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As spring blooms, Sancerre launches season for whites

Sancerre with lentil salad and grilled chicken
Pat has fond memories of traipsing through the Loire Valley one summer. As much as the rolling green land and the amazing fairy-tale châteaux, she remembers the food-friendly local wines. Then this winter we encountered some Cabernet Franc that reminded us how good Loire Valley reds can be with fish and lighter summer fare. The valley is home base to some of the greatest French wine grapes not called Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. With summer on the horizon, we realized it was time to rectify our lack of attention to Loire Valley wines—some of which are the quintessential sips at the end of long, warm day.

We got a respite from our chilly, damp spring last week in time for the forsythia to burst into bloom. It was warm enough to light the grill, so we brushed some lightly brined chicken with sesame oil and slow-grilled it over indirect heat. The non-vinous star of the meal was the accompanying cold lentil salad with crumbled goat cheese. (See recipe below.)

The wine was a 2015 Sancerre from Domaine de la Perrière. It’s the flagship white of Saget Perrière, ninth generation winemakers from Pouilly-sur-Loire, and worth far more than its $24 list price. U.S. consumers often dismiss Sancerre as “merely Sauvignon Blanc.” That’s a little like saying that a grand cru Burgundy is “only Chardonnay.” Sancerre is one of the best-rounded expressions of Sauvignon Blanc—full of luscious white fruit, full but not tart acids, and a minerality that cuts through unctuous cheeses or fish. This particular Sancerre has a remarkable freshness from the flower aromas of the first sniff to the lingering lemon zest in the aftertaste. It’s made entirely with wild yeasts and aged at least three months on the lees, where it picks up some bread-y aromas and an almost meaty mouth feel.

FRENCH LENTIL SALAD


This recipe is adapted from a version that David Leibovitz published in My Paris Kitchen. He has another variation on his web site (www.davidlebovitz.com), and we’ve found additional variants in several French cookbooks. But we credit Leibovitz for turning us on to the dish, which we’ve altered and adapted over the years. Thanks, David.

Makes 6 cups

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups Le Puy green lentils
4 cups water
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup peeled and finely diced carrot
1 cup peeled and finely diced celery
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped to small pea size
1 cup crumbled fresh chèvre

Directions

Place lentils in a 3-quart saucepan. Add 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons salt to cover lentils by about 2 inches. Add bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and cook 5 minutes more. Be careful not to overcook lentils.

While lentils are cooking, whisk together the vinegar, salt, mustard, oil, and shallot in a large bowl.

Drain the lentils and vegetables well. Stir them into the dressing while still warm, coating the lentils completely. Remove the bay leaf and let mixture cool to room temperature, turning it over a few times as it cools to distribute dressing. Add a few twists of black pepper and stir in parsley, walnuts, and goat cheese before serving. We like to serve in small crowns molded in a 1/3 cup measuring cup.

05

05 2017

Pouilly-Fumé complements asparagus-prosciutto risotto

asparagus prosciutto risotto with Pouilly-Fumé

We sang the praises of Sancerre a few weeks ago, lauding its round fruit combined with tart minerality. We are continuing to welcome the spring and summer seasons with other Loire Valley wines. Sancerre’s sister Sauvignon Blanc wine, Pouilly-Fumé, certainly has a strong family resemblance. With a bit flintier taste than Sancerre and a haunting smokiness, Pouilly-Fumé pairs wonderfully with asparagus. We had a couple of bottles of Saget La Perrière 2013 on hand when we acquired up a nice bundle of just-picked asparagus from the Connecticut River farms in Hadley, Massachusetts. We immediately thought of our favorite risotto treatment for the vegetable.

That recipe was created for Pinot Grigio, so it uses San Daniele prosciutto and Grana Padana cheese. It’s easy to adapt the recipe for the more assertive Pouilly-Fumé. We found that the stronger tastes of a good domestic prosciutto and an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano were better suited to complement the wine. The asparagus flavors emphasize some of the sharper notes with this pairing.

Like the same company’s Sancerre, the Saget La Perrière Pouilly-Fumé 2013 was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks continuously chilled to stay below 64°F. Fermented entirely with wild yeasts, it ages several months on the lees. Fruit notes of grapefruit and pear are the most pronounced, with a lingering lusciousness of peach. The wine lingers on the palate with a freshness that combines with the umami of the cheese and prosciutto to form a lush tonic chord of flavor. Suggested retail is $28.

25

05 2017

Friuli has the right wine for asparagus


Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine because sulfur-bearing compounds in the stalks produce a chemical bouquet that clashes mightily with the tannins in red wine or in whites aged in oak. Eat asparagus and drink your average pinot noir or barrel-aged chardonnay and the wine will literally taste like garbage.

The French solve the problem by pairing asparagus with Loire Valley whites or white Sancerre-wines based on Sauvignon Blanc that never see a whiff of oak. But just as Friuli grows some of the best asparagus in Europe (see If it’s asparagus it must be Friuli), the northeast corner of Italy also produces the best wine to pair with it. Since 2008 it’s been on the market as Friulano, though in Friuli some people still call it Tocai Friulano. (The Hungarians got all huffy about “tocai,” so the Italians had to change the name.)

Recent genetic research reveals that Friulano is first cousin to Sauvignon Blanc and is the grape known in France as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse. In France, it makes a thin wine with a “green” taste. In Friuli, where it’s considered a native grape, it makes a noble, forthright, steely white wine that is the perfect match to asparagus. (The acids also cut nicely through unctuous sauces like hollandaise).

Although Friulano is considered one of the best white wines in all of Italy, it is little known in North America. But I’m beginning to find some examples in better liquor stores near my home in Cambridge. The most intense and steely Friulano comes from the Colli Orientali region on the far eastern edge of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. My favorite is produced by Giorgio Colutta and sold under the Colutta label as Friulano Annata (about $16). Joe Bastianich (son of chef Lidia) also makes a very good version for around $1 more. Both are widely distributed.

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05 2010