Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alsace | Freshness and Terroir

Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend an Alsace luncheon hosted by Thierry Fritsch, Enological Engineer for the CIVA and enjoy the experience of the wonderful food friendly wines of the Alsace.

Alsace in a nutshell is a wine region of whites (90% production), home to Hansel and Gretel villages, twenty-six Michelin starred restaurants, and the love child of both France and Germany. The past tug of war conflicts between France and Germany has left a footprint affecting language, food, and wine production.

Alsace has 15,500ha of vineyards, 4,400 grape growers, and a miscellany of terroir with thirteen types of marls, schist, sandstone, limestone, chalk, clay, and granites that affect the unique wines of this region. The Alsace region is four times longer than wide and is nestled between the horsts of the Vosges Mountains and Black Forest that not only effects its geology and climate, but also its culture. 

There are only three AOC for the region; Alsace, Alsace Grands Crus (51 site specific vineyards and four per cent of total production) and Cremant d’Alsace (white and rose sparkling wines). Two variants of late harvest wines, Vendange Tardive (VT) and Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN), around out the wine styles. If the grape variety is mentioned on the label, the wine must be made from one hundred per cent of the variety listed. The primary grapes of Alsace are Riesling, Pinot Gris (formerly Tokay Pinot Gris until 2006), Muscat, and Gewürztraminer.

Thierry commented on the nature of Alsace wines; which are fermented totally dry, rarely under go malolactic fermentation, and are made to retain their crunchy acidity and food pairing ability.  The wines are ideally suited for the Germanic influenced foods like sauerkraut, tart flambee, and fatty meats. The wines freshness and acidity makes Alsace whites perfect with similar pickled dishes from Asia (kimchi, tsukemoono, and suan cai). Truly international food friendly wines.

Hawksworth Restaurant did a wonderful job of pairing up the wines with a number of courses along with their polished and professional sommelier service. The tart flambee with bacon, sweet onion, and arugula was perfect with the Sparr Pinot Blanc, a slow cooked chicken breast, confit chicken wing, broccoli, and a fingerling potato salad worked well with Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris, the cheese course with the Morbier on a brioche with apricot puree and spiced almond was a bit more challenging matching the slightly bitter note of the cheese with the Gewurz bitterness.  The VT wine was a nice match to the tartness of the rhubarb in the vanilla crème with chamomile, poached rhubarb and strawberry.

WINES TASTED: Monday March 23rd 2015 Hawksworth Restaurant York Room

Domaine Zinck Cremant Brut Rose $28.99
Subtle pink with a fine mousse. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and flavours of strawberry, red cherry, subtle biscuit notes, herbs, and a touch of mineral in the finish.

Maison Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc Diamant 2011 $21.99
Straw-green with aromas of apple, flower blossom and citrus. Medium-bodied, medium acidity, and a lovely lush and juicy wine with apple, pear, flowers, and a touch of exotic spice.

Maison Trimbach Riesling 2012 $29.99
Pale straw with fresh lime aromas. Medium-bodied with zesty acidity, good concentration, and flavours of lime, green apple, lemon zest, and a touch of mineral in the long finish.

Domaine Zinck Alsace Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2010 $35.99
Yellow green colour with aromas of flowers, herbs, and lemon. Full-bodied, rich with concentrated flavours of honey, spice, poached pear, and minerals. Will improve with another 3-5 years of cellaring.

Maison Michel Chapoutier Pinot Gris Schieferkopf 2010 $29.99
Yellow gold with aromas of butter and malo. Medium to full-bodied with good concentration and flavours of grapefruit pith, subtle malo, and ginger.

Cave de Pfaffenheim Grand Cru Steinert Pinot Gris 2009 $34.95
Yellow gold with a green tinge. Aromas of pineapple and flint. Medium to full-bodied with ripe fruit (smoked pineapple and Mirabelle plum). Richly textured with honeyed rs notes.

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2012 $29.99
Straw yellow with  aromas of subtle rose and ginger. Full-bodied, dry, concentrated, and richly oily in texture. Fantastic flavours of grapefruit pith, Turkish Delight, and melon.

Maison Kuhlmann-Platz Grand Cru Schoenenbourg Gewurztraminer 2012 $34.95
Straw yellow with a somewhat closed nose of rose and mineral. Medium-bodied, some rs with flavours of spice, rose, and citrus.

Maison Hugel & Fils Gewuztraminer Vendange Tardive 2003 $39.99
Yellow gold with aromas of ripe tropical fruit, spice, and subtle botrytis. Full-bodied, complex, and rich with perfectly balanced acidity and sweetness.  Loads of spice, honey, barley sugar, peach and earthy botrytis hints.

For additional information on the wines of Alsace click on this link.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sauvignon, Sotolon, and Science | Taste Buds and Molecules by Francois Chartier

Taste Buds and Molecules by Quebecois sommelier Francois Chartier is a fascinating read into the world of food and wine matching based on molecular compounds and their aromas rather than the tried and true method of pairings based on contrasts, complements, and regionality. The book is divided up into sixteen chapters focusing on particular flavour compounds, ingredients, or molecules.  The book is laid out in a format that should appeal to a chef or sommelier, rather than the typical wine or cookbook reader. If you are a fan of chalkboards, mind mapping, bulleted text, and handwritten text and diagrams you’ll love the layout and flow of the book.

My initial sommelier training involved the now dated four taste theory of salty, sweet, sour, and bitter then followed by the concept of a fifth taste umami (savoury created by glutamates) and now possible sixth and seventh flavours of fat and kokumi (heartiness caused by calcium).

Francois’s book focuses on the effects of volatile molecules which effect  all fragrances we encounter in wine and food. Using concept of similarities of various molecules he has thought out new and intriguing wine and food pairing options. I read through the book once and then followed up on some of his wine and food suggestions with great results.

Chapter Four | Mint and Sauvignon Blanc

Cold Taste Sandwich

This chapter made the most immediate and time tested sense to me. Mint has always worked with Sauvignon Blanc when I cook. Mint is a bridging ingredient allowing food and wine to marry. An herbaceous Sauvignon naturally pairs with the herb mint.  Francois points out that mint belongs in a family of anise-flavoured molecules that also includes tarragon, basil, celery, and apples. These flavours work and are found in cool climate unoaked chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Albarinho. I used this concept to create his “cold taste” sandwich and a pea and mint risotto with the two Sauvignon Blancs. A perfect marriage of flavours occurred in the sandwich made with goat’s cheese, wasabi mayo, Granny Smith apple, green bell pepper, and mint when paired up with a British Columbia La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc.  New Zealand's Spy Valley Sauvignon perfectly paired up with a pea and mint risotto. 

Sotolon & Sauternes & Tokaji
Chapter Five | Sotolon The Molecular Chain Linking Vin Jaune, Curry, Maple Syrup. Sauternes, Etc.

This was a fascinating chapter where I paired up some top quality ready to serve curry dishes from Vij’s with aged Sauternes and a Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. The molecule sotolon  4,5-dimethyl-3-hydroxy-2(5H)-furanone gives curry, walnuts, Cuban cigars, aged teas, maple syrup, and over ripe grapes their distinctive flavours. The sotolon rich fenugeek in the curry bridged the food and the sweet wines. The oxidised quality of the Tokaji was a perfect pairing along with the high sugar level which counterbalanced the spice heat. Sotolon also works well with Oloroso Sherry, mature Champagne, Malmsey Madeira, and Vin Jaune. 

Lamb with Aged Riesling
Chapter Twelve | Rosemary A Southerner…With An Alsatian Profile!

This chapter deals with the wonderfully aromatic Mediterranean herb rosemary, which I discover is rich in terpenes. This family of volatile molecules includes eucalyptus, petrol, lavender, pine, saffron, and thyme to name only a few. Francois recommended pairing lamb raised on the herbs of the Mediteranean with terpene heavy whites especially Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer. I paired up a roast herbed lamb with an aged Chilean Riesling for a wonderful complimentary experience. This chapter was a clear winner. 

Other chapters that have intrigued me include the  "oak and barrels", "Saffron",  and "Capsaicin" components. I think a chapter that may have me bewildered is that of Chapter Seventeen "Capsaicin The Fiery Molecule in Chili Peppers" I have a hard time with reds and heat so Im looking forward to trying some of the suggestions and cooler red serving temperatures to see and taste the effects. 

After years of trial and error, along professional training in wine and food pairing,  it is intriguing to add an additional repertoire of concepts from this book to my day to day dining experiences and wine and food pairings professionally. Science was never my strong point at school, but this was a fascinating and eye opening read.