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White Wine with Meat
By Michael Apstein
Oct 12, 2022
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Thirty-plus years ago, David Rosengarten’s and Joshua Wesson’s revolutionary book, Red Wine with Fish: The New Art of Matching Wine with Food (Simon and Schuster, 1989), started to change consumers’ ideas about food and wine pairing.  With apologies to them for my title, let me amplify what I rediscovered during a recent trip to Paris and then England: White wine, as it happens, is often just fine with meat, red or otherwise.  

The first dinner in this stretch started a white-wine-with-meat trend that continued during the entire trip.  À la Biche au Bois, a cozy game-oriented bistro near the Gare du Lyon in Paris’ 12th arrondisement, has a wide selection of reds for the wild duck, venison, and grouse on the menu.  But low and behold, the wine list included a 2014 Domaine Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru Montée du Tonnerre on the list for only 75 euros ($74, tax and tip included).  The dilemma: choose a traditional pairing—a perfectly fine red Burgundy to go with the grouse we both had ordered—or an exceptional white wine at a bargain price (the wine retails for about $450 in the U.S.)  We opted for the Chablis, certainly not the usual choice for the gamey—and buckshot filled—grouse.  Unsurprisingly the wine by itself was fabulous, rich yet still minerally, deep, and exceptionally long.  Surprisingly, however, it went very well with the gamey grouse with its energy and verve cutting through the meaty flavors like a warm knife through butter.  It reminded me that it’s the acidity and edginess of a wine that reinvigorates and refreshes the palate for the next bite.  

After two days, my wife (Dee) and I were joined by our daughter, Marissa, and her fiancé, Augustus.  Occasionally at meals, we all ordered similar dishes that made the wine choice easy and traditional.  At other meals the plethora of flavors on the table simultaneously—briny and buttery seafood, tender beef with sauce au poivre, spicy gnocchi—should have required a parade of different styles of wine.  But with just four of us, that was not feasible.  Some would suggest that a rosé in this situation would cover all the bases, but readers of this column know my feelings about rosé.  It turned out that white wines or sparkling wines worked very well in those situations because, as with the Domaine Raveneau, it’s the wine’s acidity that provides balance.

At Vantre, a wine-centric bistro with a Brooklyn vibe in the 11th arrondisement, we encountered a choice reminiscent of À la Biche au Bois.  Vantre’s tome of a wine list contains some keenly priced rarities, such as a 2015 Domaine Roulot, Bourgogne Aligoté for 60 euros ($59).  Like those of Raveneau, Roulot’s wines are frightfully expensive in the U.S.—when you can find them.  And, in any case, I don’t remember ever having drunk an aged Aligoté, so we went for it despite the pigeons on the plate.  The warmth of the vintage, Roulot’s talents, and the seven years of bottle aging all contributed to its lushness and complexity.  The Aligote’s natural acidity buttressed the weight and amplified the wine’s charms.  Again, it was the wine’s energy that made it work with a gamey pigeon.  In fact, it turned out that Bourgogne Aligoté—or at least the right Aligoté—was remarkably well-suited to the task of matching multiple flavors and foods simultaneously.  That being the case, let me tell you something about this grape and appellation and encourage you to try it.

Aligoté is Burgundy’s second white grape, after Chardonnay, comprising about five percent of the region’s plantings.  The appellation, Bourgogne Aligoté, is a real anomaly in the region known for its focus and precision in defining terroir because it’s named for a grape, not a place.  Aligoté grapes grown anywhere throughout Burgundy qualify for the appellation.  There is, however, one appellation, Bouzeron, named after a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, that requires Aligoté, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  Aligoté has recently found a popular resurgence.  In the past, it was mostly known as the base wine for the famous French aperitif called Kir, a combination of Aligoté and crème de cassis, a sweet liquor.  The mouth-puckering acidity of the Aligoté balances the sweetness of the cassis and makes for a delightfully refreshing aperitif.  But now, with climate change, Aligoté is distinctly riper and fuller while still maintaining a vibrant edginess.  Which means it’s a refreshing wine on its own.  There’s even a Burgundy association of producers and chefs focusing on Aligoté called Aligoteurs—an alligator is their mascot.  Sylvain Pataille, one of the top growers in Marsannay and a member of the Aligoteurs, consistently actually makes two renditions of Bourgogne Aligoté, one that specifies a site in Marsannay and one simple labeled Bourgogne Aligoté.  The 2020 of the latter ($32, 91points) is brisk with good depth.  For more about Bourgogne Aligoté, read my column from earlier this year:

Sparkling wines are also an excellent choice when the variety of flavors on the table don’t lend themselves to a single type of wine.  And, please, don’t be embarrassed if you are unaware of English sparkling wines.  While in Batt, I took an unscientific poll regarding English sparkling wines by going into restaurants and wine bars asking if they had any on their wine lists.  More than half replied that they did not.  Even many wine bars failed to include any—despite offering Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava.  More than a few proprietors looked at me quizzically—not because I was American asking an unusual question, although that may have been reasonable—but because they were unaware that England produced any.  It does, and I suggest you try them if you can find them.  

Again, as with Aligoté, climate change explains why the wines are becoming so good.  English growers use the trio of traditional Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, which, now with warmer growing seasons, achieve good ripeness in the south of England.  They use the traditional Champagne method, secondary fermentation in the bottle, to produce the wine.  The chalky soil in southern England—remember those white cliffs of Dover—is fundamentally the same as the chalky soil in Champagne.  French Champagne houses have already started to invest in southern England, confirming the potential of the area.  Few of these wines have hit our shores, but I predict more will be showing up as importers realize their potential.  

I visited Nyetimber and Wiston in May 2014 at which time I tasted their impressive range of wines.  Our time in Bath gave me the opportunity to drink them with food, which confirmed their quality and showed me their versatility.  Nyetimber’s rich and smooth NV Classic Cuvée Brut captivates, combining a subtle hint of brioche with elegance and power ($37 average worldwide price,* $80 U.S.; 93 pts).  Its acidity cut through the spice of sauteed prawns in a chili sauce while its power buttressed the fattiness of grilled sausage beautifully.  Whether customers will pay $80 a bottle for it remains to be seen, but I have seen it in New York in the past at a mid-$40 price.  Wiston’s NV Brut has an alluring roundness that made it a fine choice with a Dover sole bathed in a buttery caper sauce ($29 worldwide price,* n/a in the U.S.).  I had no previous experience with Bride Valley’s wines but will search for them after tasting their NV Dorset Crémant Brut, made by the late Steven Spurrier and his wife.  A seductive creaminess and wonderful length will convert anyone to the charms of English sparkling wine($30 worldwide average price,* n/a in the U.S., 92 pts).  Ridgeview’s elegant NV “Bloomsbury” Brut Cuvée, was ideal to sip alone, but has just the right amount of presence and verve to stand up to a weighty lamb-based Shepard’s pie ($31 worldwide average price,* $51 U.S., 92 pts).  

The lesson is to look for acidity in wine, whether sparkling or still, when eating, regardless of the color of the food or the flavors on the plate.

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*I have included world-wide pricing from WineSearcher.com for comparison purposes.

E-mail me your thoughts about food and wine pairing at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.  

October 12, 2022            

More columns:    Michael Apstein