Fabulous French Finds for the New Year

* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.

New Years aren’t just for resolutions; they’re also for doing something a little different, like getting out of the old comfort zone. 2014 has already offered some fabulous wine finds from the country that gave us both Lafayette and Lady Liberty. And keeping with that “road less traveled by” theme, these food-friendly French wines aren’t from well known Bordeaux or Burgundy. Rather, some of the first great finds for the New Year come from less heralded French regions like Languedoc Roussillon and the Loire Valley.

Ode to the food friendly French!

Ode to the food friendly French!

If the beautifully earth-toned mosaic label of the 2011 Tessellae Old Vines isn’t enough to rattle your curiosity to attention, then perhaps the aromatherapy it’ll deliver will be. From the Côte du Roussillon and made from a traditional GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, the Tessellae has a wonderful appetite inducing bouquet of mixed berry fruit reduction, saddle leather and bacon fat.

Remember the old adage, “fat is flavor, flavor is fat?” You’ll want to pair this sultry French red with a salty pork dish like tenderloin medallions, covered in a creamy béchamel sauce with nutmeg and sweet onions.

Trying new things, especially wines, often produces the dual effect of causing both excitement and some trepidation. So, don’t let the moniker of this next wine scare you off or have you feeling alone. Instead, embrace its intended adventure!

The 2011 Flying Solo is a Grenache/ Syrah mix from France’s southern wine hub, the Languedoc Roussillon. Its peculiar microbiological aroma quickly opens up and gives way to some fast fruit. Cherry bombs continue to drop from one quick quaffable sip to the next. Great with a heart warming, youth inspiring comfort food like tomato soup, the Flying Solo could be your road map for better drinking in 2014.

When France’s Loire Valley is mentioned in the company of wine lovers, the first thing to come to mind is usually a white wine from Sancerre, Sevre-et-Maine or Vouvray. But this coastal influenced wine region also makes great Cabernet Franc. The 2011 Laporte “Le Bouquet” is a prime example of 100% Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Herbaceous and earthy aromatics of asparagus and bell peppers are greeted by the wine’s lower alcohol level, producing a thinner easy-to-drink red with some notable red berry fruit. Look for a healthy pairing of marinated Mediterranean vegetables and some roasted poultry to go with the Laporte.

All these fabulous French finds will retail for under $20, making your New Year an even happier one!

Social Lubrication

Over the last few falls and winters, we have taken to hosting more dinner and house parties. Something there is that loves the communion of various friends, the intimacy of the in-house setting and the planning/execution of rich, hearty, savory dinners. If only we had a second dishwashing machine, right?

Your next dinner party red!

Your next dinner party red!

My philosophy on which wines to serve has held a few basic tenets over the years. First, I like to have one choice each for red, white and sparkling. Experience has shown that too many selections will often turn into everyone focusing on that one “amazing” wine that is now empty and irreplaceable. “Too many to chose from” also inevitably leads to a sense of forgetfulness when it comes time to recall all the different wines one has sampled that night. Last, and perhaps more importantly, having a wine that is going to be versatile while simultaneously providing instant gratification will make your hosting duties all the easier.

The versatility assists you by having a wine that can pair up with the variety of foods in the feast ahead. But that instant pleasure, that the right wine can provide, helps your guests to become comfortable with meeting new people and settling into the moment… sort of a social lubricant. If they like what they’re drinking right away, then there’s a good chance they’re going to enjoy the evening altogether.

That’s the long way for saying; I’ve found which red wine I’m serving at my next house party. The 2010 Chateau d’Oupia displays interesting beefy aromas and some pepperiness. Follow that up with a black cherry flavor profile and dash of bittersweet chocolate at the end and you have all the ingredients for a wine with quick strike capability. The Chateau d’Oupia comes from Minervois in France’s Languedoc wine region. Its hillside vineyards account for well maintained Carignan grapes, the chief ingredient in the d’Oupia. The rest of the wine is comprised of Syrah and Grenache, so you know you’re staring at potential winner.

Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, the Chateau d’Oupia comes in at an amazingly fair $13 price tag, something you’ll appreciate when it comes time to keep the post party-party going a little longer.

Fartisan Pizza Rewind

* This is a re-post of the blog’s most popular post for the first half of 2013. Enjoy!

The one thing I loathe the most about the modern “food movement” in America is the trite use of the word artisan or artisanal. Really, I’m just adverse to the word in general. It’s crap. Fartisan crap!

I first heard the word used in a food context about four or five years ago at a wine dinner. Some guy was waxing on about how the food was artisanal and the chefs were artisans and their artwork (food) was better than a regular chef’s food because well, once again, it was artisanal. Blah, blah, blasé.

I love Frito Lay brand chips. They now have “Artisan” chips. Haaah! And, quite possibly, the crust in tonight’s dinner and wine pairing might just have been made from mis-purchased “artisanal” dinner rolls. Artisan is the new black. So much, in fact, that it’s almost been worn out and faded to gray.

Fartisanal Pizza

Nonetheless, this evening I used my wife’s five hundred pound marble rolling pin to re-roll the dough of a half dozen dinner rolls into a Fartisanal shaped pizza crust. Looks pretty good, after all it isn’t perfectly square or round or rectangular. Must be artisanal!

Picpoul

My Fartisan pie was topped with some of my Nonna’s recipe white sauce as well as a mixture of the “six super greens” like kale, spinach, chard, and romaine. Finish with mozzarella, parmesano and a few strategically placed but artisanally hatched hen eggs and you have a protein and fiber rich pizza that would have been done half an hour earlier if I’d only paid attention and purchased the desired rectangular pizza crust that rolls out a whole helluva lot easier.

To pair with it, I chose the new vintage of a French wine I fell for last year. The Guillermarine Picpoul de Pinet has simple citrus notes and some delicate apple flavors that don’t overwhelm the eggs and greens in the pizza. Plus, it’s French and different and hard to pronounce. If only it were artisanal.

Fartisanal Pizza and Wine

The one thing I loathe the most about the modern “food movement” in America is the trite use of the word artisan or artisanal. Really, I’m just adverse to the word in general. It’s crap. Fartisan crap!

I first heard the word used in a food context about four or five years ago at a wine dinner. Some guy was waxing on about how the food was artisanal and the chefs were artisans and their artwork (food) was better than a regular chef’s food because well, once again, it was artisanal. Blah, blah, blasé.

I love Frito Lay brand chips. They now have “Artisan” chips. Haaah! And, quite possibly, the crust in tonight’s dinner and wine pairing might just have been made from mis-purchased “artisanal” dinner rolls. Artisan is the new black. So much, in fact, that it’s almost been worn out and faded to gray,
Fartisanal Pizza Nonetheless, this evening I used my wife’s five hundred pound marble rolling pin to re-roll the dough of a half dozen dinner rolls into a Fartisanal shaped pizza crust. Looks pretty good, after all it isn’t perfectly square or round or rectangular. Must be artisanal!
Picpoul
My Fartisan pie was topped with some of my Nonna’s recipe white sauce as well as a mixture of the “six super greens” like kale, spinach, chard, and romaine. Finish with mozzarella, parmesano and a few strategically placed but artisanally hatched hen eggs and you have a protein and fiber rich pizza that would have been done half an hour earlier if I’d only paid attention and purchased the desired rectangular pizza crust that rolls out a whole helluva lot easier.

To pair with it, I chose the new vintage of a French wine I fell for last year. The Guillermarine Picpoul de Pinet has simple citrus notes and some delicate apple flavors that don’t overwhelm the eggs and greens in the pizza. Plus, it’s French and different and hard to pronounce. If only it were artisanal.