The theme for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend came from Jill Barth who’s beautiful blog, L’occasion, chronicles her interest in wine. The timing of Jill’s choice of themes, Spring Pairings for Southern Rhône Wines was perfect for us. March is about when I venture out to our local Farmers Market again after a winter pause. I look forward to this time of year at the Market because it is when peas make their brief appearance. I almost never come home from the Market without them when they are available.
The San Joaquin Delta region is home to many asparagus farms which begin to produce this time of year as well, not to mention spring onions and tender fennel. As I walked through the Farmers Market considering ingredients, I was inspired to create a salad for this month’s pairing. Pete suggested adding seared scallops to the dish, which was brilliant. That wrapped up our food choices, next we moved on to the wine.
When I think southern Rhône wine, my first thought turns to red blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Vacqueyras is one of my favorite appellations. But, for this spring pairing I wanted a white wine. The southern Rhône is home to many delicious white varieties like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne, so I hoped finding one locally would be possible in spite of the fact that wine production in the region is overwhelmingly red. Pete checked our wine cellar, no white Rhône wines there. We made a quick call to a local wine merchant, and voilà — two white wines from the southern Rhône to choose from. We bought them both and decided to use the white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (CDP) for this pairing.
Fresh peas, fennel, asparagus and celery were the main ingredients for our salad. Pete used our mandoline slicer to (carefully) slice the fennel and asparagus. I thinly chopped the tender, inner stalks and leaves of a head of celery and shelled the peas. I quickly blanched the peas, fennel and asparagus and set them aside. Using walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, diced spring onions and just a tiny dollop of Dijon mustard I whisked together a dressing for the salad. Next I sautéed the scallops, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, in a combination of butter and olive oil.
To assemble the salad I mixed the peas, fennel, asparagus and celery together and poured the dressing over them. I tossed the mixture gently and garnished it with lemon zest and a sprinkling of salt. All that was left to do was add the sautéed scallops.
Oh my gosh this was good. Neither of us said a word for the longest time as we dug into this beautiful and delicious meal. The various shades of green in the salad were beautiful. The peas were sweet, the asparagus herbaceous and the fennel delicately anise flavored. The nutty flavor of the walnut oil added richness and the citrus zest added a pop of freshness and so much flavor. The scallops were salty and rich, perfectly tender and browned.
2014 Frédéric & Daniel Brunier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Clos La Roquète” — light yellow in the glass. Dry stone and mineral flavors dominate with just a hint of melon in the background. The wine has bright acidity with a nice weight in the mouth. The flavors are long lasting with a bit of spice on the finish. I wouldn’t describe this wine as fruity, but it is by no means lacking in flavor. It is an interesting and contemplative wine. 13.5% abv.
This lovely CDP blanc is a blend of 33% Roussanne, 33% Clairette, 34% Grenache Blanc. The grapes were hand harvested, pressed and fermented in barriques and demi-muids (600-liter barrels.) The wine was then aged on the lees and bottled after 10 months.
Frédéric & Daniel Brunier are the current caretakers of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, the family’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard and winery first established in 1891. Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe has become synonymous with quality wine production from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the U.S. importer has an interesting account if the family history on their website. Be certain to watch Kermit Lynch talk about Vieux Télégraph in the short video located on the same page.
La Roquète is produced from a 29-hectare vineyard the family purchased in 1986, known as La Roquette at the time. The importer’s description of the vineyard:
“In Châteauneuf, for many the greatest appellation of the southern Rhône, vineyard specificity plays a role almost as critical as it does in Burgundy. Geography here is as important as geology. La Roquète sits on prime real estate at the foot of the Piélong plateau, north of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and adjacent to the western end of the famous Le Rayas vineyard. Galets roulés scatter the vineyard floor, but the primarily sandy soils impart great finesse to the wine. The Bruniers recommend drinking the white young for its freshness and elegance, but it can also evolve for several years if so desired.”
Fresh and elegant, a perfect description of this wine.
The idea for the AOC system in France (a designation of quality based on production standards and geographical designation that is applied to wine and other agricultural products) originated in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the region was one of the first so designated. For an excellent history of the region complete with maps and production details, visit the Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley AOC website.
One of our favorites! I think the key to this pairing is that none of the flavors were overpowering. The flavors of the salad were perfectly balanced. I debated whether or not I should blanch the asparagus and fennel. I tasted both ahead of time and decided a quick blanching would soften the texture slightly and develop the flavor of both. I think it was the right decision. Blanching the vegetables somehow allowed all of the flavors to blend easily but remain distinct. The walnut oil dressing added richness and flavor. I was careful not to use too much dressing, that might have overpowered the flavors of the salad. Pairing the salad with rich, buttery scallops was the perfect contrast to the vegetables.
The wine had sufficient flavor and body to match the flavors of the food without either overpowering the food or being overpowered by the food. I was a bit concerned that the asparagus might not pair well with the wine, but that was not the case. It was a very enjoyable meal.
Thanks, Jill, for the inspiration to create this beautiful pairing. You can read about the pairings the rest of our Wine Pairing Weekend group created in their blog posts listed below.
Jeff from Food Wine Click: Rabbit and Rhône
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog: Springtime in the Southern Rhône with #winePW
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Braised Boar Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad + Vacqueyras Beaumirail
David from Cooking Chat: Kale Pesto Tilapia with Wine from Southern Rhône
Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog: A Tavel Paired with Spring BBQ #WinePW
Meaghan from Un Assaggio: Grilled Rack of Lamb + Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher #winePW
Cindy from Grape Experiences : Wine and Dine: Rosé from Costières de Nîmes and Rack of Lamb with Rosemary
Sarah and Tim from Curious Cuisiniere: Escalivada (Spanish Roasted Vegetables) paired with South Rhône Rosé
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm: Wine Pairing Weekend Celebrates Spring
Kirsten from The Armchair Sommelier: The High Crime of Mushroom Substitution
Jill from L’occasion: (me, with my husband Jason as the chef): Welcome Spring with Fresh Food & Le Ferme Du Mont Côtes du Rhône
David of Cooking Chat started this event in June of 2014, and every month since then this group of wine and food lovers have had a great time! For more background, check out the original post announcing Wine Pairing Weekend. For a list of past and upcoming #winePW event, visit the Wine Pairing Weekend calendar here. We’d love to have you online with us!
Join us as we share blog posts and experience live Twitter chat at 8 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, April 9, 2016.
Anyone interested is encouraged to join in the chat: food-lovers, travel-nuts, winemakers, Rhône residents, wine-lovers…please join us with the hashtag #winePW.