Wine & Veg for Autumn
At this time of year, we have an abundance of late summer and autumn vegetables and fruits - the market stalls groaning with apples remind us to get ahead with chutney while the range of pumpkins, squashes, beets and mushrooms in the markets make us think of warming soups and earthy flavours to pair with rich warming wines.
Did you know that when cooking butternut squash or pumpkin you don't need to peel them? Just scrub the skin clean and then cook along with the flesh and it will blitz down into your soup as in our Squash Velouté Recipe. Squash lends itself well to soups, spiced up with some warming ginger perhaps. And the wine?
Wendy insists on serving a Sweet Bordeaux with a squash and ginger velouté, especially with some blue cheese crumbled on top to make it a meal in itself. With a creamy squash or pumpkin soup, choose a dry white with some barrel age. White Pessac-Léognan spends 9 months to a year in oak, giving it a depth of flavour and roundness but keeping the liveliness. The acidity balances the creaminess and the body of the wine will harmonise, rather than compete with the soup's texture. The soup topping we suggest based around hazelnuts is seasonal too and will go on any veggie soup to jazz it up along with croutons - for example, a parsnip and apple or beet soup.
Spaghetti squash (bake them whole and they open up to look just like spaghetti) was always a favourite for my boys when they were growing up, tossed with tomato sauce was one way of getting them to eat their veg! It pairs much better with a glass of mellow, merlot driven red for the grown-ups that way.
They are great added into to stews and risottos or as part of a Vegetable Tartine but if baking pumpkins or squash whole, scoop out the flesh and mix it with your other ingredients; herbs, spices, tomatoes, cheese, plus a topping such as feta and herbs. Pile it all back into the into the pumpkin shell for a fun presentation - very Halloween!
- With the fresh herbs and feta topping, choose a dry white wine and aim for something with plenty of fruit flavours so it is not overpowered by the salty feta, an Entre-Deux-Mers would be great, they are always a blend of grape varieties with lovely fresh fruit character.
- Tomatoes and herbs such as rosemary and thyme, will pair really well with a young vibrant red. Try a Côtes de Castillon just to the east of Saint Emilion, Merlot-driven and grown on limestone slopes over the Dordogne. The wines are as charming as the countryside they grow in.
It's not only the main ingredients which decide what wine you'll enjoy, the seasoning can make all the difference.
“The abundance of late summer and autumn vegetable and fruit pair perfectly with Bordeaux wines with a little bottle age”
Make Room for Mushrooms
Think a large portobello mushroom grilled like a steak and served with herb or garlic butter, or in a moussaka chopped up to replace the minced meat as in our Vegetable Moussaka recipe, taking us back to the days when moussaka was trendy. Another retro recipe is Mushroom Stroganoff - remember the beef version of that?
Versatile and delicious as a meat alternative for veggie guests, mushrooms are really easy to incorporate into recipes. Try our Mushroom and Spinach Tart for a weekend lunch idea. Ottolenghi has a wonderful mushroom ragu recipe which is just gorgeous - as is his cheesy mushroom lasagne but the wine choices would be different. For an elegant starter, slice some cèpes thinly (like carpaccio) and serve with walnut oil dressing, thin slices of parmesan and freshly chopped parsley.
As well as being a really healthy, seasonal ingredient mushrooms go brilliantly with wine. But which style? As with many food/wine pairings, it depends if they are standalone, cooked in a creamy or cheese-based sauce or in a tomato-based one. For example:
- A creamy mushroom pasta sauce, stroganoff or risotto cries out for a dry white wine, choose a Pessac-Léognan (or George 7 Blanc) oak-aged on the lees giving depth of flavours and mouth feel.
- the raw mushroom carpaccio with walnut oil would go really well with a barrel-aged white wine. Venture up to the Médoc, known for its reds but there are a few spectacular whites. See if you can find The Arums de Lagrange - when they had a Japanese chef there, he served it with Tempura Cèpes – a divine pairing.
- Older wines, especially Merlot blends, are often characterised by their mushroom and truffle aromas so will go brilliantly with a meaty grilled portobello.
- A more fruit-forward red wine with less complexity compliments a mushroom dish that has lots of flavours within it including a good amount of cheese - that is certainly true for the vegetable moussaka. which has a rich cheesy topping. Here you don't want a wine which is competing in flavour with the food but is nicely balancing the richness.
- Similarly, a less complex red with rounded tannins and just a touch of oak is the match for Sally’s Mushroom and spinach tart. The combination of food and occasion leads you to the wine choice and this is a perfect example if having the tart for lunch with a peppery rocket salad. Prince from George 7 goes brilliantly with this, although Sally suggests a Côtes de Blaye or a Côtes de Bourg as she doesn’t want to blow her own trumpet too often!
Hazelnuts, walnuts and chestnuts all grow in France (and in the UK too by the way). By the end of September, we are seeing fresh nuts everywhere – the Dordogne valley is the biggest regional producer of walnuts and they are integral to its farming history.
It is good to taste nuts before using them – the rich oils in them that give us so much flavour can make them go rancid too. It is always great to toast nuts before using, making them even ‘nuttier’ in taste – in a 160°C fan oven spread out on a baking tray works well.
Nuts are great as an addition to a dish – for example to a walnut and apple salad that is delicious with a light crisp white wine such as a typical Bordeaux Blanc – or in the hazelnut crumble you can use on seasonal vegetable soups.
They are fabulous as an accompaniment at aperitif – for example, jazzed up by tossing a nut selection in a tablespoon of warmed olive oil and cooking for a couple of minutes before sprinkling with a teaspoon of brown sugar and ground cloves or cinnamon, some ground pepper and garlic salt and, once mixed together, finished off with a drizzle of water and a good stir. Take them off the heat and leave them to cool in the pan before storing in an airtight container.
This cocktail of nuts with spice goes beautifully with wines you might serve for apéro as the evenings draw in and you play with lighting the fire. Try a fruity, rounded red such as a Bordeaux Supérieur with some bottle age. Or reach for a glass of Sweet white, add an ice cube and a zest of orange. Laure de Lambert, owner wine maker at Château Sigalas Rabaud does this with her '5' a no added sulphur version so I'm not speaking out of turn!
Nuts are great for dessert too, try the honey and nut tart - naughty but nice and very seasonal.
But nuts can also be the main event bringing a ‘meaty’ element thanks to their rich and fatty oils which make them delicious and satisfying. What better than to bring nuts centre stage in a creamy pesto sauce for pasta? It makes a real change to the classic pine-nut, basil and parmesan pesto and can be vegan too.
Chop onion and garlic and gently cook them in a dash of olive oil for a few minutes then add to a blender with approx. 150g of raw walnuts (which have been soaked in water overnight) together with 360ml of soy milk (unsweetened) and 90g of grated parmesan cheese or 3tbsp of nutritional yeast, and salt to taste. Blend until very smooth. Cook the pasta until al dente keeping a cup of the cooking water to loosen the walnut pesto as needed. Add some ground pepper, nutmeg and more salt, if needed when mixing the pasta and pesto together and garnish with chopped parsley.
Here, where walnuts are key to the dish, then a more complex white – even with some skin contact or barrel age – for texture, body and more mouthfeel would make a great match. Try the white Bordeaux Blanc Capmartin from Château Lestrille, it has all the elegance of her white Entre-Deux-Mers but with a little barrel age – and it’s organic.
Add a large handful of spinach for a 'creamy' yet earthy spinach version and the wine choice might change. Similarly, if you added a strong hard cheese then the mouthfeel and flavours will be quite different. For these two versions, the tannin in red wine will bring another dimension and enhance the dish - pick a savoury one and there are many great ones around our region - look for a Cru Bourgeois from the Médoc, wines that offer super value for money from this region thanks to their higher Cabernet percentage. Château Fonréau from Listrac with over 50% Cabernet and sustainably farmed or Château Le Crock from Saint Estèphe for bit more power.
'Roasted, poached or pickled, there are so many ways to use the glut of seasonal fruit and many wines to pair them with'
The markets here in Bordeaux are just overflowing with all the types of plums, apples and pears that you care to mention from the basic prunes', mirabelles, quetsch or reine-claudes. In English, we are talking plums, damsons and greengages .
It really is the right time to pickle and conserve fruits for winter. Make the most of all the apples around to make the Apple Chutney which Sally serves with her sharing platters and everyone loves with their cheese. Try a fig jam too which is perfect with a hard cheese like comté and a fruity red.
Then poach fruit for an easy dessert and make it as indulgent or as healthy as you wish with more or less sugar and a light or naughty accompaniment. Check out our poached pear recipes – are you team red wine or team sweet white?
Spice, spice baby
When there’s an abundance of plums, buy them up and poach them, add in a vanilla pod, grated ginger or a cinnamon stick for those spicy notes. Cooked plums can be frozen (will collapse when defrosted due to water content) or will keep for a few days in the fridge. Serve with cream or ice cream for an easy dessert (or even on your morning yoghurt). Fold into whipped cream with broken meringue for an autumn version of Eton mess. Roasted or poached plums also work well cold with cheese – plum varieties are more versatile than you think and not just for crumble!
Grapes are certainly not in short supply in Bordeaux at this time of year although wine grapes have a lot less flesh than table grapes. They can be incorporated into poached or roasted fruit desserts along with figs or blackberries - just remember to add them to the oven later than plums or they will squish down too much.
The wines to accompany poached fruit will depend on what you have used in the recipe
- a pear cooked in red wine and accompanied by a rich chocolate ice cream will go best with a fruity red.
- Roasted, slightly caramelized plums and figs especially with a few blackberries go really well with a Cabernet thanks to the classic cassis and blackcurrant aromas.
- Add spices and you can go to an even more concentrated and powerful younger red.
Identifying the principal flavours and tastes in our autumn dishes will help you select some flattering and fun wine pairings. We’ve talked about fruit, nuts, mushroom and spices – all flavours and aromas that we find in wine. We can choose to either match these aromas and flavours so they reinforce each other, or we can choose wines that contrast. What does all these mean practically?
Let’s start with mushrooms. In wine we associate mushroom and forest floor aromas with a wine that has some age. Depending on the blend, power and complexity of the wine, these aromas (much nicer than they sound) will develop more or less quickly. Powerful Cabernet driven reds age more slowly that Merlot. A lighter merlot from a Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur appellation will start to develop this complexity after 3-5 years. A more powerful classified growth from the Médoc, say a Pauillac or Saint Estèphe with lots of Cabernet could take 10 years before you start to pick this up.
If you prefer your wine on the fruity side, choose a younger wine. Merlot has lots of red berry fruits, cherry and red plum – the perfect pairing for our Roasted plums. Or did you use lots of sweet spices, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg in your dish? These spices go really well with a Cabernet aged in oak.
Barrels also bring grilled notes to a wine, thanks to the toasting of the barrels when they are made, so you’ll find toasty notes in red and white wine, perfect if you are using nuts in your recipe in a garnish or a sauce. The recipe for nut tart also has honey, an aroma that could be echoed in a powerful dry white wine as it ages. We often find beeswax notes as a dry white wine ages, not to everyone's taste perhaps but it’s great fun to pair with food. It works really well with mushrooms too if you prefer white wine.
Then there’s mouthfeel. With risotto or a creamy mushroom pasta sauce you might prefer a fresher dry white wine. A contrast with the weight of the dish rather than reinforcing it. If you have tomato sauce with your mushrooms a young red wine with be delicious, reinforcing the more acidic sensation on the palate.
The diversity of flavours available in autumn and the cooler weather all point us in the direction of more mellow wines after a summer of chilled rosés and dry whites, but they still have their place too. A sparkling Bordeaux crémant with the honey and nut tart, a dry white with spicy nuts or a sweet white with poached pears. So many interesting combinations to play with once you understand the basics of pairing. Everyone’s tastes and preferences are different but keep an open mind and keep experimenting.
The weather may be dull, but you will never have a dull meal.