese.

comfort cream cheese

Comfort Cream (credit: Upper Canada Cheese Co.)

Comfort Cream from Upper Canada Cheese Co. is an oozy, velvety, buttery cheese that loves the mouth-cleansing action of sudsy bubbles with just enough tartness to cut through the fat – enter, Creemore Springs Premium Lager. Because it’s not overly bitter, the beer doesn’t trump the cheese and accentuate unwanted undertones. True to Camembert form, the cheese offers classic mushroomy, earthy flavours which are right in step with the marked floral notes in this beer.

creemore springs

credit: ramblingsofarunningadict

2. Blanche de Chambly & Grey Owl – Quebec
Wheat beer often goes well with goat cheese, but the pairing gets more interesting when good character is present in both.

grey owl

Grey Owl (credit: Jacobsons)

Grey Owl, from Fromagerie Le Détour, has a mild, chalky, paste that is complex enough to hold its own, but doesn’t try to compete with the delicate spice of this white ale. The pairing really comes together on tangy, citrus notes  with Blanche de Chambly’s orange and lemon tartness echoing the citrussy acidity of the cheese. Grey Owl’s ash-rind might be a tad too vegetal/green for this match if it weren’t for a prevailing coriander note in the ale that pulls it all together. Not your typical Wheat Beer/Goat cheeses pairing, to be sure!

Blanche de Chambly

credit: The Beer Store

3. Propeller Pale Ale & Ran-Cher Acres Chèvre – Nova Scotia
This mellow, balanced pale ale requires a younger, tamer cheese – but not so tame that the cheese disappears.

Chevre

Chevre (credit: formaggiokitchen)

Moderate hoppy flavours are a good mate for tartness in a cheese – which this fresh goat’s milk cheese has plenty of. The chèvre is also fruity, picking up on similar elements in the beer (pear), and is delectably creamy, not sour. Ultra creamy cheeses like the Ran-Cher Acres Chèvre cry out for a crisp, cleansing, companion like the Propeller Pale Ale. A match made in Maritime heaven.

Propeller Pale Ale

(credit: Propeller)

4. Iron Horse Brown Ale & Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar – PEI
The dark chocolate and roasted nut notes in this brew fuse perfectly with the creamy, rich, toffee flavours of this aged cheddar from Cow’s Creamery.

avonlea clothbound cheddar

credit: dobbernationloves

The beer completely winds itself around this cheese and does not let go. (Think: Caramilk bar… but better!) There is also a rustic, bitter edge to the Iron Horse which mimics the earthiness of the Clothbound – especially toward the rind – and provides a savoury/sweet contrast that is pretty unbeatable.

Iron Horse Brown Ale

credit: peibrewingcompany

5. Red Racer IPA & Alpindon – BC
Fashioned after the Beaufort d’Alpage, Kootenay Alpine’s Alpindon is intense and complex – precisely what this racy IPA craves in a mate.

alpindon

credit: Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co.

The Red Racer is a bit of a hop monster and so requires a cheese that is just as shouty. Part of the cheese’s pungency comes from its dark textured rind that has a lovely burnt, woodsy taste which highlights the brawny bitterness of the IPA. Tiny crystals nestled in the Alpindon’s paste add an exciting crunch and their buttery, herbaceous flavour sings against the beer’s caramel maltiness and florality.

Red Racer IPA

credit: Red Racer Beer

6. Pump House Blueberry Ale & Marti – New Brunswick
The dominant element in both the Blueberry Ale and this Sheep’s milk cheese is a mild sweetness. Marti, made by Bergerie aux Quatre Vents, is a delicate fruity cheese with vanilla notes that couple brilliantly with the berry and malt characteristics of this fruit beer. The cheese’s rind is tender and without harsh flavours that might disrupt the softness of the Pump House. There is a subtle saltiness to the cheese which is nicely contrasted by sweet fruit and peppery notes in the ale. Both the beer and cheese are more or less equal in terms of flavour intensity – an important element to consider, even when similar flavours appear in both.

Pumphouse Blueberry

credit: LCBO

Hard as it is for me to make the shift from the warming, heady Red wines of Winter, Springtime does call for something a bit less serious. Rather than leap directly to Whites, though, I prefer to take a gradual approach via the Pink to make the adjustment a little easier.

The Pink Stuff

Blomidon Estate Winery Rosé

Blomidon Estate Winery Rosé

When it comes to Rosé, I am a bit selective. For me, the ideal template is undoubtedly Provençal: delicate, fruity, herbal. Insipid, sour, candy-like versions are unbearable, even with food (unless in a salad dressing). Unfortunately, Provence Rosé is hard to come by here in Nova Scotia, but wines sharing its profile can still be found if you take the time to look. Interestingly, one such findings is a local creation.

Blomidon Estate Winery recently released their 2010 Rosé – a blend of L’Acadie Blanc, Baco Noir and NY Muscat (a splash more Muscat than last year, I’m told). The colour is a healthy, coral pink with an entirely pleasant nose of strawberry, soft herbacious notes, rose petal and underlying lychee and blossom. The palate is lean, off-dry with lively fruit, bracing acidity and good backing minerality. The acid here is probably a bit more pronounced than that of a Provence rosé, but it’s still balanced and makes for an excellent food wine. Local seafood dishes simply prepared are a natural match. Mine, I had over a starter of local smoked salmon and fluffy creamy chevre on toasted baguette – it worked really well and started off the evening beautifully. Which is another good thing about rosé… by waking up the palate (rather than tiring it) it’s an excellent starting point for a wine-filled evening, if that’s on the cards.

Visiting some friends in London last week, I fully embraced Britain’s drink-culture and spent most of the time, well, drinking. Mostly wine. Believe it or not, the occasional note was taken and a conscious effort made to think about what I was drinking. So really, it was less indulgence and more homework – an extended recreational tasting, if you will.

At the top of the heap, was a natural Malbec from Cahors, and at the bottom a Chilean Carmenère. Full details are below… Warning: long post. Skim away!

Chateau Kefraya

Chateau Kefraya

First stop was Chateau Kefraya at Le Mignon in Camden Town, a Lebanese wine I’ve had often. It seems to suffer from high bottle variation, but when it’s right it’s a medium-bodied, spicy, fruity wine that goes perfectly with Lebanese food. We enjoyed this bottle with an assortment of vegetarian Mezza consisting of traditional treats like Mujadara, Fattoush, Foul Muddamas, Muhamara to name a few. The smoky, spicy character of both the food and wine blend well, with neither overpowering the other. Another wine we tried was the Chateau Ksara Clos Alphonse with a flavour profile very similar to the Kefraya but with a slightly lighter structure. Heavier, meat dishes might pair better with the Le Fleuron, a new wine to Le Mignon, which has more weight and structure than the Kefraya/Ksara, but still has the spice and fruit that lends itself so well to the menu.

Marsala Riserva Superiore

Marsala Riserva Superiore

Next stop was the wonderful Vinoteca in Smithfield for a Food & Drink Blogger’s Dinner organised by the illustrious Niamh Shields from Eat Like A Girl. Victoria Curatolo of Sicilian Winery Villa Tonino led the dinner consisting of beauties like Olive Oil Poached Gunard, Char-Grilled Old Spot Pork-Belly and Slow-Cooked Veal Shoulder. So busy was I devouring and chatting that I failed to note each of the wines, but the Marsala Riserva Superiore served at the end of dinner was hard to ignore (especially the next day when it greeted me again in the form of a massive headache).  My barely legible notes indicate a deep amber colour with an intense spirity & fruity nose with nut, caramel, honeyed/dried fruit flavours. I might have preferred a bit more sweetness, but as it was, a fantastic finish to a wonderful meal.

Le Combal Cahors

Le Combal Cahors

Moving on to South Western France – a personal favourite where the styles are refreshingly varied, interesting and experimental – I was pleased to see such a healthy selection at Terroirs. Terroirs focuses on natural wine and food so it’s a fantastic spot to discover new and obscure styles. My dining companions were feasting on a mixture of Steak Tartare and Clams & Chorizo, so I opted for a bottle of rustic Le Combal Cahors to split between us. Despite it being served slightly too cool, we were all very happy with this rich, inky coloured Malbec. Almost middle-aged Bordeaux-like with leather, smoke, ripe/dark fruit and subdued tannins. I’d have this again, for sure.

Saint Etalon

Saint Etalon

Continuing in the France vein, a bottle of Saint Etalon Sauvignon Blanc was shared over a meal of seafood and veggie dishes at Market, a relatively new modern British restaurant in Camden Town. A bottle of South African (Western Cape) Sauvignon Blanc – Springfield Estate’s Life From A Stone was also had.  The Saint Etalon went largely unremarked upon… quietly blending into the background, not offending or impressing anyone much. The Life From a Stone caused a bit of a stir between our Frenchman friend and the owner of the restaurant. The latter loving the new world, stoney, mineral style of LFAS and the former preferring the understated lemon, pear herbiness of the SE. With regards to this particular debate, I sided with the owner. A rather light, sweet, peach-infused Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet from Bordeaux (Gironde) finished dinner along with a cheese plate and homemade oatcakes. I liked the Loupiac a lot – perhaps could have had a bit more “bite” but overall, delicious.

Louis Bernard Cotes Du Rhone

Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône

A trip to London would not be complete without a lazy, slightly hungover afternoon in the pub. I met my two cohorts on one such Saturday at the Lord Stanley in Camden Square. Our focus being primarily food and gossip we went with a straightforward Organic, Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône and a Libertad Malbec Shiraz from Argentina. We ordered rich and flavourful dishes of Quail, Fried Polenta and Sausages. The CdR had lots of lush red fruit notes – strawberry and cherry – with a reassuring touch of earth and leather which all came through on the palate with a smooth texture and medium-bodied structure. Happily, the Malbec Shiraz wasn’t as “shouty” as expected. The same ripe red fruit as the Côtes du Rhône but instead of earthiness, hints of vanilla and oak. As expected, it was fuller bodied on the palate with more fruit-forwardness and spice.

Forest Hill Riesling

Forest Hill Riesling

I’ve found few better places for Indian vetegarian/seafood than Rasa Samudra on Charlotte Street, specialising in Keralan food. On this occasion, my companion and I ordered King Fish and Talapia for mains with a traditional starter of Keralan pompodoms & chutneys to start. For wine, we opted for the Western Australian Forest Hill Riesling with the notion that Rieslings and curries are often good matches. However, with the dishes not being typical, western-inspired curries and the Riesling not being a typical, slightly-sweet white, the match failed somewhat. The food was spicy and savoury and the wine was dry and tart. Some residual sugar in either the wine or the dish would have balanced this match better I think. Individually the food and wine were wonderful.

Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère

Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère

The final attack on my liver involved a trip to Artisan & Vine in Battersea. I’d been wanting to try A&V for some time so a friend and I agreed to shed habit and venture south of the river. First impression was that it was a lovely space – an inviting layout and pretty decor. Feeling a bit worse for wear (physically & financially) we were looking for something lighter-bodied and good value. The options weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped in either category. With surprisingly little help from the woman behind the counter we apprehensively settled on a bottled of  Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère Riserva from Chile. On first whiff I thought I detected a touch of cork taint/TCA – but I couldn’t be sure. The nose was jammy but not as expressive as I was expecting and there was a little of the dreaded “wet cardboard”. Annoyingly, we drank it anyway. I literally forced this wine down and did not enjoy a drop of it. To me it was unbalanced, lacking in acid and slightly syrupy – and again, that slight mildew component. I know what you’re thinking. “Why didn’t you send it back?” The answer is, I don’t know. I was tired. Broken. Beaten down by the aforementioned drinking marathon, maybe. Whatever the reason, I shan’t be gorging  – err, I mean studying – like this again for a while 🙂

The Portuguese wine selection in Nova Scotia is not exactly killer. So sparse are the offerings in our fine province that the region had all but disappeared off my wine radar. Until I’d heard that Vin Art had recently acquired an appealing assortment worth a gander! With my interest piqued, I hopped in the van and sped (ok… clunked)  off to Clayton Park with a couple of fellow enthusiasts in tow.

We spent an hour or so perusing and after much hmming and hawing, I chose a few bottles to purchase.  I haven’t tasted them all yet, but two have stood out so far – for value and flavour:

Lello Branco

Lello Branco 2008

Lello Branco 2008

Region: Douro
Varietal(s): Malvasia-Fina, Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato grapes
Notes: Very pale straw, almost watery colour. Slight sulphur initially, but then floral, peach, citrus on the nose. Clean, fresh, light-bodied, and more tropical fruit on the palate. Finished quickly. Drink young (now). Great sipper.
Food Pairings: I downed this with a chicken, prawn & chorizo Paella. It went well, but had the dish been any spicier the wine would’ve disappeared. I might suggest an even simpler/lighter seafood dish.
Price: About $18 at Vin Art
Meia Encosta Dao

Meia Encosta Dao Vinho Tinto 2007

Meia Encosta Dao Vinho Tinto 2007

Region: Dao
Varietal(s): Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz grapes
Notes: Youthful, bright ruby red colour. Intense, ripe black cherry, spice with some lovely earth, tar & leather notes. Medium-bodied, good acid, plump fruit and soft tannins. Very balanced. Slight bitterness at the end with really quick finish. Despite the finish, I really liked this!
Food Pairings: There is enough complexity/structure to hold up to say, roasted meat – cooked through. The smokiness/spiciness of the wine might be complimented by a bit of spice/pepper in a marinade or sauce. But nothing too heavy.
Price: About $15 at Vin Art

Habits are at first cobwebs, then chains, the old proverb goes. It’s generally considered a good thing to break out of the habitual occasionally and try something new.

Like a lot of people, if I had a wine comfort-zone it would be Red; probably Old World and most likely French. Last Friday I veered from the norm picked up a bottle of German Riesling on the recommendation of a friend: Dr. Zenzen Apollo Falter Riesling Spätlese 2004 from the Mosel – Saar – Ruwer. *

Dr. Zenzen Apollo Falter Spätlese Riesling

Browsing the Guardian the following day I spied Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chickpea, Potato and Kale Curry recipe. Not only did it sound gorgeous, it looked easy and, more importantly would be a great match for said Riesling.

I confess that I un-posh-ified the recipe a little and used tinned chickpeas, instead of dried; and pre-ground spices, instead of the pan-toasted/mortar & pestle seed action Hugh suggested. I also accidentally added far too many potatoes (I used red russets, and left the peelings on) and perhaps cubed them a little too large because they took FOR-EVER to cook.

Chickpea, potato & kale curry

But after 45 mins or so, dinner was finally served over brown, long-grain rice (a final departure from the recipe) with the dallop of plain yoghurt, as instructed, which was a nice addition indeed.

Back to the Riesling. It’s generally understood that German wine labels are a bit of a labyrinth (though thankfully, this is being addressed). Mysterious descriptors, combined with a consumer-mindset that all Rieslings are sweet (a carry-over from the German wines present on the market in the ’70s/’80s) result in many of these wines getting passed-over – especially here in Nova Scotia.

German Riesling label

German Riesling label

North American Rieslings, though their labels are easier to parse, still suffer from the sickly-sweet stereotype. But education, and programs like taste profiling are helping to clear up confusion. For our German counterparts, recognising a few key terms can help tremendously. Spätlese is a quality German wine designation, under the classification Prädikat, meaning “late harvest”. The grapes are normally riper than those of Kabinett, but less ripe than Auslese (sibling designations). Feinherb is a term meaning off/medium dry. This gives a pretty good idea of what we’re getting.

Because of the acidity most Rieslings age well so, a 2004 should still have lots of life left. The appearance was a bright lemon colour with some tiny bubbles – though wasn’t sure if the bubbles were from the glass, or the wine itself. The nose was delicate with apple, pear and honey notes. On the palate it was clean, slightly effervescent with apples again, and a touch of sweetness. The slight fizz might’ve indicated a fault (e.g. second fermentation in the bottle) but I didn’t mind it and found it very refreshing.

If I may say, the dish didn’t disappoint but didn’t dumbfound either. I found it had a slightly “sour” flavour that admittedly could’ve come from a number of liberties taken with the recipe – or, maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to taste (cue Hugh shaking his head).

The residual sugar in the Riesling provided the sweetness I was searching for in the curry, and the freshness ensured it didn’t overpower what was going on in the food. The wine actually improved the dish for me. All in all, a great pairing.


* Currently on mark-down at Premier Wines & Spirits for about $25.