Spanish Style Meatballs and A Glass of Manzanilla Sherry, A Pairing

Sherry, or jerez as I knew it in Colombia, is a simple, yet complicated fortified wine, and one I need to understand in my wine studies journey. This weekend Scott wanted to make his favorite meatball recipe from La Cocina de Mamá, by Penelope Casas, a Spanish cookbook full of traditional recipes and their stories. These meatballs are loaded with smoked paprika, saffron, garlic, and parsley, and the challenge was to find a wine that could stand up to the flavors, while respecting and enhancing them, and manzanilla sherry came to mind. 

manzanillasherryaurora

What is sherry?
Initially I thought sherry was a distilled spirit, like brandy or grappa, especially since it is served in small glasses, as I watched Frasier and Niles Crane do for a decade. In reality, sherry is a wine fortified with grape spirit and aged sherry. The fortification process of sherry, and other wines like port and madeira, allows for the wine to age in specific ways that change the original product.

Sherry is the wine of the southwest region of Andalusia in Spain, where three major cities or towns, known as The Sherry Triangle, produce three distinctive wines. Jerez is the most recognizable named town associated with sherry, as the Spanish name for sherry is Jerez. However, sherry is also produced in and around the towns of San Lùcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. What is most interesting to me is how each of these areas produces a sherry with distinctive flavors based on their geographical location and proximity to the ocean.

Sherry has been the fascination of many artist through centuries, I remember the first time I read The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe, where the argument about a cask of amontillado was the bait for a murder. One interesting and confusing line, for I hadn’t yet studied sherry, was, “and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish between sherry and amontillado.” Turns out there are different styles, not just based on geographical location like a Fino from Jerez and a Manzanilla from San Lùcar, but also differences based on how the sherry is aged.  

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French Cassoulet and Red Burgundy, A Pairing

French cassoulet has become a regular in our home and on this blog, I bring it back from time to time with variations depending on the mood, from vegetarian to rich and meaty. This time it became the star of the holiday season together with a bottle of a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or red Burgundy. The fitting bottle of Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus from Bouchard Père e Fils lifted the otherwise rich bean and meat casserole, and gave me a reason to write another post.

Burgundy is a complicated wine region, and a pursue understanding it one glass at a time. The region is a dichotomy, a place where only two major grapes, chardonnay for white Burgundy and pinot noir for red Burgundy, make for layers of complexity in style from village to village through the rather small chunk of land. And yes, even though Beaujolais is considered part of Burgundy it’s a separate entity when it comes down to what is known as red or white burgundy wine.

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Winter Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

With the arrival of winter depart the tender, lush green lettuces of spring and summer and the mood changes to crunchy and hearty greens to make interesting salads to hold our attention through the colder months of the year. Fortunately, nature’s wisdom allocated flavorful vegetables to each season, including winter when fennel, Brussel sprouts, chard, and kale are sweeter than during the summer months. This salad uses all of them , many from our garden, plus fennel fronds, carrot greens, apples, and sunflower seeds, dressed in a mustard vinaigrette. 

Our garden is going strong producing small batches of chard, lacinato kale, and arugula on a weekly bases, plus some carrots we left on the ground after the big harvest a few weeks ago. I used them on their own or mixed with different vinaigrettes and toppings. Sometimes the harvest is lower than our weekly consumption, so I purchase other seasonal vegetables to bulk up the salad and use our greens as fine accompaniments. For this salad I purchased fennel and Brussel sprouts. 

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Coq Au Vin and Cru Beaujolais, A Pairing

I’ve embarked on a new wine studies journey with the goal of becoming a certified sommelier. The task involves a heavy amount of studying, tasting wine {perks!} and learning the harmonious art of food and wine pairing. For me, each step requires a sensorial activity where I can experience what the books tell me. Luckily, wine, itself, is a sensory experience, especially when paired with food. This is a journey I can’t tackle alone, fortunate for me, Scott has been in the wine industry for more than a decade and I take advantage of his expertise each step of the way. 

When I told Scott that I had finally made the decision to pursue a certification in wine studies his eyes lit up, he has nagged me for years about it but I didn’t see the need as I wasn’t working with wine or intended to do so. This year I started working at a wine-focused restaurant in the guest-serving side of the spectrum rather than the kitchen, which is a shift in mentally, but also un uphill battle of information and new knowledge. Wine is now a part of my everyday life, at work or at home.  

As part of this journey, on the weekends Scott and I are going to prepare a dish and pair it with a wine, using regionality, flavor profiles and intensity to create a rewarding meal with an educational angle. This week we cooked coq au vin, a traditional French dish, and paired it with a Cru Beaujolais from Château du Moulin-À-Vent, both from the Burgundy region in France. 

The Dish
Coq au vin is chicken stewed in wine, most notably red wine, although it can be cooked in any wine. Coq au vin’s history had a male chicken or rooster as its star in French country fare, and the recipe was first published in L’Art du bien manger, by Richardin Edmond in 1913. Because the rooster’s meat is tough it isn’t a highly priced protein as it requires long cooking for little meat, nowadays recipes use chicken, which is tender in comparison and takes 30-40 minutes to stew. 



As always when it comes to traditional French food I resourced to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, whose directions are precise and well-researched. And as always Julia uses butter to cook everything, including the bacon to help render the fat to brown the chicken. The main ingredient in the recipe, beside the chicken, is the wine, and it’s here where the first decision on the pairing begins. Julia suggests using either a red Burgundy, a Beaujolais, or a Chianti, wines which are naturally high in acid, to cook the bird and to drink. Because the flavors of the wine concentrate as it cooks, yielding a deeply flavored sauce with a good balance of acid from the wine and fat from the butter and the bacon, we started with a vibrant Cru Beaujolais with cherry and dark berry notes, great for drinking as well as cooking. 



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