Friday, 30 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Maury

Maury vins doux naturels are lesser known than those of Banyuls which sits 35 miles to the south east. They are made in a similar style but the vineyards are planted on small slopes in a basin area bordered to the north and south by spectacular limestone cliffs which mark the beginning of the Pyrenees foothills. To the north looms the Cathar Castle of Queribus.

The soil is black schist, hence the name Maury from Amarioles or Amarilolas meaning ‘black earth’. Red and white wines are made and in their youth these wines are tannic and intensely fruity, becoming more savoury and deeply coloured as they age.

The grapes used are Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Maccabeu, Tourbat, augmented by a maximum 20% of Muscat à Petits Grains and Muscat d'Alexandrie. The red wines must comprise at least 75% Grenache Noir, the other principal grapes being Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu, the latter not exceeding 10%. In addition, the varieties Carignan and Syrah, up to a maximum 10%, are also permitted. Both colours see twelve months in wood before bottling. The AC Maury Rancio applies to wines that are matured in oak barrels exposed to the sun. This gives them the typical rancio taste.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Banyuls with Ice Cream and Apricot Coulis

The other classic pairing for Banyuls is dark chocolate but I have found a recipe which uses ice cream and apricots that would make a super dinner party dessert. The apricots are used in a coulis (French for strained) which is a form of thick sauce made from puréed and strained fruits (you can also use vegetables).

Nougat Ice Cream and Apricot and Banyuls Coulis

1 bar (250g) nougat
25cl whipping cream
3 eggs
125g almonds
100g sugar
1 can apricots in light syrup
5cl Banyuls
1 pinch of salt.

Heat the cream in a saucepan. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Whisk the yolks and sugar until they turn white. Pour the cream over the yolks and mix. Put it back into the saucepan and bring to low heat, stirring constantly until it coats the spoon. It should not boil. Cool.

Toast the almonds in a frying pan. Whisk egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff. Crumble the nougat and mix it with the cooled cream, stir in toasted almonds (reserve a few for decoration) and then mix the egg whites using a spatula. Pour into ramekins and freeze.

Drain the apricots, chop them and then pass through a strainer to remove the skins. Flavour with the Banyuls. Turn out the ramekins onto serving plates and pour the apricot sauce over them. Decorate with reserved almonds.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Banyuls with Chicken

One of the most common recipes in France using Banyuls is pan fried Foie Gras but there is a lovely one used in Roussillon which I have tried with chicken.

Chicken with Figs and Mashed potatoes with Olives

1 chicken
250g dried figs
1 thick slice of ham
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
1 large onion
1 head of garlic
1 bouquet garni
25cl Banyuls
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the purée:

1 kg potatoes
50 g black olives (pitted)
large glass of olive oil
3 bay leaves
pinch of thyme
½ clove garlic
Salt and pepper

Soak the figs in the Banyuls wine overnight. Joint the chicken. Chop the onion , carrot and celery. In a casserole dish baste the chicken with olive oil. Add garlic, onion, carrot and celery, slice of ham cut in half and the bouquet garni. Gently sauté. Deglaze with the Banyuls and the figs. Add salt and pepper, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

For the purée: peel the potatoes and cook in covered sauce pan with the thyme and bay leaves for 25 minutes. Drain and mash them. Mix in the olives and garlic and stir in the olive oil. Salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Banyuls

The vins doux naturels from Banyuls are made from vineyards on the steep Vermilion Coast on the rugged terrain of the terraces. It is the most southerly appellation in France, and its borders lie between the Catalan Pyrenees in Roussillon and the Empordà wine region in Catalonia in Spain. The climate here is hot and windy and the grapes become very ripe, frequently shrivelling like raisins while still on the vine.

These sweet wines are famous and there are a couple of high-flying domaines in the region - even the Rhone négociant Chapoutier has a presence here. White, rosé and red versions are available. They are all made with a minimum of 50% of either Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Maccabau, Tourbat, Muscat Blanc and Muscat d´Alexandrie, and are blended with a maximum of 10% of Carignan, Cinsaut and Syrah.

The AC Banyuls Rancio applies to wines that have been matured for a minimum of two years in oak barrels that are exposed to sunshine. These often develop an amber colour, and have the typical rancio maturation note. The AC Banyuls Grand Cru applies to wines that are made from a minimum of 75% Grenache Noir, are made from de stemmed grapes, and were matured for a minimum of 30 months in oak barrels. In addition there is an AC Banyuls Grand Cru Rancio. When appropriately made, Banyuls is extremely long-lived, and resembles port wine. It has an intense nose and flavour of coffee, honey, vanilla and dried fruit.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Muscat Recipes – Bream in Muscat Sauce

Muscat is often used as a base for vinaigrettes that can then be paired with many types of dishes such as raw fish, scallops, prawns, foie gras and bitter greens. It is also great when used in a sauce and really brightens up the dish.

Bream in Muscat Sauce
4 fillets of bream
100g scallops
50g prawns
20cl Muscat
30cl double cream
knob of butter
15cl of lemon juice
Parsley, salt, pepper

Marinate the bream, scallops and prawns in Muscat and lemon juice for 15 mins. Add the parsley, salt and pepper. Add butter and cook for 15 minutes. Then add the cream and reduce the heat. Cover pot and simmer for an hour. Serve hot with rice or green vegetables.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Muscat Recipes – Duck with Figs, Grapes and Muscat

Muscat has just the desired amount of residual sugar (or sweetness) and enough acidity to cut through fatty ingredients like foie gras and duck. It also has wonderful floral and citrus notes without actually having to add additional ingredients. This recipe is rich, fragrant and quite simply delicious.

Duck with Figs, Grapes and Muscat

2 large duck breasts
300g of red grapes
40g raisins
6 ripe figs
15cl Muscat
Salt & Pepper

Rehydrate the raisins in Muscat. Rinse the figs, then cut into 2. With the tip of a knife score the skin on the duck breasts and cook in a frying pan over medium heat. Keep 2 tablespoons of melted fat, discard the rest. Return the duck breasts and continue cooking 3 or 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper, keep warm. In the same pan, add the figs, raisins and grapes. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring gently. Pepper. Slice the duck breasts, place them on plates and surround them with fruit and juice.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Muscat Recipes – Melon and Muscat Granita

With summer in mind I thought I would include a recipe for Granita in my Muscat series. Granita is easy to make and this recipe mixes the fragrant orange fleshed cantaloupe melon with the Muscat – it's heavenly!

Melon and Muscat Granita

1 cantaloupe melon
30 cl Muscat
juice of 1 lemon
mint to garnish

Place the Muscat in a pan and caramelize by bringing to the boil. Peel the melon and mix the flesh and juices with the Muscat. Add the lemon juice and place in the freezer. Check every couple of hours and as the mixture freezes whip it with a fork to create crystals. When fluffy serve and decorate with diced mint leaves.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Muscat Recipes – Partridge

Muscat goes very well with game birds and you can use it in the recipes as well as an accompaniment to the dish.

I have simplified a French recipe for partridge which uses muscat grapes as a stuffing for partridge. As getting your hands on Muscat grapes is rather difficult here in the UK you can use grapes or sultanas soaked in Muscat over night instead.

Partridge with Muscat

4 partridges
8 slices of smoked bacon
1 bunch of grapes Muscat (see note above)
mushrooms
8 small potatoes
2 cloves garlic
2 shallots
1 onion
1 truffle (optional)
5 cl Cognac
15 cl Muscat
salt , pepper and thyme

Cut the partridges in half, remove the bones, stuff with grapes, salt, pepper and a sprig of thyme and tie the bird with 2 or 3 slices of smoked bacon. Melt 50g butter, brown birds on both sides, pour in the brandy and flambé with the Cognac. Add the sliced shallots and onion then remove from heat. Sauté the mushrooms. Cut the potatoes into slices and put in a pan with the rest of the grapes and mushrooms. Add the Muscat and the garlic. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. To serve sprinkle with a few pieces of truffle.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Muscat Recipes - Meatballs

I thought it would be fun to find some recipes which use these wonderful Muscats from the Languedoc Roussillon. Boulettes de Porc Caramélisées au Vin Muscat is delicious and is a recipe for meatballs (boulettes means little balls in French) in a caramelized Muscat sauce.

Pork Meatballs Caramelized in Muscat

500g boneless pork (fillet or tenderloin)
10cl soy sauce
3 tbsp dry white Vermouth
2 tbsp Muscat
½ tsp five spice
½ tsp sugar
3 tbsp sunflower oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Cut the pork into small cubes, then place the pieces in the bowl of a mixer. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp of Muscat, the five spice, salt and pepper. Mix at medium speed for about 1 minute, until finely chopped. Roll the mixture into balls between your hands and put to one side.

Mix the remaining soy sauce, Muscat, Vermouth and sugar together in a bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved. Heat the sunflower oil in a pan and then brown the meatballs, stirring constantly. When cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Remove the oil from the pan and pour the Muscat sauce. Heat over high heat and then add the meatballs . Cook for a few more minutes, stirring, until the meatballs are coated with caramel. Serve immediately, topped with caramel sauce.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Muscat de Rivesaltes and Rivesaltes

Muscat de Rivesaltes is the largest single sweet wine appellation in France, covering a total of 99 communes. Muscat de Rivesaltes wines are made predominantly from Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains and Muscat d'Alexandrie in varying ratios, according to the style desired by the individual producer. Muscat d'Alexandrie is an ancient grape that originated in North Africa, and the name is probably derived from its association with Ancient Egyptians who used the grape for wine making. It is said that Cleopatra drank muscat wine from this grape.

Rivesaltes is an appellation that is geographically identical with the appellation Muscat de Rivesaltes but it differs in terms of the permitted grape varieties in that they are not restricted to Muscat. The wines are red or white, and made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat d´Alexandrie, Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Macabeau and Tourbat (Malvoisie du Roussillon), also, a maximum of 10% of Carignan, Cinsaut, Palomino and Syrah may be added to the blend. Of the approximately one dozen different Vins Doux Naturel’s in France (of which 8 are in the Languedoc Roussillon region), Rivesaltes accounts for 50%.

There are different types of Rivesaltes:

Rivesaltes Grenat

A very fruit-driven and accessible style with a rich, deep colour; grenat refers to the garnet-red hue. A minimum 75% Grenache, minimum one year in wood, three months in bottle before release.

Rivesaltes Ambre

As the name suggests, an amber hue. This is produced from the white varieties, and is then aged oxidatively in wood for at least two years, hence the deepening of the colour.

Rivesaltes Tuilé


This wine is handled in a similar manner to the Ambre, with a minimum two years ageing in wood producing an oxidative style, but here the varieties used are red, with a minimum of 50% Grenache in the blend.

Rivesaltes Hors d'Age

This description may be applied to the two categories immediately above, producing Ambre Hors d'Age and Tuilé Hors d'Age. Wines must have spent at least five years in wood before bottling.

Rivesaltes Rancio

A description applied to wine that has, through élevage in wood and oxidative handling, developed the goût de rancio that typifies the wines of Rivesaltes.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois

Minervois owes its name to Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom and has been known for producing fine wine since the Romans first settled there. The AOC Saint Jean de Minervois is located at the far north eastern corner of Minervois.

It is one of the few appellations where you can see exactly where the appellation begins and ends with the naked eye. The appellation consists of a very defined strip of bright white limestone giving it a lunar appearance. The Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is the only grape variety permitted. Within the space of a few feet you can see the soil change dramatically from white limestone to red clay which denotes the boundary of the appellation. Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois is considered to be one of the finest Muscats.

Languedoc Roussillon - Muscat de Mireval

Muscat de Mireval is a lesser known wine and the is smallest sweet wine appellation in the south of France. These vineyards are located on the slopes of the Massif de la Gardiole, at the edge of the Vic La Gardiole lagoon close to the community of Mireval. The soils were formed during the Jurassic period and have a high content of limestone fragments. The chalky Jurassic soil with its ancient alluvial deposits and rounded stones is protected from the weather by the 230 metre-high mountain and is influenced by the nearby Mediterranean sea.

The wine is made with the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grape which was recommended as an elixir for life under the Roman Empire and by doctors during the Renaissance. This source of well-being was even recognised by the Tax Office under the old regime, as Languedoc Muscats were exempt from taxes as they were considered "medicinal". The famous French Renaissance writer, doctor and humanist Rabelais was a great admirer of Mireval wines.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Muscat de Lunel

Muscat de Lunel's vineyards are established around the town of Lunel, halfway between Montpellier in Nimes, in bullfighting country. The appellation is located on deep clay soil with red, siliceous, fragmented stones. The large rounded pebbles of Alpine Diluvium, known locally as “galets”.

The wine is made from the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grape and it's considered that this grape is one of the oldest in existence. It was called Anathelicon Moschaton in Greece and Apianae in Italy (so named because of the fondness that bees (Latin apis), have for the grapes). The Greeks and Romans brought it to France via Narbonne.

Muscat de Lunel has been prized for centuries - in 1647, when the Prince of Conde stayed in Lunel, he drank the Muscat wine. Louis XIII stayed 3 times in Lunel and also drank Muscat, as well as Richelieu and Mazarin. In 1750, Jean-Jacques Rousseau described the Muscat of Lunel as the best Muscat of Europe.

The Muscat of Lunel was one of the three wines that Pauline Borghese used to send to his brother, Napoleon Bonaparte, when he was exile in St. Helena.
The local cooperative website is here.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon - Muscat de Frontignan

The vineyards of Muscat de Frontignan are located between the Vic La Gardiole lagoon and the Thau lagoon close to the community of Frontignan. The soil is argilo-calcareous with sand nearer the Mediterranean. The twisted bottle has become a symbol of this appellation.

Muscat de Frontigan is made with the Muscat de Frontigan grape (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains). It's said that Muscat de Frontigan graced the tables of royalty back in the 12th century when Marie of Montpellier married Peter II of Aragon. Their son, Jacques I, was very interested in his vineyard Frontignan and he liked to be present at the time of harvest. The wine was extremely popular in Paris and London in the 17th and 18th centuries. The English philosopher John Locke praised the “Frontiniac” in 1676 and other enthusiastic fans included Voltaire and the president of the USA, Thomas Jefferson.

The locals like to recount the story of the visit by the Marquis de Lur-Saluces in Frontignan in 1700. It is claimed that it was here he was given the inspiration to also produce sweet wines on his estate Château d´Yquem!

The local cooperative website is here.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Sweet Wines (Vins Doux Naturels)

The sweet wines of the Languedoc Roussillon have an ancient past. These are the oldest known fortified wines in the world. In 1285, Arnaud de Villeneuve, scholar of the University of Montpellier and physician at the Court of Kings of Majorca and France discovered mutage (the marriage of grape spirit with the grape must). The word mutage comes from the French môut, meaning must (must is the pressed pulp, skin and skin of the grape).

Through contacts with Arab alchemists, Villeneuve was aware of the alcohol obtained by distillation of wine and he discovered that by adding the spirit before or during fermentation the result was a stuck fermentation. Those grape sugars not converted to alcohol by the action of yeast provide sweetness, the added grape spirit compensates for the reduced conversion of the grape sugars to alcohol. Villeneuve won a patent from the King of Majorca, who then ruled Roussillon, to produce wines in the region using the mutage method and so Vins Doux Naturels were born.

Vins Doux Naturels can been oxidised where the wines are aged in oak barrels exposed to the sun to warm. They are aged from between 2 and 20 years. These wines change colour over time reds become mahogany and flavour notes deepen into candied plum and cassis and whites turn into amber golds with honeyed orange and apricot notes. Some wine makers expose the wines to sunlight in demi johns called bonbonnes.

In addition to the dark colour, the resulting wines often have a nutty, rancid taste called rancio. Rancio refers to the wines that have spent a significant time in old oak barrels. The character is best described as a blend of butterscotch and old wood aromas.

The Vins Doux Naturels of the region are Muscat de Mireval, Muscat de Lunel. Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois, Muscat de Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls.