I will spare you the redundant details of my recent wine trip and get down to the post trip fun parts: Drinking all the wine I brought back with me!! (I plan on building a multi course meal for every bottle I brought back with me, so stay tuned!) I opened my first bottle Thursday evening for a special occasion and paired it with dinner and dessert. It had been awhile since I’d paired a multi course meal and it was so much fun! It had also been awhile since I tasted the wine…about two weeks or so, so I was going off of memory. But you know me, I love a challenge.
First let’s talk food and wine pairing. When you’re pairing wine with food, or vice versa, you are doing one of two things. You’re either matching flavor notes, meaning if you’re drinking a Pinot that has a rustic, earthy quality to it, but also notes of dark cherries, then you may consider pairing it with a duck breast or pork tenderloin with a cherry sauce and a wild mushroom risotto. The earthiness of the mushrooms will pair with the earthiness of the wine and so on and so forth… Or you’re playing with contrasts in your pairing. For instance, let’s say you have a thick and juicy ribeye that you want to eat. You would want to pair this with a highly tannic red, let’s say a California Cabernet, a wine that has a lot of structure to stand up to the meat. The tannins in a wine (a textural element that makes a wine feel dry in your mouth) can find a good match in foods high in fat, as the fat reduces the dryness of the tannins. Another example of playing with contrasts is when you would pair a spicy food, specifically Thai cuisine, with a wine that has a generous amount of sugar, like a Reisling. The sweetness of the wine offsets the spice in the food. For this particular meal I wanted to mirror the flavors of the wine in that of the food.
Now let’s talk chardonnay. I used to drink a lot of chardonnay, back when I first started getting into wine. I wanted them super buttery and rich (and manipulated), and then eventually I just got so burnt out on it that I stopped all together. I learned to love more delicate whites and haven’t bought a bottle of chard for myself in years. While I was at the Sequoia Grove Winery in Napa we tasted a lot of beautiful wines. But the one that really stuck out to me was their chardonnay. I kept on going back to it. I thought it was just so beautiful and well balanced and it made me remember why I first started drinking the grape in the first place.
Now, let’s talk food. I made my meal decision before I tried the wine again and decided to see how good my memory was. And here’s what I came up with: Honey-Dijon Glazed Salmon with Fresh Coconut Creamed Corn and Haricot Vert with Almonds and Lemon. But…I couldn’t stop there. I also wanted to pair it with dessert. Dessert wine pairings can be tricky, as some wines can taste bitter paired with a very sweet dessert. But since I know I don’t like my desserts really sweet, I was hoping I could make it work. I decided on a Coconut-Almond Custard with Lemon, a new recipe that I came up with just for this occasion.
I opened the bottle and poured two glasses before I started to cook so
it would come up to temp by the time dinner was ready. My husband and I sipped on our first glasses while I finished cooking, and I fell in love with this wine all over again. My husband agreed.
The color is a pale gold, almost lemon yellow. There are notes of lemon curd; slightly tart but just as creamy. It has what I feel most average
chardonnay drinkers really enjoy in a California chard- toasted bread
and custard, but it never once feels heavy on the tongue, there’s never that cloying syrupy mouth-feel that drives me crazy about a lot of California Chardonnays. There is also a
nice spice element to it- nutmeg, maybe a bit of allspice, some almond
notes…and it has a wonderfully delicate minerality. This wine is so beautifully balanced, it’s truly spectacular. For me, being so
picky about chardonnay, this 2011 Sequoia Grove Chard is one of the best
chardonnays I have ever tasted. Hands down.
Finally, let’s talk about how this wine paired with my meal. IT WAS SPECTACULAR. Is that weird that I said that? Does that make me sound gross? I don’t care. I’ll say it again. IT WAS SPECTACULAR. And fun!! And I kept getting more and more excited every time I followed a bite with a sip. Every part of the meal paired with the wine. Every ingredient was a match. That’s what I love about food and wine pairing, you have so many elements that go into what makes a wine taste the way that it does. And when you pair it with food, you have so many directions to go in.
I chose the salmon because salmon and chardonnay is a pretty classic pairing, I chose the honey-dijon glaze because 1.) Dijon is made with white wine…a lot of times chardonnay and 2.) Honey is a flavor note that is often found in chardonnay. I chose the creamed corn because I figured the creamy sweetness that corn has naturally would mirror that which is found in many chardonnays. And I chose the green beans because I needed something green and in season! But I thought that if I added toasted almonds and some lemon to them, that it would compliment the lemon and almond flavors found in the wine. (Or at least what I remembered tasting in the wine…) And as for the dessert, I was hoping that if I made a simple custard out of coconut cream, lightly sweetened it with honey and infused it with the flavors of raw almonds and fresh lemon, then it would simply have to match!! And it did. It all did.
If there’s anything to be learned from this post, it is to get out there and play with your food and wine. Whether it’s hosting a party with friends and giving each of them an assignment of something to bring, or it’s just doing it with a friend or loved one. Even the simplest of foods can pair with great wine: French fries with Champagne, white chocolate chips with an off-dry, sparkling rosé, salted pretzels with tawny port. And if your pairing doesn’t work, who cares?! But if it does, trust me, you’ll feel like a damn genius.
*Honey-Dijon Glazed Salmon with Fresh Coconut Creamed Corn and Haricot Vert with Almonds and Lemon
Each of these recipes are too simple that I actually feel silly for posting them!! Nothing was overly seasoned and everything is purposefully made to taste as fresh as can be. And everything paired beautifully with the Sequoia Grove 2011 Napa Chardonnay!!
*Honey-Dijon Glazed Salmon
Make your glaze–
Mix a 3:1 ratio of Dijon mustard to honey and then squeeze some fresh lemon juice for taste and to thin it out a bit. Taste and adjust if necessary.
Season your salmon with kosher or sea salt about 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook it, refrigerate, uncovered.
As you’re heating up a large skillet on medium-high heat, take out your salmon and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the flesh. This will cause it to change color, but that’s perfectly normal. It’s called ‘denaturation’ which is just the acid from the lemon changing the proteins in the fish. When your skillet is hot enough, add a little canola oil to the pan, swirl to coat and carefully place your salmon, serving side down (I like to serve mine flesh side up, but you do what you want) in the hot skillet. Make sure you put each piece wherever it will stay or else it will stick if you try to move rearrange it.
Cook for about 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pieces (mine were quite thin), or until you start to see that the color of the fish has lightened about half way up the sides. And don’t touch it until you’re ready to flip. Simply shake the pan to loosen it up and then flip.
See the change in color on the sides of the pieces? The lighter color is showing you what has been cooked.
Once flipped, just watch the sides to see when you’re done. People like their salmon in a lot of different ways, so I won’t tell you how to cook yours. But I would recommend not overcooking it, or it becomes dry and flaky. The general rule of thumb is to cook fish a total of 10 minutes per inch of thickness, flipping it halfway through, but I like to cook most of my protein mostly on the first side before I flip it. (And remember, these were fairly thin pieces so I only needed a couple of minutes on the second side.)
Once the fish is almost done, turn off the heat and brush with your glaze. The fish will continue to cook even off the heat, so it’s always best to remove it before it gets there. Finish with another good squeeze of fresh lemon.
*Fresh Coconut Creamed Corn
(serves 6 large portions)
(Since I was using canned coconut milk for my dessert, I had some
leftover and decided to use that for this recipe. I ended up using only
the thin coconut water for this. So, this is actually a vegan recipe.)
Remove the kernels from 5 ears of fresh, in season corn over a large bowl. After the kernels have been removed, take the back of a metal spoon and scrape down the sides of the cob to extract the corn milk to be collected in the bowl. Reserve 2 cobs (freeze the others for soup/stock!). (This can be done in advance, covered and stored in the fridge.)
In a small saucepan heat 3/4 cup of coconut milk (or any milk will do) with the 2 reserved cobs, breaking them in half if need be to be fully emersed in the milk. You can absolutely use more milk to cover the cobs. Bring this up to a bubble, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Allow this to steep on low heat for as little as 30 minutes, but the longer the better to extract the most flavor out of the corn cobs. (This can also be done in advance, just allow to cool and cover before refrigerating.)
When you’re ready to make the dish, heat a large skillet on medium. Once hot, add a bit of canola oil (or butter if you desire) and 1/2 large white or yellow onion, minced. Season with kosher/sea salt and sweat til tender.
Add your corn and any juices at the bottom of the bowl. Toss well and season with more salt, even fresh cracked black pepper if you’d like. Allow the corn to heat through, but not break down, as I like the corn to remain sweet and crunchy.
Pour in your corn infused milk and stir. You just want to lightly coat the kernels in the milk. When everything has been heated through and it tastes good to you, you’re done.
*Sauteed Haricot Vert with Almonds and Lemon
(serves about 6)
(I like my green beans to remain crunchy. If I wanted a mushy bean, I would open a can.)
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add a bit of canola oil. Toss in 1 lb. of baby green beans, or Haricot Vert, and shake the pan to form a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Then don’t touch them for 2 minutes. Shake the pan again and do it again. Season well with kosher/sea salt. Cook until you get your desired color and crunch, but a minute or so before they’re done, throw in a couple handfuls of sliced almonds and the zest of 1 lemon. Allow the almonds to toast with the green beans. When the almonds have crisped up a bit, squeeze the juice from half a lemon over everything. Check your seasoning before serving.
*Coconut Almond Custard with Lemon
(makes 2 servings)
(This is a very simple dessert. It’s highly delicate, lightly sweetened and exactly what I wanted to help finish off the bottle!
In a medium saucepan place 2 cups of coconut cream (this is what rises to the top of the canned, full fat coconut milk once it has been chilled. You will need 2 cans of coconut milk to get this amount. Reserve the remaining coconut water for something else, or the creamed corn recipe above), along with 1/2 cup of raw almonds, roughly chopped, 1/4 cup (4TB) of honey, and a good pinch of salt. Bring this to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Steep for 30 minutes.
Add the peel from 2 large lemons. Cover again and steep on low for another 30 minutes. Chill at room temp for 30 min. It should be nice and thick now.
Using a wire strainer or sieve, strain the liquid into 2 (1/2 cup size) ramekins. Push down with a spatula to extract all the liquid.
Place back in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Serve chilled. And with the 2011 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay!!!
(Become a member of the Sequoia Grove Wine Club and you can enjoy their beautiful wines before anyone else with a discount!!)
(Oh, and I was not paid by Sequoia Grove to write this post.)
(And I bought my own bottle.)