Geboren in Roemenië is top-sommelier en Master of Port Julia Scavo nu al heel wat jaren woonachtig in Frankrijk. “What I like most about the profession is sharing experience and knowledge”. En dat doet zij dan ook op deze website. Zoals met dit artikel over de wijnkeuze bij gerechten die in Frankrijk met oud-en-nieuw worden geserveerd. Zij koos een Roemeens alternatief voor de traditionele Franse wijnen: Eat French, drink Romanian for the New Years Eve. Lees maar even mee…
New Year´s Eve is mostly celebrated with friends in France, contrary to Christmas which is a family affair. At first, I was surprised to see how many restaurants close for the 24th and 25th of December when people eat at home with their dearest, so that the hospitality business prepares for the 31st. There is a French expression “se mettre sur son 31” which I have always thought related to such preparations when people go out to celebrate the new Year´s Eve and put on their best cloths. In fact, there is no link between the 31st of December and this idiom which comes from the refined “trentain” fabric as symbol of richness and a way to show off sumptuous nature when dressed in.
Anyway, on the 31st, French put their best attire on, “se mettent sur leurs 31” and gather around the Saint- Sylvestre dinner. There are neither specific traditions nor a traditional menu, but some products are recurrent whether at home or at the restaurant. In any case there are no superstitions as one can associate to the Romanian New Year´s Eve menu and evening. The only Gaelic tradition, also found in Romania and in other countries is the Mistletoe – “le gui” a symbol of luck and faithful love.
If there is one product that should never miss from a Saint- Sylvestre menu, this is Champagne. Champagne is the perfect aperitif, however, please notice that one can celebrate the whole Réveillon evening drinking Champagne. Many of the star products of such evening pair well with Champagne, excluding rich chocolate desserts.
Champagne and oysters
But going back to the aperitif, French prefer oysters to begin their Saint- Sylvestre evening. Believe it or not, this is not the most harmonious pairing for Champagne, the two products being traditionally associated since the beginning of the 18th century thanks to a supposed common virtue which Madame de Pompadour cherished a lot. To have a real Champagne and oyster pairing, oysters should be disguised with different fruits, herbs, or spices according to the Champagne´s profile while this latter should have an umami rich character. Oysters, on average, contain between 40-150 mg/100g of glutamate and 20 mg/100g of inosinate, placing them on the higher end of umami-rich seafood. Wines contain iron and SO2 which together with lipid peroxides from fish and seafood including oysters can create the 2,4- heptadienal compound, one of those responsible of the fishy odour. The other one is the TMA – trimethylamine, naturally contained in fish and oysters that will not even need wine to be revealed. So, umami- rich Champagne and garnished oysters go better together and think of a last detail: the vivacious acidity in Champagne that will conduct any unpleasant fishy flavours just like a vector. Your oysters should be of course ultra-fresh, not very “fat” and be added with an acidic compound to counterbalance the lively character of the adored bubbly.
Oysters and Romanian Rhein Extra
Now, Romania has a moderate to warm continental climate with some cooler areas too. In most of the zones, grapes will never rich the acidities from Champagne which might help pairing Romanian sparklings with oysters, provided that the latter are again disguised with some fruity, spicy, or herbal elements reminiscent of the wine´s profile. Terpenic herbs, lemon peel, certain mild pickles can provide an excellent pairing with oysters and the Rhein Extra Imperial Brut. For an umami- rich sparkling, I would choose the Rhein Extra Vintage 2013, a developing Sparkling with extra-ripe fragrances, mainly quince and nectarine peach, some balsamic, waxy notes and puff-pastry autolysis with fresh yeasty notes. Vivid palate for this Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay bathed by Dealu Mare ´s sun, tiny creamy bubbles and rounded up texture, with ripe feel and sun-kissed stone fruits, as well as some confected Swiss sweets with honey and herbs. Melliferous notes linger on the finish with a hint of bread crust and yeasty touch to make it savoury. I like the multilayered textures of this wine also allowing it to pair with warm oysters in sabayon – another French specialty for the Saint- Sylvestre.
Oysters and still wines
If you are not a fan of bubbles, you are free to choose a still wine for oysters. Whereas in France one will choose the stony purity of Chablis or a lively but classy Muscadet Sevre- et- Maine, in Romania I would go for a Sauvignonasse from Crama Bauer (ex- Tocai Friulano or simply Friulano) – one of Oliver´s favourite grapes to play with. With fine herbal notes of sage and mint complementing a green apple character, with fresh citrus vein on stony background this varietal wine from the Drăgăşani area, labeled as “Sauvignon” is dry and vivid with fine zesty grapefruit notes and juicy salivating finish.
We sometimes say that oysters do not necessarily require an outstanding wine and French also pair them with simple Entre-deux-mers or Picpoul de Pinet. Easy- going wines with fresh crisp also exist in Romania – take a Frâncuşa from the Cotnari area, for instance or a Plăvaie from Coteşti such as Livia Gîrboiu´s “LIVIA”.
Oysters and seafood trumpet the aperitif together with “canapés” and classic foie gras. If you continue with bubblies as alternative to Champagne, know that at Rhein Extra, Cheffe Ecaterina Paraschiv created note-a- note pairings for the sparkling wines from The Iconic Estate – Alexandrion Group portfolio including an exquisite foie gras canapé cooked with Rhein Extra Brut Imperial, on a toast with local honey, Rhein Extra Brut Imperial jelly and pear, topped with some mild mustard grains pickles.
Smoked salmon and wine
“Saumon fumé” and gravlax are another Frenchy classic for the occasion. Ban any unctuous Chardonnay or super- aromatic Muscat/Gewürztraminer/Viognier for the smoked salmon, while choosing a pronounced white wine with a stony character, vertical backbone but not sharp to cut through the fatty flesh and harmonize with the savoury and smoky flavours. In France I would go for a Pouilly Fumé. In Romania I have tried a remarkable pairing with the ANNO Sauvignon Blanc- Chardonnay from Licorna Winery in Dealu Mare clean and delicate with herbal scents of mint, cardamom and honeysuckle, wildflowers, orchard fruits and citrus. Dry, ripe with elevated acidity to balance its generous character, it is dense and textured with leesy phenolics. Flavoursome and full, refreshed by its minty tons, stony glints with clean and dry finish showing citrus brisk.
Another Sauvignon expression, more on the Styrian style is the one from Prince Stirbey, in Drăgăşani, Dealurile Olteniei IG: Positively reductive pierced by typically pronounced gooseberry and herbal glints, its vibrancy cuts through the polished leesy texture, with lots of zests, crunchy green fruit, herbal dimension with fine aromatics.
What about gravlax
Gravlax is a different affair, texture is melting on the palate, its aromatic character is intense but not smoky, while the most intriguing and difficult part is the sweet and salty taste. For classic Gravlax, Alsace offers crystal clear Rieslings rarely with an off dryish touch, but even so with superb dry balance thanks to the lovely acid structure. I will choose the Romanian replay to Riesling which is the uncontestable Drăgăşani specialty – Crâmpoşia Selecționata and particularly that of Avincis. It brings up that citrus verbena and lemongrass flavours reminiscent of a Riesling, vine blossom and crunchy apple, with dry and vivid palate, perfectly digest and framed by nice zesty bitterness that provides salivation to the long stony finish. If you like a touch of sweetness – Bauer’s Crâmpoşie Selecționata will do the job in a more Mosellan style.
If the gravlax is of a fancier style, go for bubbles. Cheffe Ecaterina Paraschiv has created a trout gravlax, beetroot textures topped with raspberry powder and dill. That pairs perfectly well with the Rhein Extra Rosé, with its airy nose with crunchy red fruits intertwined with a slightly herbal touch reminiscent of freshly cut peony. Dry and crispy, its juicy core weaves tiny little bubbles in a satin texture, a delicate wine with a pretty sapidity.
Boudin blanc with truffles…
Some warm starters include the classic white “boudin” – white pudding sausage with truffles which French usually appreciate with a white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune. In Romania I would choose Theia Chardonnay from The Iconic Estate in Dealu Mare, richly buttery and slightly tropical, with luxurious oak impact both aromatic and structural, still fresh, framed by its serious structure and wrapped with generous creamy texture. “Sonorum” Chardonnay from Gramofon Wine in the same area is rather exotic and blossomy with melonny nose and vanilla glints. Ripe and rich with mild acidity keeping fresh and digest, its texture mingles with toasted spices, and candid zests. Its long juicy finish makes it perfect to balance the overall softness.
And then…. lobster
Lobster and spiny lobster are the star dishes for Saint Sylvestre. White Burgundy or Châteauneuf du Pape, Condrieu or Alsace Pinot Gris from a Grand Cru, but also a classy Pessac- Léognan will be the best French choices. Confidently go on with the Romanian Chardonnays above or try some of the best Feteasca Regala. This most planted white grape variety in Romania is also one of the most versatile and offer the structure of an Alsace Pinot Gris with less aromas but fuller texture and a nice phenolic bite to cut through any flesh from unctuous to firm. Also try the Feteasca Regala/Pinot Gris blend from Avincis, amazing cuvée with ripe stone fruit and delicate creaminess, dense with gentle acidity and firm structure spiced up with toasted oriental spices.
Exotic lobster dishes such as curries or tajine enjoy highly aromatic grapes with smooth acidity and layers of texture: “Hyperion” Tămâioasa Româneasca from the Iconic Estate in Dealu Mare, Cotnari “Colocviu la Paris” Busuioaca de Bohotin from Cotnari area or Ferma Magureni´s Orange Wine Pinot Gris in Drăgăşani can all stand along a typical oriental dish revisited with a Frenchy touch. Especially the Orange with its intense floral tons, notes of honey, apricot, orange. Semi-dry, with harmonious balance between freshness and generous character, its large, dense palate coats up the tannins, it will be perfect whenever there is a warmer spiciness in the dish.
Or just try a surprising pairing with Sonorum Rosé by Julia Scavo& Gramofon Wine with blossomy veil that gives way to crunchy fruits tinged with sweet citrus notes. Dry, satin- like, its fresh, tonic feeling counterbalances a hint of generous spiciness.
Poultry, turkey and truffles
Contrary to Romanians, French do not have any superstitions about poultry which is usually banned from any traditional New Year´s Eve dinner in Romania. If you want to discover another facet of the Feteasca Regala try the “Fata din Butoi” from Prince Stirbey, seriously structured to stand the oak maturing and is intense toasty, reductive smokiness. That goes perfectly well with guinea fowl or turkey especially when stuffed with chestnuts or mushrooms. In the best years, Avincis also crafts the Feteasca Regala solely, try a 2010 mono- varietal if you find one and grate some truffles to top of your poultry dish.
Bacanta Sarba Barrique from Livia Gîrboiu breaks the codes of this aromatic and easy going grape (Riesling Italico and Muscat de Hambourg cross), oak fermented, and lees matured in the barrel, it keeps its exotic scents and musky herbal tones with loads of tropical and stone fruits, creamy biscuity character and large palate without being overpowered by the oak which brings baking spices counter- balanced by typical vivid crisp. Capon with almond butter under the skin and any root vegetable purée will make a perfect match.
Duck and Feteasca Neagra
If it’s not guinea fowl, capon or turkey, it will definitely be duck which in France pairs well with a Northern Rhone Syrah if we talk about the duck breast or an aged Cahors if it´s about an oven roasted duck as well as a confit. Romania will offer superb Feteasca Neagra as an alternative. Hyperion Feteasca Neagra from the Iconic Estate is airy, ethereal with seductive blossomy character, its fruit is both ripe and fresh ranging from cherries to blackcurrants. Both varietal and oak- derived spices come along together with a hint of toast on the minty, eucalyptus background. Fine and complex, its juicy palate is wrapped by a silky texture, with salivating acidity and fine- grained elevated tannins. Its youthful firm bite is coated by layers of weight brought by a generous character. Depth and concentration, voluptuous mouthfeel imbued with dark chocolate and toast that linger together with spices on the long finish. If you associate duck and foie gras with a wine reduction and some smooth textured purée, then more concentrated Fetesaca Neagra are to be considered: Gramofon Wine or Alira, either on the Amarone side or the Bordeaux touch.
What about venison and wine?
Some prefer venison for Saint- Sylvestre: dear fillet or wild boar leg, squab or any other gamy delicacy needs a developed wine: France will offer mature Bordeaux, developing Châteauneuf du Pape our Red Hermitage of a certain age. I will recommend an older vintage of the superb SERVE Feteasca Neagra “Guy de Poix”, a “Cuvée Charlotte” Bordeaux blend from the same producer in Dealu Mare or the Prince Stirbey Novac especially if you choose squab. This will bring up the fineness of Burgundy and the Piedmont vein together for the best harmony one can imagine for this delicate and racy meat. The extremely long- living iconic “Soare” Cabernet Sauvignon from Vinarte is a perfect pairing for game. With airy delicate nose of black and red fruits, where thyme and laurel mingle with cinnamon and nutmeg on chocolate background, it is elegant, with juicy texture imprinted by pulpy fresh fruit. The structure is based upon a holy trinity of elevated parameters, with superb salivating acidity, fine-grained tannins, and generous character. The long finish lingers with chocolate and spices. A rare Cadarissima – aszu style Cadarca from Balla Geza in the Minis region or an Amarone style Feteasca Neagra Opus Fabula from Gramofon Wine will be the best treat if the pigeon is Rossini style or “à la Royale”. They will both continue perfectly with blue cheese which is the star of a Saint- Sylvestre cheese platter: Roquefort, Bleu d´Auvergne, Fourme d´Ambert, just add some cherry or fig jam and magic is in the air.
‘Buche de Noël’, brandy and cigars
The trickiest pairing will be with the chocolate or candied chestnuts “Buche” – typical seasonal feast dessert in France. Romania has few sweet wines especially for this type of cake where chocolate or caramel dominate. France offers a multitude of fortified wines such as Maury and Banyuls that perfectly match this dessert, whereas in Romania the few sweet wines are more of a late harvest or Eiswein style usually focusing on aromatic white grapes. Black chocolate and forest fruits Buche will go perfectly well with any of the Saber Elizya liquors from Alexandrion (blackcurrant, blueberry or wild cherry) while the confit chestnut version goes well with a Brâncoveanu XO Vinars Brandy from the same producer, which will then be the best partner for an after-dinner cigar.
With all these goodies and eclectic selection of top Romanian wines and spirits, everyone can put on his/her 31st attire and “se mettre sur son 31”. Many other alternatives exist of course, and it is easier to pair Romanian wines with a French classic Saint- Sylvester menu then vice- versa. Last year I was pairing Romanian New Year´s Eve menu with Romanian wines and my article was called “The taming of the Shrew”, but the day will come for me to test the most difficult version: Romanian classic cuisine and French wines. Until then, let’s take it easy and do what Romanian Kings used to do at the Belle Epoque era: match French cuisine with some of the best offerings of the Romanian terroir.
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