Cover image © Spirikal for WhereNYC
There are few things in life that conjure a perfect mid-summer evening than a gathering of friends in Provence sipping wine and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. The South of France has it all; Mediterranean climate, scent of wild herbs, delicious food and some of the world’s iconic wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. Deeply rooted its soil, Provence’s winemaking tradition dates back nearly 2500 years when ancient Greek settlers planted the first grapes.
Bringing a little sunny Provence to a cold, rainy Chicago, sommelier Dany Saint-Pierre recreated her own Provençal wine experience for guests at the Alliance Française in Chicago. During of which, she led us through a masterclass showcasing a group of delicious French wines that will bring a little Southern France magic at your next dinner party.
Seated before us is tantalizing display of goat cheese, sliced baguettes, olives, slices of lemon and toasted almonds – each of which will pair with the wines.
“Pairing intensity of flavor is an art,” Ms. St-Pierre begins. While it really depends on your taste, Ms. St-Pierre has some useful tips.
If serving a dish, for example, with a higher acidity such as salad vinaigrette or a fresh seafood or light canapé, a fresh rosé is a good place to start. The popular Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans, is a “complex rosé,” explains Ms. St-Pierre as the guests take their first sips. It contains up to five grapes, and like most rosé, keeps for up to two years. It is accessible, which editor Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast once described Whispering Angel as a reliable, affordable rosé for any occasion, retailing at $20 a bottle ($19 at Binny’s). It is also slightly sweeter and fruity. If you’re after a dryer punch with a cleaner finish, try Château d’Esclans’ rebellious Rock Angel or Château Puech-Haut Prestige 2017 from the neighboring Languedoc region 2017 for $18 also at Binny’s.
The star of our evening class was the Clos Ste-Magdeleine 2015, a beautifully balanced white wine from the seaside village of Cassis. If there was ever wine made for seafood, it’s this one. The Clos Ste-Magdeleine would balance beautifully with grilled fish, eggplant or a fresh ceviche. Comprised of four grapes including the herbal Marsanne and Clairette, the wine has an incredible, pleasant texture with floral and spicy aromas.
Neither too sweet nor dry, “it is perfect with an oily fish like sardines,” Ms. St-Pierre said. As I take my second sip, I notice the wine actually becomes pleasantly sweeter when paired with the salty almonds and citrusy lemon.
The 2015 is pricey, nearly $30 a bottle at Plum Market Wine Chicago but totally worth it. Unique and unlike a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, it has its own flavor. And like the Whispering Angel, always serve it well chilled.
Its owners aren’t descended from the ancient Greek settlers, but the Zafiropulo family left Greece in the 19th century and settled in Marseille. Four generations later, they are still producing this lovely wine.
Finding an ideal red wine for your summer meal is not an easy thing and sometimes even “risky” – as Ms. St-Pierre explains. The medium bodied Terre d’Ombre 2015, or Baby Bandol from Domaine de Terrebrune is a winner. For $20, it is a great wine that can be enjoyed through the year. “Leave it to decant 20 minutes before serving, or you may keep it in the refrigerator up to 20 minutes to 65ºF (18.3ºC) (if serving during the summer),” Ms. St-Pierre recommends.
Robust without a long, heavy tannic finish, it’s best paired with a great dish. “It not fun to drink without food,” says Ms. St-Pierre. It is absolutely perfect with the herbal goat cheese and olives on our tables. It could also work with lamb or a garlic-roasted chicken.
Finally, finish the meal on a sweet note with the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2013, a wine “made for desserts” from Domaine de Durban. Available at Plum Market for $16, it is an affordable alternative to a higher end Sauternes from Bordeaux. But like the latter, it is also brilliant when served chilled with foie gras as I had discovered from a previous rendez-vous with another Muscat from Domaine de Coyeaux.
Made in the traditional process of arrested fermentation, the yeast is killed by a grape liqueur, leaving the remaining sugar. It may sound barbaric, but it’s all in a good cause. The residual sweetness of the Muscat is pleasant with a mild, sweet bouquet and the texture smooth and nectary. While it is good with mint chocolate served at the event, Ms. St-Pierre suggest to enjoy it with a “a fruity crumble or citrus tart with a fruit coulis.”
How ever you want plan your meal, Ms. St-Pierre encourages everyone to “experiment.” She adds that wines are “not to necessarily contrast” but rather to complement and enhance your meal, bringing joy and of course, the pleasure of the table.
For more information on upcoming events, visit the Alliance Française Chicago.