Wine & Food Pairing with Classic French Dishes

Published by Monday, August 19, 2013 Permalink 0

James Flewellen photo, wine tasting expert, The Art of Tasting Wine: James FlewellenJames Flewellen: Wine & Food Pairing with Classic French Dishes

by James Flewellen


Strawberries with red wine
Strawberries with red wine3liz4 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND















 Cassoulet This depends on the choice of meat in the dish. Try a Chianti or another Tuscan wine, with more savoury notes for deeper-flavoured meats. Or a Barbera, or even a youthful claret if there’s more pork than game in the dish.

 Choucroute garnie If you stick to local Alsatian wines for this dish you really can’t go wrong. Use the same wine you’ve used in cooking if possible (typically Riesling), or go for a Pinot Gris.

Confit de canard (duck confit)
(from Southwest, cooked over
a fire in its own fat)
For this rich dish we have two options. One is to stay local and go for a spicy red wine from the south-west of France – a Tannat from Madiran or a Malbec from Cahors. Alternatively a full-bodied, oaked Chardonnay would also work. The acidity of the white wine will cut through the duck fat nicely. Choose a robust wine with enough body to stand up to the rich flavours though – Meursault from Burgundy, or a Californian pretender.

Coq au vin While red Burgundy is the classic pairing for this dish, a claret will also go very well. Choose one with a few years’ bottle age so the savoury developed notes complement the complex herbs in the sauce.

Andouillettes (sausage
made with chitterlings)
A tough dish to pair with on account of its strong flavours and somewhat acquired taste! Both reds and whites could work here. Light reds such as Beaujolais or Chinon will do well to complement the dish without dominating it with too much tannin. On the white side, a light, fresh style is best: perhaps Chablis, or the mountain-air notes of an Arbois from the Jura.

Escargots de Bourgogne (snails
baked in their shells with
parsley butter)
My favourite pairing for escargots in butter is champagne. The acidity helps out with the fat in the butter but the wine does not overpower the delicate flavours of the snail. A Chablis or other unoaked Chardonnay would also work.

Quenelle (flour; butter; eggs;
milk; and fish, traditionally pike,
mixed and poached)
The wine pairing depends on the fish used in the quenelle, typically pike. A fish quenelle would go very nicely with a Picpoul de Pinet. The lively, clean flavours of this wine complement fish nicely, and there is great acidity to cut through the butter and eggs.

Brandade de morue (puréed
salt cod)
Strongly flavoured fish dishes can be hard to find wine companions for. I’d suggest a very dry Alsatian or German Riesling. Being a bit more adventurous, you could also try a white wine from the Rhône – something based on Marsanne or Rousanne.

Bouillabaisse (a stew of
mixed Mediterranean
fish, tomatoes, and herbs)
For Bouillabaisse you want a wine that keeps pace with the rich flavours of the dish, but doesn’t detract from them. Keeping local, I would go for a Provençal rosé, or possibly a quality white wine from the south of France. If you’re in the mood for reds – try a light-bodied, acidic wine such as a Cabernet Franc from Chinon or a German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

Ratatouille (a vegetable stew
with olive oil, aubergine, courgette,
bell pepper, tomato, onion
and garlic) with white fish
I go Italian when matching wine to tomato-based dishes. Try a juicy Dolcetto, Barbera or Primitivo. You could also go for Primitivo’s Californian cousin: Zinfandel.

Duck à l’orange Pinot Noir is the classic pairing for duck, however I find the orange in this dish doesn’t quite gel with the flavours in Pinot. Try a Grenache-based wine from the Southern Rhône, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The extra spice in the wine complements the orange.

Pot au Feu A hearty red wine is just the ticket for this meal. I’d go for a Merlot-based Claret from Pomerol in Bordeaux, but wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, or Grenache will also do beautifully. Just avoid something that is too jammy in fruit profile.

Blanquette de veau I can’t go past an Alsatian Riesling for this dish. Dry, austere, acidic – the perfect foil for the cream – and the fruit profile won’t obscure the meat.

 Sole meunière This dish cries out for a fruity, crisp, light white wine. My pick would be an Albariño from Galicia in Spain.

 Tournedos Rossini My classic pairing for this would be a juicy Left Bank claret. To take a step away from the norm, try a Tempranillo-based wine from Ribera del Duero. Unlike its cousins in Rioja, Ribera wines are more robust and full-bodied – ideal for the steak – and usually avoid the sweet-scented American oak.

Foie gras (terrine), served with
figs or onion jam
I’ve tried many things with foie gras and really don’t think you can go past the classic Bordelais pairing of Sauternes. The sweetness in the wine works beautifully with the salt in the terrine and the fruit profile goes well with the figs and onion jam.

 Steack-frites with Béarnaise sauce Let’s face it steak and red wine go together like a hand in a glove. If you want to emphasise the pepper in the Béarnaise then go for a peppery Syrah from the Northern Rhône or Shiraz from the Barossa.



Sign up for Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen’s  “Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass” in France from September 19 to 22, 2013.



Dr James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.

James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the founder of  The Oxford Wine Blog and co-author of the forthcoming book: The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting.



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Wine & Food Pairing with James Flewellen: Boeuf Bourguignon

Published by Monday, July 8, 2013 Permalink 1

Wine and Food Pairing: Boeuf Bourguignon

by James Flewellen

Here’s our recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon











Pinot Noir

The classic wine for this hearty dish is a relatively youthful Burgundian Pinot Noir – ideally the same wine you’ve used in the cooking. The bright fruit flavours in the wine complement the savoury spice in the dish and the tannins – fine as they typically are in red Burgundy – interact with the proteins in the meat to bring overall harmony to the meal. An older Pinot Noir will have developed more subtle, complex savoury notes, which may be overwhelmed by the bold array of flavours in the stew, thus I’d stick to a more youthful example and save the mature wine until when you can enjoy it in all its glory.

French Countryside










Other Pinot Noirs from around the world will also work – particularly the rich, clean fruit profile of a New Zealand Pinot. You could also try a ‘serious’ Beaujolais Cru – made from the Gamay grape. These Cru wines are slightly more expensive than the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau, yet they provide a more complex flavour profile and robust, yet integrated tannins. The best, from for instance Moulin à Vent, Morgon and Fleurie, start to resemble their cousins from Burgundy to the north and as such, offer excellent value for money.


365.202: Summer wine thing










Cabernet Franc

To the west of Burgundy, the Loire valley produces a number of wines that would go very well with the dish. Sancerre Rouge is the Loire’s expression of Pinot Noir and, I feel, too light in body to stand up to a stew. A Chinon or Bourgueil, however, made from Cabernet Franc, is well up to the task. The thicker skins of Cabernet Franc make for more robust tannin, which go perfectly with beef. Meanwhile, these wines typically have a rich fruity core in their flavour profile not dissimilar to young Burgundy, although more towards blackcurrant rather than raspberry on the fruit spectrum. Cabernet Franc can also introduce leafy, minerally and peppery notes, which can serve as a lovely foil to the sweetness in the vegetables in the stew.

Couly-Dutheil Chinon Clos de l'Olive 1999 (Loire Valley)

Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen will be giving a food and wine tasting Masterclass in Chartres from September 19 to 22. Here is a thorough description: Celebrate the Chartres Festival of Lights & Autumnal Equinox with a Food & Wine Tasting Masterclass. Click here to reserve your place!

About James Flewellen

Dr James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. James learned his trade in taste through the Oxford Blind Wine Tasting Society, of which he was the President from 2010-2012. During his term, he represented Oxford at many international blind tasting competitions – twice winning the prestigious ‘Top Taster’ Award in the annual Varsity blind tasting match against Cambridge University and captaining winning teams in competitions throughout Europe.

One of James’s goals is to clarify the complex and hard-to-navigate world of wine for both novice and experienced tasters. He applies his scientific training to wine education, illuminating concepts of taste, tannin and terroir in an approachable, entertaining manner. James runs wine education courses in Oxford through the Oxford Wine Academy and is completing the WSET Professional Diploma in Wine and Spirits. He is the regular wine writer for The Rambling Epicure and is the founder of The Oxford Wine Blog. He is also currently co-authoring The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting – a book surveying the wine regions of the world and how to blind taste.


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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Red Wine Grapes

Published by Thursday, May 23, 2013 Permalink 0

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Top 10 Red Wine Grapes

by James Flewellen

My last post covered what I consider the ‘top 10’ white wine producing grapes. Finding a similar list for the top 10 red wine grapes is no less difficult — perhaps even more so with the propensity for red wines to be a blend of a number of different grapes. Again, the order is my own preference, based on commercial importance, potential quality of the grape, and whether it produces a ‘classic style’.


10. Malbec

Malbec is one of the six permitted red wine grapes in Bordeaux, although few producers take advantage of its rich, plummy flavours. You are more likely to find Malbec predominating in blends of southern French appellations, such as Cahors, where the grape is called ‘Cot’. These wines are typically full-bodied, deep in colour, with plum flavours alongside ferric, inky notes too. Malbec has found a second home in Argentina, where it is the country’s signature red grape. In Argentina, the mineral notes subside somewhat, and a purer fruit note comes to the fore. The tannins, plentiful in Cahors, are softer in the Argentinian expression.





8. Sangiovese

This rather romantically named grape (‘Blood of Jupiter’) is the key component of wines from the Chianti region in Tuscany — arguably Italy’s most famous red wine export. The grape produces ruby-coloured wines with notes of cherries and almond. The palate can show high acid with tart cherry flavours, medium to high levels of alcohol and drying, austere tannins. The best examples develop savoury, tea-like notes with age and undeniable complexity. Brunello di Montalcino is perhaps the most interesting expression of Sangiovese, from a wine-lover’s perspective. Best served with food on account of the fierce tannins though! Sangiovese is also a component in many of the so-called ‘Super-Tuscan’ blends, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Sangiovese ready to harvest







7. Tempranillo

As Sangiovese is to Tuscany, Tempranillo is to the Rioja region — and indeed to many parts of Spain. Rioja is now perhaps Spain’s most famous wine export after Cava and within this region the Tempranillo grape has found a plethora of styles. The traditional style of Rioja saw ageing in mostly American oak barrels, complementing the strawberry notes from the grape with a sweet vanilla and coconut aroma from the oak. The balance between oak and fruit notes depends on the length of time the wine is aged in the barrels. With age, these wines develop pleasant grassy and ‘farmyardy’ aromas. A ‘new’ style of Rioja has emerged in recent years, favouring French oak and pushing fruit notes to the fore. Tempranillo is also a key component in many other regions of Spain, such as Ribera del Duero, and in Portugal too, where it is known as Tinto Roriz.







6. Cabernet Franc

The second Bordeaux grape on the list, although in Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc usually plays second or third fiddle to Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. This by no means diminishes its importance for the region, however. For a classic expression of a varietal wine we head north to the Loire valley — to classic regions such as Saumur, Chinon and Bourgueil. Here, the grapes produce a medium-bodied purple wine with high acidity and fine, powdery tannins. Due to the cooler climate in the Loire, these wines have leafy, herbaceous notes to go with blackcurrant, blackberry and a distinctive mineral note many describe as ‘pencil shavings’!








5. Grenache

Grenache is the stalwart of the Southern Rhône, where it makes up the dominant component of blended wines along with Syrah, Mourvèdre and many others. This grape is a the heart of famous appellations such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vaqueyras. Unusual among grape vines, it can tolerate heat and drought remarkably well with its ability to close its stomata to minimise water loss through evaporation. This feature also explains its success in South Australia — another hot, dry part of the world. The Aussies have followed the Southern Rhône model and produce similar blended wines — typically called ‘GSM’ after the three major grape components. Grenache is also to be found in Priorato and other parts of Spain, where it is known as ‘Garnacha’ and typically blended with Cariñena (a.k.a. Carignan). Grenache produces wines with high alcohol, low acidity and fine, dry tannins. The flavour profile is usually of strawberry with a characteristic white pepper spiciness.

Photo courtesy of






4. Merlot

Merlot was much maligned by Paul Giamatti’s character in the film Sideways – although in an ironic twist, his prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc contains a major component of Merlot. Perhaps Merlot’s unfairly poor image comes from the many mass-produced French and New World wines where the grape is used to make soft, undemanding, plummy, easy drinking wines. However, at its best, Merlot produces elegant wines with savoury flavours combining with juicy plum and fruitcake spice notes. While the grape does not lend to the most structured wines, there can still be relatively firm, drying tannins, allowing the best examples of Merlot to age very well. The most famous examples of Merlot come from the Right Bank of Bordeaux in appellations such as St Emilion and Pomerol. Here, Merlot is typically blended with Cabernet Franc to produce some of the finest wines in the world. Merlot is, of course, a component of the Left Bank Bordeaux wines, although here it comes in second to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot can also be found in Bordeaux-imitation blends around the world and as a varietal wine in parts of the New World – especially California, New Zealand and Chile.

Creative commons photo (C)







3. Syrah/Shiraz

Whereas the Southern Rhône follows the model of blending many grapes to create Grenache-dominated wines, the Northern Rhône sticks to a single grape: Syrah. Historically, Syrah has produced the most revered wines in France — emanating from Hermitage, Côte-Rotie, St Joseph and Cornas — and it has only been relatively recently that the focus has shifted to Bordeaux and to Burgundy. The best examples are very long-lived and offer very good value to the fine wine connoisseur. Syrah from the Rhône is medium- to full-bodied, with firm, slightly coarse tannins, crisp acidity and complex notes of plum, blackcurrant, black pepper, roasted meat, liquorice, treacle, herbs, among others. Syrah is, of course, equally famous in Australia, where it is known as ‘Shiraz‘ and found throughout the entire country. In fact, Australia has the oldest Shiraz grape vines in the world, with a number of regions unaffected by the phylloxera blight that destroyed European vineyards in the late 1800s. The classic style is that of the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale — jammy black fruits, often with notes of spicy salami, black pepper, and eucalyptus. Australian Shiraz is usually more full-bodied with lower acidity than that of the Rhône, although wine from the slightly cooler region of the Hunter Valley can approach a Rhône-like style.

Photo link to the Telegraph





2. Cabernet Sauvignon

The predominant grape in some of the world’s most revered and expensive wines: those of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. In the right climate and on the right soils, Cabernet Sauvignon offers elegance, power, structure and harmony that few other grapes can match. However, in search of the perfect structure the grape can produce austere flavours in the wine, which is why this grape is best suited to blending with others. This is the origin of the ‘Bordeaux blend’, which sees Cabernet Sauvignon melded with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon brings classic notes of blackcurrant, cedar, and bell peppers alongside vanilla and nuts from maturation in new French oak, which is typical in Bordeaux. On the palate, the grape brings crisp acidity and firm, structured tannins, and both of these can ensure a long ageing potential. The Bordeaux style has found favour in many other parts of the world, from the ‘Super-Tuscans’ of Italy to equivalents in Spain, California, Australia and South America. The best examples of these are among these nations’ finest wines also.





1. Pinot Noir

As Chardonnay is the Burgundian king of white wines for me, so Pinot Noir is the queen of reds. Fickle, hypersensitive,  ill-tempered, yet oh-so-magical when it all pays off, tasting a great Pinot Noir is an unforgettable experience. At its best the grape offers up swirling, subtle aromas of raspberry, strawberry, cherry and blackberry, a refreshing minerality and an earthy, leafy quality that is quite indescribable, yet summed up beautifully in the French term sous-bois – or ‘forest floor’. Burgundy still holds the crown for the most desirable Pinots – indeed wines – on the planet, due in no small part to its 1,000-year history in growing the grape. The grape is notoriously difficult to work with and susceptible to very minor changes in climate. Various places around the world have taken on the challenge of making great Pinot – New Zealand, Oregon and Tasmania are considered the best pretenders to the crown and can produce some very good (and much better value-for-money) wines. But these are all new kids on the block, and have a few centuries ahead of them to really get to know the grape, and for the grape to get to know their new homes.


James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and wine tasting courses through the Oxford Wine Academy.

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