Good Wine: Matching Alsatian cuisine with Pierre Sparr wines
“As dining moves indoors, a meal’s star attraction shifts from the surrounding backyard, deck or park to the food itself.
“To translate your standard dishes with international flavors, look to the food and wine of Alsace, France.
“Bone-dry and minerally with racy acidity and delicate nutty accents, reminding this palate that elegance in bubbly is not limited to Champagne. Serve as a revivifying aperitif to tickle the palate and signal the tummy ‘Food is on its way,’ specifically charcuterie (or a U.S. interpretation: cold cuts), Salade Alsacienne (Chef’s Salad), Tarte à l’oignon (onion pizza) and international tapas.
“Alsace, located in the Vosges Mountains of northeast France, claims her share of Michelin-starred restaurants and haute cuisine. But like most mountain-folk, the Alsatian people value stick-to-the-ribs dishes and hearty flavors, not far from Chicago favorites.
“Pizza, for instance, in Alsace, is flammekueche, a ‘flame roasted’ tart of thinly-rolled bread dough, topped with crème fraîche, onions and bacon. The dish was created in the sixteenth century to test the heat of rural, wood-fired ovens. At optimum temperature, the flammekueche baked to golden crisp in a minute. (In the absence of glowing embers, modern recipes recommend an oven preheated to 450-degrees.)
“To turn even a casual meal into a special occasion, pair flammekueche with Crémant d’Alsace Brut Réserve, produced by Pierre Sparr (see Ross’s Choice) Founded in 1680, Maison Pierre Sparr today owns thirty-seven acres of the region’s finest vineyards and works in close partnership with landowners of 370 acres throughout Alsace.
“Alsace shares Chicagoland’s love of the le seigneur cochon, the noble pig, with charcuterie beginning many meals. Derived from chair (‘flesh’) and cuit (‘cooked’), charcuterie Alsacienne includes cured meats, hams and a range of sausages including ‘The Knack’, the regional knackwurst named for the popping sound it makes when bitten. Serve on a platter or bread board with crusty French bread, mustard and cornichons.
“Pierre Sparr, Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (about $21) makes a rich complement to both flammekueche and charcuterie, with dry, juicy strawberry flavors, well-defined acidity and delicate bubbles.
“One-pot dishes are a mainstay of Alsace cuisine, beginning with baeckeoffe.
“Meaning ‘baker’s oven,’ traditional Alsace housewives dropped off casseroles with the local baker to cook for the midday meal. Modern home cooks in both Alsace and Chicago save a trip by filling their own crockpots with lamb, beef and pork, potatoes and onions, and — bien sur — Alsace wine.
“Baeckeoffe is served with Pinot Gris, a grape identical to Italian Pinot Grigio, but with rounder flavors ripened in Alsace sunshine. Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris (under-$20) offers aromas of autumn leaves, with soft apricot-like flavors and mineral accents.
“Riesling is the noble grape of Alsace, to be paired with Coq au Riesling (chicken simmered in Riesling), poached trout and the central dish of Alsace gastronomy, Choucroute garnie.
“Not for the faint of heart, Choucroute garnie consists of choux — the plump white cabbage of Alsace — pickled into sauerkraut and wine-braised with meats, bacon slabs and a bouquet garnie including juniper berries, then piled-high with more meats, sausages and potatoes. While sauerkraut may not seem like an epicurean’s delight, Choucroute garnie is the pride of Alsace tables great and small. A recent interpretation is choucroute au poisson (seafood choucroute), to calm modern-day cholesterol concern.
“Serve your choucroute with the pure, confident flavors of Alsace Riesling. Pierre Sparr’s Riesling (about $16) has direct flavors of lemon peel and green apples framed by refreshing acidity and firm minerality. For a special occasion, choose Pierre Sparr Riesling Grand Cru “Schoenenbourg” (about $45), voluptuous, dry and minerally with near-tropical flavors of papaya and pineapple and balanced acid.
“Gewurztraminer is the love-it or hate-it grape of Alsace, Pierre Sparr’s Gewurztraminer (under-$20) offering classic aromas of yellow roses and white pepper, apricot and spice flavors and silk-satin mouth feel.
“The traditional accompaniment to Gewurztraminer is Munster, the creamy and richly-aromatic (read ‘stinky’) cheese matured in Alsace abbeys and monasteries, not to be confused with America’s bland Muenster.
“Bowing to modern social custom, odoriferous Munster has been replaced by a new Gewurztraminer pairing, enjoyed both in Alsace and throughout Chicago: Chinese carryout.”
Name: Crémant d’Alsace Brut “Réserve”
Region: Alsace, France
Producer: Pierre Sparr
Vintage: Non-vintage (a multi-vintage blend)
Availability: At wine & spirits shops & chains, about $21
(Distributed by: Tenzing, Chicago)