France Meets the America’s 4-Course Wine Dinner


October 4 Course Wine Dinner

wine and food pairings by Claude Robbins

France Meets The Americas  Dinner


Domaine Allimant-Laugner, Crément d’Alsace, Rosé, Brut, NV

Amuse Buche and Apperitif

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds & Peanuts with Chili

Kopke, Porto, (dry) White Port, NV

First Course

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Guacamole with Salpicón (“Medley”) of Roasted Poblano with Peach Wood Smoked Salmon & Accompanied by Blue Corn Chips

Masi, Valpolicello Classico, Bonacosta,  2012

Second Course

Banana Leaf Covered Salvadorian Pulled Chicken Tamals with Baby New Potatoes, Chickpeas & Recaudo Sauce, Served with New Mexico Hatch Green Chili Mole Verde Sauce

Domaine Lucien, Alsace, Pinot Gris, 2012

Third Course

Puff Pastry Open Faced Duck Confit “Ravioli” & Manchamanteles Sauce

Château de Cristia, Chateauneuf-de-Pape Rouge, 2012

Dessert Course

Multi-Layered Chocolate Tres Leches Crepe Cake with Espresso Whipped Cream, Organic Cocoa Nibs & Hazelnuts

Kracher, Burgenland (Austria), Trockenbeerenauslese, #7 Grande Cuvée, 2005

In many ways this was the most complex dinner the chefs have put together since we started the blog. The idea for this menu came out of the three of us going to a local Salvadorian restaurant to try their Salvadorian tamals (tamales).

The idea we came up with was to create a dinner with dishes ranging from Mexico to South America, each with a slight “French” twist. Because of the French twist we decided to primarily pick French wines to go with the dinner.

The final result was a very flavorful dinner that created some very interesting and challenging wine pairing possibilities.

This type of pairing is called a “cross cultural” pairing.  That is, the food is from one (or more) cultures that do not specialize in wine and food pairing. The idea is to then combine the food with wine from cultures that have a rich tradition and history of wine and food pairing.  I get asked all the time what wine goes with Chinese or Thai food, or even Mexican food.

Although most wine producing countries of the New World can be quite good, they were not developed by going through the process of developing a local wine to go with a local dish as the process was developed in Europe.  The European  process sometimes took hundreds of years to develop a wine to go with specific regional dishes.

For this dinner, as I have already stated, we decided to use European wines and food from the America’s for the “fiesta dinner.” In this case food from both Mexico and Salvadorian food.



Domaine Allimant-Laugner, Crément d’Alsace, Rosé, Brut, NV

A classic way to start a wine dinner is to give everyone a “starter” or aperitif to drink to start the evening.  In this case we did both: first a starter to put everyone in a festive mode and then an aperitif to go with the amuse bouche.

The starter is a sparkling wine from Alsace.  You many not be familiar with sparkling wines from Alsace but, like all of the wines from Alsace, they are great dinner wines.

I chose a Rosé. It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Chardonnay is not a traditional grape in Alsace, but has been grown there since the 1990’s and is primarily grown to blend into sparkling wines.

In this case the starter is consumed before the Amuse Bouche, so the sparkling wine to begin the evening will also help set up the palate for all of the food and wine that will follow.  Last month I chose the same wine as the aperitif (see the blog for the September 2nd dinner), so between last month and this month you can see how to use the same wine for two purposes: (1) this month to clear the palate and (2) last month to pair to the amuse bouche


Producer: Domaine Allimant-Laugner

Growing Area: Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, Brut

Grape: Pinot Noir

Vintage year: Non-Vintage (NV)

You do not have to have Crémant d’Alsace Rosé from this producer, any sparkling wine from an Alsacian producer should work.  Of course, you would like it to be a rosé to match our theme.


Amuse Buche and Apperitif

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Peanuts with Chili

Kopke, Porto, (dry) White Port, NV

In this dinner the Amuse Buche was a simple dish to begin getting your palate set up for the broad range of herbs and spices used in the sauces of all the other dishes.  The nuts and pumpkin seeds have a nut oil taste and a hint of booth green chili (in the oil) and a dusting of Chili powder to accompany the nut character.  The chili does not overpower the dish, it adds a nice flavor to complement the basic character of the nuts and seeds.

A white port is a fairly rare style of port.  It is produced using the same requirements as a ruby port.  That is, it has a minimum of 1 year of oak aging, it has been through reductive oxidation and been fortified to 14-18% alcohol.  Of course, the big difference is that it is a white wine whereas all other styles of port are red wines, including a rosé style.

Because of the nice acid structure of the white port it allows you to first taste the nut character and then as the acid declines on the plate to observe the chilies.  Again, as in all wine and food pairing, neither the food nor the wine should overpower each other.


Producer: Kopke

Growing Area: Porto

Style: Dry White Port

Grape: blend of white grapes

Vintage year: Non-Vintage (NV)

A white port can range from dry to medium-dry (slightly sweet/fruity). You really want a dry style to use as the aperitif.


First Course

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Guacamole with Salpicón (“Medley”) of Roasted Poblano’s with Peach Wood Smoked Salmon & Blue Corn Chips

Masi, Valpolicello Classico, Bonacosta,  2012

When pairing wine to food you need to pay very close attention to the food and realize that as you move from the first course to the principle course (in this case the third course) each dish will be more complex and richer as you move through each course.  The wine will start out lighter, and usually dryer (i.e.: lower in sugar) and move towards a principle wine to go with the principle dish.

This dish has two key pairing points: (1) the fat content in the Guacamole and Salmon, and (2) the smoked character of the Salmon.  The fat content is fairly complex, the Guacamole has one form of fat while the Salmon contains fish oil.  If you wanted to complement either source of fat you would want a wine with some observable viscosity (or “palate weight” in wine speak) that would coat the palate like the oil and fat coats the palate.  This would create richness in the flavor of the wine with the Guacamole, but would make the dish taste “fishy” by complementing the fish oil.  Fish oil is not considered a positive flavor profile for most dishes.

To avoid this problem with most fats you serve a wine that has enough acid to wash the fat off the palate.  In this case we want to have a hint of viscosity to bring out the Guacamole but not enough to bring out the fish oil.  Also, the wine needs to be dry enough to have enough acid to clear the palate of all the oils after you get a hint of the Guacamole and not the salmon.

To complement the smoked character of the salmon you need a wine that shows a hint of the flavor of the charred character of the oak barrels used to rest the wine.  But not so much smoke character in the wine to overpower the smoky flavor of the dish.

There is also an important secondary set of flavors: the Poblano and onion in the smoked Salmon along with a hint of cream cheese which is used as a binder to hold the fish, poblano and onion together.

The dish was stacked as well, so on the bottom you had the Guacamole, then toasted pumpkin seeds with the smoked salmon on top.  This means you basically get a bite all the components with each bite of the dish.

Because the flavor intensity of the dish is moderate you need a medium bodied wine to complement, but not overpower, the flavor intensity of the food.

The final wine chosen was a Valpolicello Classico.  It is typically dry, shows a hint of tannins and fruit as well as a hint of smoke from the Slovenian oak used to finish the wine.  As a dry wine it also has enough acidity to wash the fat and oils off the palate.

In this case the dry fruit character complements the Guacamole while the oak and acid structure of the wine complements the smoked fish, while reducing the intensity of its smoke character. The wine allows you to taste all the flavors of the key parts of the dish and expand the flavors while keeping the flavor intensity in balance.  Everybody at the dinner thought this was an excellent and intriguing combination and were pleasantly surprised.


Producer: Masi

Growing Area: Valpolicello Classico

Style: Dry and Medium Bodied

Grape: informing grape is Corvina

Brand Name: Bonacosta

Vintage year: 2012

Any Valpolicello Classico, but not just a simple Valpolicello, should work.  Avoid both the “rapasso” and “Amarone” styles of Valpolicello Classico as they will overpower the dish.


Second Course

Banana Leave Covered Salvadorian Pulled Chicken Tamals with Baby New Potatoes, Chickpeas and Recaudo Sauce, Served over New Mexico Hatch Green Chili Mole Verde Sauce

Domaine Lucien, Alsace, Pinot Gris, 2012

This dish is more complex, but only slightly richer than the first course.  There are several key flavors that the wine should help bring out in this dish: (1) banana leaf flavors in the tamal, (2) recaudo sauce on the chicken, and (3) Mole Verde and Hatch Green Chilies Sauce.

It is also important to realize that when the tamal is cooked (in this case boiled) inside a banana leaf it will be significantly less heavy than the traditional New Mexico or Mexican style tamale cooked in a corn husk.  The chefs will explain the difference between Mexican Tamales and Salvadorian Tamals in this recipe post. Further, the banana leaf will add a slight sweetness to the dish not normally found in a tamale.

In addition, one of the key components of a dish that you must consider when doing a pairing is a sauce, or in this case two sauces.  One mixed into the tomal with the chicken (Recaudo Sauce) and a second over the tamal (the Hatch Green Chili Mole Verde.)

Both of these sauces add a little heat as well as some unique flavors to the dish.  The Recaudo Sauce is made from red and green peppers, onions, Roma tomatoes, garlic, as well as Mexican oregano and achiote paste and has several fruits as well.

The Hatch Green Chili Mole Verde Sauce is a mix of spices and chilies. Mole actually means a “mix” of spices.  Chocolate Mole is a very popular sauce, however Chili Mole Verde Sauce is about carefully selected spices.  It should not be really spicy, but should show a select set of flavors.

In reality, the chicken is a delivery device for the Recaudo sauce as it primarily provides texture for the dish and not a lot of flavor.

So to bring out all of these flavors you need a wine that will complement the sweetness of the banana leaf and make the spices stand out but not overpower the flavors.  For this dish I chose a Pinot Gris from Alsace.  This is a Pinot Gris that is quite different than a Pinot Grigio from italy even though they are the same grape. 

The Alsacian wine will show a lot of mineral character as well as the flavor intensity and viscosity of the grape.  It will bring out the richness of the dish and the fruit character of the grape complements the sweet character of the banana leaf and the mineral brings out the spices.


Producer: Domaine Lucien

Growing Area: Alsace

Style: Medium-Dry and Medium Bodied

Grape: informing grape is Pinot Gris

Vintage year: 2012

Third Course

Puff Pastry Open FacedDuck Confit “Ravioli”  & Manchamanteles Sauce

Château de Cristia, Chateauneuf-de-Pape Rouge, 2012

This is the most complex dish of the dinner. Things to think about include the butter of the puff pastry, the flavor and fat of the duck confit and the Manchamanteles Sauce. This combination produces a dish that is considerably more flavor intense and higher in fat content than any of the previous dishes. 

The most complex part of the dish is the sauce. Manchamanteles Sauce is a blend of 17 fruits and spices.  It is a fruit mole that includes raisins, plumb, apple, maple syrup, tomato paste, sherry wine vinegar, allspice, cinnamon, slivered almonds, onions, tomato, garlic, and chilies.

The combination of flavors in the dish creates a sequence of different flavors on the palate: first the duck and puff pastry, then the sauce.  With the sauce first being slightly sweet and then spicy.

The wine needs to be have body and flavor intensity than the previous wines to stand up to the richness of the dish.  In this case I used a wine that has a soft tannin structure to complement the duck and pastry and then the higher flavor intensity and fruitiness of the wine will complement the sauce.

The wine I chose was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge from the Southern Rhône.  This is the most famous red wine of the Southern Rhône.  However, this wine can range from medium-full body to full body in style and to go with the dish we need the medium-fully body that is also medium dry.

The medium-full body character of the wine allows the combination of wine and food to be of equal flavor intensity. In addition, the wine lets you first observe the duck and puff pastry, followed by the sweetness of the sauce and then at the end the spices blend into the overall flavor profile.  At this point in the meal everyone was beginning to realize that there really is “something” to wine and food pairing and the guests were enjoying how the food and wine interacted with one another.


Producer: Château de Cristia

Growing Area: Chateauneuf-de-Pape Rouge

Style: Medium-Dry and Medium-Full Bodied

Grape: informing grape is Grenache Noir

Vintage year: 2012

Of course you can choose another producer for this dish if this estate is not available.  However, talk with your favorite wine merchant and let them know you are looking for a “lighter” version of this wine and not a full-bodied style because the full-bodied style will overpower the dish.  I would also not recommend a vintage year younger than 2012 either.


Dessert Course

Multi-Layered Chocolate Tres Leches Crepe Cake with Espresso Whipped Cream, Organic Cocoa Nibs & Hazelnuts

Kracher, Burgenland (Austria), Trockenbeerenauslese, #7 Grande Cuvée, 2005

Desserts are always one of the most difficult pairings with wine.  The difficulty is twofold: (1) dessert wines have a very narrow range of desserts they will work with and (2) the wine needs to be just slightly sweeter than the food.  As is always the case the pairing is about matching sweetness sources between the food and wine.

In this case there are a couple of sources of sweetness: (1) the Dulce de Leches and (2) the espresso whipped cream and (3) the salt flavored caramel sauce.  The chocolate crepes are not very sweet, because of the dark chocolate used to make them and the chef’s did not add any sugar to the crepe recipe so they were more on the “savory” side.  The combination of sweetness in this dessert makes it medium sweet overall and not very sweet.

The wine is also medium sweet and interestingly enough it will seem less sweet on the palate with the food than by itself.  The key structure of the wine is the combination of acid and sugar, where the acidity of the wine will wash the sweetness of the wine and the sweetness of the dessert off the palate.  The acidity keeps the wine and the dessert from being cloying.

The Austrians are actually the inventor of this unique style called Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).  That is, they were producing this style of wine before the Germans were.  This particular TBA not only has a good sugar and acid balance, it also has a hint of honey on the palate, which is a great complement to the caramel sauce.

Overall, the wine complements the dessert nicely and allows all the flavors of the food and wine to show through.


Producer: Kracher

Growing Area: Burgenland Austria

Style: Trockenbeerenauslese

Brand: #7 Grande Cuvée

Grape: a blend

Vintage year: 2005

You also want to chill this wine to about 45F.  Don’t over chill it or it will lose all of its flavor.

I hope you will try some of these recipes and pairing combinations.  I’d love to hear what you thought or your ideas about different wine pairing possibilities!

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