Bordeaux Wines Meet Their Match

Bordeaux Wines Meet Their Match

Bordeaux, one of the world’s most esteemed wine regions, has been recognized by generations of connoisseurs around the globe for both the quality and the variety of its wines. Yet, for all the diversity within this wine paradise, it takes only one squat, ungainly bird to provide the inspiration necessary for dozens of dishes that can easily match any wine, exalted or vin ordinaire, the region has to offer. That is the simple, domesticated duck—the much-beloved canard de Bordeaux.

For a visitor to Bordeaux, it’s almost impossible to pick up a menu in any traditional-fare bistro or Michelin-starred restaurant and not find a handful of duck dishes—duck breast, roast duck, duck foie gras, duck eggs (poached or fried), duck soup or salad, terrine, rillettes, confit, fritons or gratons (crisp cracklings from deep-fried skin) and as a chief ingredient in classic cassoulet. If you must order something other than duck, chances are that it will be seasoned with, or sautéed in, duck fat.

The structure of red Bordeaux provides the necessary tannic grip and acidic cut to stand up to the rich, gamy flavors found in savory duck preparations, while the lusciously sweet Bordeaux, like those from Sauternes, have both ripe sugary fruit and balanced acidity to marry with the opulent textures of French classics like seared duck foie gras and caramelized apples.

Any visit to Bordeaux demands at least one meal in Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis’s La Tupina restaurant in the Porte de la Monnaie section of the city. Xiradakis is legendary not only for his food, but also for organizing regional chefs to promote the traditional cuisine and wines of the southwest.

Not surprisingly, the bespectacled Xiradakis, with his dark hair and his Gallic downturn of the mouth, is a student of duck, and his recipes include tidbits of culinary wisdom. For his cottage pie with duck and truffles, he says: “The ideal is to use the meat of duck necks, because the meat is more flavorful. But we can also retrieve the duck carcass with pieces of lean meat or with duck meat sleeves [skin].”

He can break down the wickedly rich, falling-off-the-bone duck confit (cooked in its own fat) into a few basic steps. “The recipe for duck confit is simple,” he declares. “Spend for a few hours duck legs in coarse salt. Slowly cook in duck fat—the fat doesn’t boil, but comes to a boil. After two hours, the legs are finished; check for doneness with a knife.”

As Xiradakis has been one of the driving forces behind the new Côtes de Bordeaux appellation, he recommends a well-aged red wine from his native Blaye. Its rich, mature flavors and mild tannins perfectly match the richness of the duck legs, which might traditionally be served with a side dish of potatoes.

The Bordelais match their love for duck with fierce advocacy of their local wines. One stellar example is found a few miles south of the city’s beltway, the rocade, in the quiet countryside near Martillac.

France’s best-known modern spa, Les Sources de Caudalie, is found here, and with it, a small five-star hotel containing one of Bordeaux’s most sophisticated restaurants, La Grand’Vigne. In June, the chef, Nicolas Masse, published a cookbook, Retour Aux Sources (Glénat Editions, 2011), which is available in English.

In the book, the restaurant’s chef sommelier, Aurélien Farrouil, suggests various wines to match the dishes. But, says Alice Tourbier, owner of Caudalie, “of course, the best match for our chef’s meals are with our prestigious neighbor, Smith Haut Lafitte!”

That chateau, across a one-lane road from Caudalie, is owned by Tourbier’s parents, Daniel and Florence Cathiard. Like many Pessac-Léognan wineries, Smith Haut Lafitte makes Grand Cru red and white wines. It’s hard to argue with this recommendation, whether for reasons of locavore purity or to politely dodge the issue of familial loyalty.

Many of the entries in Masse’s book are composed dishes, and several recipes feature duck. One, for example, is for elegant deep-fried spheres of duck foie gras coated with egg white, bread crumbs, squid ink and rice flour. They’re served over shaped domes of truffled potato purée.

Bérénice Lurton, owner of Château Climens and head of the Sauternes and Barsac producers group, acknowledges that Sauternes is the classic pairing with foie gras, but she argues that many duck dishes work better with Barsac wines. "They are generally more lively," she says.

“In autumn or winter, I really like a recipe of pumpkin velouté with shavings of halfcooked duck foie gras,” Lurton says. “I’m also fond of the nem [spring roll] of foie gras: raw foie gras rolled on sliced herbs (mint, tarragon and Thai basil) in a fresh spinach leaf, poached for two minutes and served with a soy-ginger sauce.”

“The freshness of the herbs and the softness of the foie are very complementary to the same qualities in the [Barsac] wine,” she says, “and the herbs do enhance the complexity of aromas of the wine, as well as its freshness.”

“Regarding duck meat,” Lurton continues, “I like it roasted with saffron and cumin juice, served with celery purée, or in aiguillettes (strips) deglazed in slightly caramelized orange and star anise sauce, served with small deglazed turnips.” says, “and the herbs do enhance the complexity of aromas of the wine, as well as its freshness.”

With roast duck and duck breast, the sauce often determines the wine. Although Lurton might be tempted to stick with Barsac, a sweet, fruity sauce like classic duck à l’orange might demand a young, Merlot-driven red from the Right Bank. A savory sauce with root vegetables, however, might go better with a lean, tannic, aged Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated red from the Médoc to complement the earthy flavors of the sauce.

Of course, there are chateau owners who offer visitors wines and food to match. For example, Frédéric and Fabienne Mallier, who own Château de la Vieille Chapelle on the northern banks of the Dordogne near Lugon, produce red and white AOP Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. They also run a small bed-and-breakfast popular with people who like to fish, surf the unusual Mascaret tidal waves that flow up the river and attend Fabienne’s cooking classes.

"I teach how to cook foie and the other different parts of duck, including magret and confit, but my specialty is terrines," Fabienne says in her kitchen in the converted 12th-century chapel. Most of the terrines, she explains, go best with white wine, either sweet or dry, depending on the terrine and the kind of wine used in it. Is there any mystery to what wine she might recommend?

Local wines and duck—it’s what’s for dinner in Bordeaux.

Green Salad with Aiguilletes of Duck

Adapted from a recipe by Bérénice Lurton, proprietor of Château Climens.

1 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar
4 whole star anises
2 duck breasts, ½-pound each, cut into 1-inch strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups fresh field greens, such as a blend of raddichio, arugula, frisée and romaine

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the orange juice, sugar and star anises.

In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, sauté the duck breast strips in the olive oil until they reach your preferred doneness, about 4–5 minutes for medium rare. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the duck to a plate and deglaze the pan with the orange-anise mixture, allowing it to reduce to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Strain the glaze to remove the whole star anise pieces, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

To Serve:

Place a small bed of field greens on four salad plates. Divide the duck strips among the four plates and drizzle the heated orange-anise glaze over the duck. Serves 4.

Wine Recommendation:

This dish has both light and rich components and needs a wine that can bridge the elements. The refreshing acidity and ripe fruit of the Le Rosé de Phélan-Ségur can stand up to the orange-anise glaze, while the high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend creates enough structure and concentration to fare well with the duck.

Poached Figs Stuffed with Foie Gras

Adapted from a recipe by Fabienne Mallier, proprietor of Château de la Vieille Chapelle.

8 golden figs, dried
2 cups Sauternes or other sweet Bordeaux white wine, for poaching ½ pound cooked duck foie gras or foie gras terrine
2 cups microgreens
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a medium sauté pan, poach the figs in the wine for 15–20 minutes, until the figs have reconstituted and become tender. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.
Once cool, use a small spoon and scoop out half the flesh from each fig. Stuff each fig with the foie gras and then chill in the refrigerator for two hours.

To Serve:

Divide the microgreens equally between 4 medium salad plates. Top the greens with the stuffed figs and drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on each plate. Serves 4.

Wine Recommendation:

For a classic pairing, serve Château Coutet’s Barsac. While it’s opulent enough to match the rich texture of the foie gras, it also shows enough restraint to avoid competing with the dish’s bold flavors.

Seared Duck Breast with Caramelized Turnips

Recipe courtesy of Monique Seillan, Château Lassege, St. Emilion.

2 duck breasts, ½-pound each
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 large turnip, about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 parsley sprigs, for garnish

To Prepare the Duck:

Score the skin of each duck breast without cutting into the meat, and season with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan set over a medium-high flame, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place the duck breasts in the pan skin-side down. Cook for 4 minutes, then turn the breasts over and continue cooking for another 4 minutes, or until the breasts have reached an internal temperature of 135°F for medium rare and the skin is crisp and golden.

Remove the duck from the pan and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Discard the excess duck fat in the pan, and then deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar. Cook the vinegar until it reduces to a glaze, about 5 minutes.

To Prepare the Turnips:

In a medium frying pan, heat the sugar and 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and cook the turnips until they’re fork tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes.

To Serve:

Fan the slices of duck breast and arrange a small mound of caramelized turnips on a plate. Spoon the balsamic glaze around the duck and turnips, and garnish with a sprig of parsley. Serves 2.

Wine Recommendation:

With the textured turnips and gamy richness of the duck, this dish requires a wine with equally impressive structure. Château Haut Colombier’s Premières Côtes de Blaye is a generous Right Bank blend that balances dark berry flavors with enough earthy tones to highlight the dish’s root vegetables.

Try this delicious Duck Foie Gras recipe:

Duck Foie Gras Croquettes with Truffled Potato Purée

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Nicolas Masse

For the croquettes:
1 pound duck foie gras, cooked
¼ cup squid ink (available at many specialty stores)
4½ cups fine bread crumbs
1¼ cups rice flour
6 egg whites, lightly beaten
8 cups frying oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the potato purée:
3 medium russet potatoes, about 1½ pounds, scrubbed and pricked with fork tines.
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup heavy cream, hot, but not boiling
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup fresh black truffle bits or 1 teaspoon truffle oil

To prepare the croquettes:
Cut the foie gras into 8 equal pieces and shape into 2 ½-inch balls using your hands. In a large mixing bowl, add the squid ink to the bread crumbs and mix until evenly colored.

Place the rice flour and egg whites in separate medium-sized mixing bowls. Dredge the foie gras balls by first dipping them in the flour, followed by the egg whites and then the breadcrumbs. Dip once more in the egg whites and end with a final coating of breadcrumbs.

Heat a large pot filled with the oil until a frying thermometer registers 350°F. Deep fry the balls until they develop a crisp, golden crust and are heated through, about 4–6 minutes.

Remove the croquettes from the oil and place on a plate covered with paper towels, allowing any excess oil to drain. Season with salt and pepper.

To prepare the potato purée:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, coat the prepared potatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan and bake in the preheated oven until the potatoes are fork tender, about 1 hour. When the potatoes are fully cooked, remove from the oven, peel and discard the skins.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the potatoes, cream, milk and butter, and purée until smooth. With a wooden spoon, stir in the truffle pieces or truffle oil and season with salt and pepper.

To serve:
Place a portion of the truffled potato purée in the center of four round plates and top with a foie gras croquette. Serves 8.

Wine Recommendation:
The richness of this dish calls for a wine with equal weight. The creamy and almost-sweet texture of Château Smith Haut Lafitte’s Pessac-Leognan Blanc will play off the rich potato purée and luscious foie gras, while the dish’s truffle component will draw out the wine’s inherent minerality.

Published on November 25, 2011