I'm not a huge wine drinker; the only kind of wines I usually drink and enjoy are syrupy sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes, Muscats and the like.
Most regular wines I find too dry, even those most wine drinkers describe as medium or even medium sweet.
My taste buds pick up the fruit, yes, but are overwhelmed by a vinegary sourness that is in perfect balance for most but can be eye-watering for me.
It's a shame because I adore the aroma of wine and always take great pleasure from inhaling deeply to 'drink' in the complex fruity and grassy scent notes of the mostly old world red wines my husband enjoys. I can pick out and describe many smells in each one, from particular fruits (apricots, plums, red or black berries) to all manner of other aromas from hay to leather to tobacco to liquorice. But as soon as the wine hits my tongue, those subtleties are lost as my jaw tightens up in an involuntary reaction to the sourness. It's so frustrating!
Wine buffs have advised me to try again, tasting lighter wines alongside food rather than on their own. A well-paired wine and food combination will change the characteristics of both the drink and the food, they tell me, and might balance that sour aspect that puts me off. Sipping the right wine with the right dish might just give me a way to appreciate regular drinking wines.
Luckily, just as I was pondering this, I received an invitation to an evening with Turning Leaf, a Californian wine brand within the Gallo range, to a wine and food matching evening.
Turning Leaf have collaborated with chef Esther Röling to create a series of recipes specifically designed to match with their wines and a group of bloggers and writers were invited to try the wines alongside their chosen dishes.
The wines were introduced by Aussie-chick-gone-Californian, Stephanie Edge, who was full of enthusiasm and encouragement about her wines. Stephanie grew up in Australia, the child of German immigrant parents, so she always had an interest in travelling abroad. Aged 18, she set off on what turned out to be a fantastic 6 years of backpacking around 6 continents of the world. Of course, during her travels, she was exposed to so many varied cuisines and cultures. In particular, she developed a genuine interest in wine, and returned home to complete a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Science Oenology from the University of Adelaide. That was followed by experience in Australia's vineyards and cellars. And finally, an exchange programme took her to California, where she now leads the winemaking team for Turning Leaf.
The food was introduced by Esther Röling. At just 21 years of age, Esther opened up her own cafe in Amsterdam but was then drawn into fashion and finance. However, food called her back again and she travelled to Thailand to take cooking classes there, before ending up in London at Le Cordon Bleu, where she got her Grand Diplome. From there she trained with Paul A Young, worked in some top restaurants and then finally set up her own catering company, Sugar & Salt.
On arrival, we had the Pan Fried Mackerel, Fennel And Green Apple Salad With Lime Oil, in canapé format, paired with the pinot grigio. Then we took our seats and worked through the rest of the wines one by one. Esther demonstrated making a couple of the recipes in front of us, and we were able to watch, ask questions and then taste the freshly cooked dishes with the partner wines.
Sadly, there wasn't time during the event for Esther to cook all 5 dishes, so we were only able to try the pairings for the Pinot Grigio (above), Chardonnay (see below) and the Cabernet Sauvignon (Pommery Crusted Beef Carpaccio, Oven Roasted Cherry Tomato, Parmesan Mayonnaise, Rye Bread Crumb And Red Vein Sorrel).
I would have loved to also taste how the red Zinfandel matched the Braised Veal Cheeks, Puree Of Butternut Squash And Sweet Potato And Girolles Mushrooms and the Pinot Noir matched the Pan Fried Quail Breasts, Oven Roasted Beetroots, Seeds And Beetroot Dressing.
While I didn't learn to love red wine (baby steps!) I was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed the Chardonnay wine, once I tried it with the suggested dish, Red Mullet And Moroccan Spiced Couscous.
The paprika spiciness and umami meatiness of the chorizo together with Ras-el-hanout spice mix really mellowed the sharper side of the wine (though it was a light wine to begin with, and not tongue-curlingly dry like some I've had). The soft couscous, red mullet and yellow courgettes didn't, on their own, do much to affect the taste of the wine, for me, but worked very well together. As a whole, drinking the wine with this dish was definitely more enjoyable for me than drinking it on its own.
If you'd like to try the recipe yourself, with a Turning Leaf or other Chardonnay, do give it a go and let me know what you think about how it changes the mouthfeel and taste of the wine, when tasted together.
Red Mullet and Moroccan Spiced Couscous With Chorizo
For the chorizo crumb
100g diced chorizo
- Preheat the oven to 160°C
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on an oven tray and spread the chorizo. Cover the chorizo with another sheet of paper and place a baking tray on top and bake for 15 minutes or until the chorizo is crisp.
- Allow it to cool and then break into crumbs. Set the chorizo aside until needed.
For the rouille
3 cloves of garlic
100 ml boiling water
20 saffron threads
25 g breadcrumbs
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of paprika powder
½ teaspoon salt
50 ml olive oil
50 ml grape seed oil
- Keeping the skin on the garlic, wrap the cloves in tin foil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 160°C. Set aside to cool then push the flesh of the garlic out of the skin.
- Using a medium sized bowl, pour boiling water over the saffron threads and add the breadcrumbs.
- Boil the eggs and once boiled drop them into iced water to stop the cooking process. Peel the eggs and separate the egg yolk, discarding the egg whites.
- In a food processer add the egg yolks, garlic, breadcrumb mix, a pinch of cayenne pepper and paprika powder and salt and blend to a creamy consistency. Gradually add the oils until you get a smooth emulsion.
For the couscous
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced in rings
240ml boiling water
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
20 parsley leaves, finely chopped
20 mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste
- 75 g good quality Alejandro chorizo, cut into small dices
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and add the onion rings. Cover the pan allowing the onion to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden. Add a teaspoon of salt and remove from the heat.
- Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over 240ml boiling water. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 5 minutes to allow the couscous to absorb the water. Remove the cling film and with a fork, loosen the couscous. To make the couscous burst with flavour, add the cooked onions, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, parsley, mint and a pinch of salt.
- Over a medium heat add a splash of olive oil to a frying pan. Add the chorizo and stir until the oil runs out of the chorizo. Add the chorizo and oil to your couscous to give it a golden yellow colour.
For the courgette
1 yellow or green courgette
Salt & pepper
- Using a small melon baller, scoop out a small ball of courgette, if you don’t have a melon baller use a peeler to slice the courgette length-ways. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Sauté the courgette for 1 minute. Cover to keep warm until needed.
For the red mullet
4 fillets of red mullet – around 150g each
2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Place a large non-stick pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil when hot. Place the fillets skin down into the frying plan for about 2 minutes. Add the butter then carefully turn the fillets to fry on the other side for another 2 minutes.
Turning Leaf Chardonnay is available at several UK retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Co-op, Londis, Budgen's and Spar. RRP £7.49.
Kavey Eats attended this event as a guest of Turning Leaf, Esther Röling and W Communications.