I have recently launched a year-long epicurean tour of interesting cuisine from around the world. With a nudge from the Wine Pairing Weekend group, I have decided to expand that tour to include pairings with local/regional wines. First stop is the Rhone region of France, the home of Paul Bocuse, Peter Mayle, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines and the inspiration for the “Rhone Rangers,” a group originally founded by Randall Graham of Bonny Doon and his kemosabes that is dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines.
To embrace what passes for winter here in the Coachella Valley, we put away our rosé wines in favor of something red and more full bodied. The wines of Rhone satisfy these requirements to a fare-thee- well. Stretching from the French gastronomic capital of Lyon south to Provence, the Rhone wine region encompasses a climate analogous to California’s. Northern Rhone has harsh winters and warm summers similar to parts of Central and Northern California and Southern Rhone has milder winters and hot summers similar to Southern California. In keeping with France’s strict policies about ensuring quality wine production, the Syrah grape is the only red grape variety permitted in AOC-designated wines from the Northern Rhone sub-region, although it may be blended with white wines from that area. Southern Rhone has a full spectrum of red and white grape varieties that are often blended together in some combination. The Southern Rhone sub-region’s most famous red wine is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a blend containing up to 19 varieties of wine grapes (10 red and 9 white) as permitted by AOC rules. In total, the Rhone wine region has 22 traditional grape varieties, 12 of which are planted in the United States.
Quality Rhone wines are so abundant at our local wine purveyors that it was difficult to decide which should be part of this week’s Wine Pairing Weekend challenge. So we narrowed our selections to Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. But at Sous Chef’s suggestion, for some fun and education we decided to do a taste comparison with Rhone-style wines from California. Several years ago, we toured the Paso Robles wine region and I discovered the fantastic wines produced by Tablas Creek. Founded by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel fame and Robert Haas, Tablas Creek is devoted to producing Rhone-style wines from its chalky, rocky soil that is so reminiscent of a French terroir. In fact the entire Paso Robles area is a hotbed of Rhone grape varieties and Rhone-style wines.
For reds we selected a Chateau de Beaucastel 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and its California counterpart, a Tablas Creek 2012 Côtes de Tablas. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of Grenache (30%), Mourvèdre (30 %), Syrah (10%), Counoise (10%), and Cinsault (5%). By contrast, the Tablas Creek wine is a blend of Grenache (60%), Syrah (25%), Counoise (10%), and Mourvèdre (5%). Except for the addition of Counoise in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the wines are identical in grape varieties but somewhat different in composition.
We were unable to locate a white wine from Chateau de Beaucastel, but found a Domaine Chante Cigale 2012 Chateauneuf-du-Pape which we paired against a Tablas Creek 2013 Côtes de Tablas Blanc.
The French white wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc (25%), Roussanne (25%), Clairette (25%), and Bourboulenc. The Tablas Creek white wine is a blend of Viognier (39%), Grenache Blanc (29%), Marsanne (20%), and Roussanne (12%). Not a perfect match, but close enough for our purposes.
Once our wines were set, we just needed a good Rhone food pairing. This proved an unexpected challenge. Although I have legions of cookbooks, none was specifically geared to the Rhone region. Ultimately, I decided on the classic Paul Bocuse Cookbook. After all, Bocuse’s l”Auberge du Pont de Collonge restaurant in Lyon is a bastion of French cooking and a long-time recipient of three Michelin stars. One beef and one chicken dish from the Paul Bocuse Cookbook would be the foundation for our Rhone wine pairing and taste-off.
Starters, Roast Chicken and White Wine:
To start the meal, I made a French Onion Soup and did a taste comparison between the two white wines. Both wines were quite delightful. The Domaine Chante Cigale had a deep golden color, with a fragrant nose, rich and full body, with hints of pear and vanilla essence. However, this wine overwhelmed the French Onion Soup but, as expected, was excellent with the heavier, more flavorful Roast Chicken. The Côtes de Tablas Blanc was lighter in color, softer, and more delicate. It paired quite well with the French Onion Soup and was acceptable with the Roast Chicken. So Domaine Chante Cigale was the chicken dinner winner while the Côtes de Tablas Creek prevailed in the soup category.
Entrées and Sides with Red Wine:
Rhone wine and beef go hand-in-glove, so why fight centuries of validation? I am a Montana girl as you know and I love beef. But all cuts of beef are not equal, so I wanted to test two popular cuts to see how the red wines fared against different cuts and preparations. Since Sous Chef is finally using the Coravin Wine Access System, the red wines were of equal freshness though tasted on different days. I prepared a Steak au Poivre from the Paul Bocuse Cookbook and a Dry-Aged Boneless Rib Eye using The Palm Restaurant method. Our sides were Carrots in Cream and potatoes (baked for Bocuse and mashed for The Palm Restaurant).
The Chateau Beaucastel 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape paired beautifully with the Filet Mignon prepared Steak au Poivre for New Year’s Eve and the Dry Aged Rib Eye. Not surprisingly, we both adored this wine. It has a rich, full nose with traces of leather, tobacco, pepper, and dark berries. The color is that of a deep ruby or garnet. The 2011 vintage is well balanced, the tannins are not overwhelming at this stage of its development, and the wine opened up and improved during the course of the meal. It is drinking well now, but could benefit from a little more aging. Retail $79.95 at Total Wine
In comparison, the Tablas Creek 2012 Côtes de Tablas was more austere on the nose and palate, although it had a nice balance of fruit and earthiness. The color was brick red with a tinge of orange that was not attributable to age but the grape combination. In all, the Tablas Creek red wine was lighter and fruitier than its French cousin. But at $29 from Total Wine it is an excellent and affordable wine that can be quaffed with a variety of red and white meats.
The winner of the bovine competition was indisputably the wine from Chateau Beaucastel. However, at its price point this is a wine more for special occasions than nightly consumption.
Stay tuned as Sous Chef and I tour the world of gastronomy and enology. It should be an exhilarating adventure.
Don’t forget to check out what the Wine Pairing Weekend group has brought to you this month – you just might find the perfect New Wine Resolution:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla has Argentina on her mind and is sharing “Empanadas Mendocinas + ’10 La Posta del Vi natero Malbec”.
Cindy of Grape Experience suggests starting the year with “Wine & Dine: Fontana Candida Terre de Grife 2012 Frascati & Slow Cooker Artichoke Dip”.
Shaina of Take A Bite Out of Boca is offering “Herb Marinated Mushrooms with Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile”.
William of Wild For Washington Wine is giving us “ A Resolution for Greek Wine, A Recipe for Avogolemeno”.
Martin from Enoflyz Wine Blog is shaking things up with “Skillet Kale Pesto & Seitan Pizza with Querceto Chianti Classico”
Jade from Tasting Pour is pairing “Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso and Duck Breasts with Cherry Hazelnut Compote”.
Don’t forget to join us for our Twitter Chat on Saturday, January 10th at 8 a.m. using hashtag #winePW.
Interested in joining the group? Join us in February when Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla hosts. Look for Camilla’s invitation post of Monday for next month’s #winePW event. Until then, she has shared that “It’s All About Romance” in preparation for Valentine’s Day and beyond.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 medium onions peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 6⅓ cups beef bouillon or beef stock (we used low-sodium)
- ½ loaf French Bread cut in half and sliced
- 2 cups freshly grated Swiss or Emmenthal Cheese
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and brown lightly. Stir in the flour and, when it begins to color, add the bouillon or beef stock, stirring constantly. Cook over moderate heat uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Toast the bread under the broiler.
- In oven proof soup bowls, place the bread and sprinkle it with cheese, a little butter and pepper. Pour soup over bread and cheese. Add another slice of bread and cheese and place in oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese and breadcrumbs have browned.
- Serve immediately.
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut
- 10 baby onions or pearl onions, peeled
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream
- Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the carrot and onions, salt lightly, and sprinkle with sugar. Cover the pan and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time.
- When the carrots have finished cooking, mix the parsley with the cream, pour onto the carrots, and cook 5 minutes more, or until very hot (the cream should not boil).
- Serve immediately.