By Evelyne Fodor
[Editor's Note: With this blog, we welcome Evelyne Fodor to the blog. She is a woman of many accomplishments, including a PhD in French (she is a French instructor for the UCLA Extension), a tremendous chef, and a lover of food and wine. Evelyne has become one of Tablas Creek's best-loved wine consultants and made many fans in our tasting room. This is her first blog piece.]
One of the most frequently asked questions at the tasting room is also one of my favorites. “Which food do I pair with this wine?” At Tablas Creek we take food pairing very seriously. For each of our wines we offer recipes and food pairing suggestions. Each spring and fall, we invite our members to taste dishes created by local chefs to match our new releases. We also have a monthly column on our Tablas blog dedicated to this topic.
When one has an eclectic, adventurous palate however, food pairing becomes a very elusive topic. The other day, long-time club members Tom and Karen from Atascadero showed me a picture of an Ethiopian dish they enjoyed and asked me for suggestions on which of our wines to pair with it. If, like Tom and Karen, you love experimenting with regional cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Moroccan - cuisines with high flavors but notably not associated with wines - the topic is worth exploring.
I am by no means a specialist but in our wine and food-centric community we have an in-depth understanding of both spices and wines. I asked three local experts, Lori Di Ciaccio-Foster the owner of Spice of Life in Paso, Brigit Binns owner of cooking school and B&B Refugio and Neeta Mittal, owner of the boutique winery LXV to explain the complicated relationship between spices and wines.
Fascinated by what she refers to as the “mystery of spices,” Lori brings spices from all over the world and blends them in the back kitchen of her small shop. For her, the fusion between spices and wine is striking: “Blending and harmonizing spices to create vibrant flavors satisfies the mind as well as the palate.” She explained that “each spice captures unique flavors, aromas, and emotions which can pinpoint a specific region or culture.” Like wines, spices thrive best in very specific regions where natural conditions create a unique terroir.
Next door to Spice of Life is Neeta Mittal’s LXV Wine Lounge. With its deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, the place is a “sensory experience.” Neeta was born and raised in Kerala, "God's own country," a southern state of India also known as the "Land of Spices." Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurveda treatments and wild elephants, Kerala is also famous for delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine. When Neeta is not involved with her winery, she explores the principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and veganism: “As we become more demanding of flavors and more intuitive about our health, spices once thought to be exotic are making an exciting splash in the culinary world.”
My last expert is my friend Brigit Binns, the acclaimed author of multiple cookbooks, including The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California’s Central Coast, in which every recipe is paired with a Central Coast wine. Recently I met with several of Tablas Creek's wine club members at her Refugio for a class called “The Rosé Less Travelled," with chef Clark Staub, featuring both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé wines. It's also at Refugio that last May Neeta led a three-part cooking series to explore the flavors of Indian cooking and how they partner with Rhône varieties (beautifully!). Brigit is currently working on a new book project called “Wine First: A Cookbook for Wine Lovers;” her concept is simple: “First, you choose the wine."
So we did! One evening at home, John Morris, Tablas Creek tasting room manager, Neeta and myself lined up a few Tablas wines and started a discussion on the ideal wine pairing. We selected five whites: Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2014, Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2012, Petit Manseng 2014, Vermentino 2015 and Picpoul Blanc 2014. For the reds, we picked most of our Spring shipment including Esprit de Tablas 2011, 2012 and 2013. And at the last minute I added our newest release Terret Noir 2014. I did not include our two rosés, because they simply are too easy to pair with almost anything. Our challenge was to find affinities in both Tablas wines and regional dishes to create a perfect flavor pairing. We knew the style of cuisines would differ greatly based on climate and available local ingredients but certain spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, star anise and turmeric are common to all them.
John has a deep knowledge of our wines and he has also become an expert in Thai food, as his wife Christina was born and raised in Thailand. He quickly singled out Vermentino 2015. Vermentino is a white medium-bodied wine that grows mostly on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia as well as in Provence where it is known as Rolle. With its somewhat exotic character, citrusy aromas, minerality and crisp acidity, Vermentino is very much appreciated by our guests. It also pairs very well with Asian dishes that play with the Star Anise spice such as Asian Style Shrimp.
If for John the choice was simple and straightforward, it took Neeta more time and a few more tastings to figure out which of our wines would be ideal for her Southern Indian dish. She finally chose Esprit de Tablas 2012 which she described as “having a long and complex palate, with flavors of black raspberry, plum compote and leather.” The moderate alcohol content and gentle tannins with nice fruit and spicy flavors was, according to Neeta, an ideal marriage with her delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling Tharavu (Duck Dry Curry).
When it was my turn, my first impulse was to pick Petit Manseng 2012 for its rich sweetness, stonefruit characters and sweet spice, which I thought would pair beautifully with my mom’s Moroccan chicken tagine. The word tagine refers to both the conical-shaped dish and the food that's cooked inside it, which in this case is braised chicken flavored with saffron, turmeric, preserved lemon and olives. Moroccan cuisine has long been integrated into the French culinary tradition due to its colonial history. There is a natural continuity in choosing a Rhône style wine with a Moroccan dish since they both hail from Mediterranean climates. My mom’s tagine is a dish especially well suited here as Morocco shares the same latitude as Paso Robles.
Instead, I choose the Terret Noir 2014, our newest wine. We know very little about the Terret Noir grape, except that it’s a blending partner used in the southern Rhône Valley for red Châteauneuf du Pape wines. It is praised for its "qualities of lightness, freshness, and bouquet" which reminds me of Beaujolais’ Gamay grape. Like Gamay, Terret Noir is pale in color, low in alcohol with bright fruity flavors and a wonderful distinctive herbal aroma reminiscent of garrigue, the low, scrubby vegetation that grows around the Mediterranean coast. The wine’s relatively high acidity made the natural bitterness of preserved lemons and green olives a bit too aggressive, so I simply added (oh mon dieu!) a bit of crème fraîche.
With that in mind, turn up the heat and drink some of our suggestions with all the wonderful African, Asian, Caribbean and fusion dishes that you like! This is the great way to learn and make your own decision about which Tablas Creek wine pairs best with your tastes.
Tharavu / Duck Dry Curry
A dish from the South of India
Neeta Mittal, LXV Wine Lounge
A few notes before we begin:
- Always try to grind spices fresh. Spices sitting on your shelf have probably lost their essence.
- Use a whole duck, if possible, but you can always substitute duck breasts
- Curry Leaves can be found in an Indian store. You could use a couple of bay leaves with some lime zest, but it won't be the same as curry leaves. I have cooked this dish WITHOUT curry leaves and still tastes great.
- Use small Green chilies like Thai chilies.
- You can always email me for ordering just enough spices for this dish, including the curry leaves (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Guideline for pairing with Indian food: low alcohol, low tannin, low oak, high acidity, young fruit
- 1 full duck (skinned and cut into medium pieces and fat removed)
- For Marinade:
- Turmeric Powder : 1/2 tsp
- Red Chili Powder : 3 tsp or to your spice level
- Coriander Powder : 4 tsp
- Whole Spices:
- Cloves: 4 – 5
- Cardamom: 1
- Cinnamon stick: 1 inch
- Bay leaves: 1-2
- Slightly crushed whole pepper corns: 1/2 tsp
- For Gravy:
- Onion: 2 large (finely sliced)
- Tomatoes: 2 (finely chopped)
- Dried Whole Red Chilies: 4-5, each broken into two pieces
- Mustard Seeds: 2 tsp
- Curry Leaves: few
- Green Chilies: 8-10 or to your spice level (slit, lengthwise)
- Coconut Oil: 4 tbsp
- Ghee: 2 tsp
- Tamarind: 1 tbsp OR Vinegar: 1 tsp
- Ginger: 2 tbsp (chopped)
- Garlic: 2 tbsp (chopped)
- Coconut milk: 1 cup
- Marinate the cleaned duck pieces with the marinade for at least 2 hours.
- Heat coconut oil and ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan.
- Add mustard seeds and when it starts to splutter, dried red chili, and whole spices. Sauté for a few minutes.
- Add chopped ginger, garlic, curry leaves, green chilies and chopped onion; sauté till onions turn light brown.
- Add tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes, until the oil separates from the tomatoes
- Add 1/2 cup of water, tamarind (or vinegar), the marinated duck pieces, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the duck is half-done, stirring once or twice in between. Open and cook for 5 minutes at high heat until the gravy almost dries up, stirring in between so that it won’t stick to the bottom.
- Pour in the coconut milk into half cooked duck and adjust the salt. Lower heat and simmer gently until the curry changes to a brown color and oil starts floating on top. (The coconut milk should get cooked and release coconut oil).
- Serve Tharavu curry with hot Basmati Rice
- Pair with a glass of slightly chilled 2012 Esprit de Tablas
My Mom’s Tagine
Evelyne Fodor, Tablas Creek Wine Consultant
- 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
- Kosher salt
- 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil
- 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1½ cup chicken stock
- 6 quarters preserved lemons
- ½ cup pitted green olives
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoons chopped leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
- Generously salt the chicken pieces on all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the fat in the bottom of your Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are well browned. Remove browned pieces from the pan and add the next batch, continuing until all the pieces are browned. Remove all chicken pieces to a plate.
- Add oil and onions and sauté on medium high heat, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary, for 15 minutes, or until they are a rich golden brown.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Add the spices and a pinch of salt to the onions and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to lightly toast the spices. Return the chicken to the pan, pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
- Cover the tagine, transfer to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and is beginning to pull away from the ends. Remove the chicken from the pan.
- Return the tagine to a burner and simmer for about 3 minutes to reduce the sauce. Add the lemons and olives. When they are hot, whisk in the butter, parsley, and cilantro.