A styrofoam tray with three multi-coloured Skittles® and a tiny wedge of lemon served as the opening course of our recent wine tasting event. Quite a change from our usual opulent offerings, but sommelier Karen LaVigne was using the simple tidbits to make a point: As she talked about elements of taste, she challenged our guests to think about not only where certain tastes such as sweet, sour, salty and bitter were prominent on our tongues, but also to notice how certain flavours, such as tannins, caused our mouths to pucker up. The whole exercise was repeated while holding our noses to register the difficulty of defining any flavour without an aroma to help us out.
LaVigne is a certified sommelier, caseophile (cheese specialist) and wine and spirits educator and writer who has her own company called Sélections de LaVigne (http://selectionsdelavigne.com/). She has been in the business for more than twenty years and at this tasting, she was using her encyclopedic knowledge of food and wine pairings to tackle some problems that often pose difficulties for hosts who wish to serve something more exotic than steak or grilled fish. LaVigne, together with our chef for the evening, Ken Lefebour, from Chef & Wife Gourmet to Go (www.chefandwife.com/), had worked out a menu that included capers, Cajun seasonings and Chinese delicacies. The diversity on the menu had originally come about since several occasions for celebration seemed to fall on the same February week — from Chinese New Year, to Mardi Gras, to Valentine’s Day, to Canada’s Family Day.
The evening was a real occasion for learning, as well as being a lot of fun. One of the intriguing things that LaVigne did, for instance, was to pair both a white wine and a red wine with the Cajun blackened chicken. The white wine was a 2011 Amalaya Torontes-Riesling from Argentina (LCBO 270470), described as an off-dry, aromatic white wine; the red was a 2011, Les Terres Bleues, Côte-de-Brouilly(LCBO 590521) from the Beaujolais region in France, tagged as a medium bodied, fruity red. The blackened chicken was suitably spicy with some heat to it and LaVigne asked our tasters to be very aware of how the two wines each “married” to the food. Surprisingly, since the LCBO suggested the white as a pairing for smoked Cajun trout, after much discussion, the vote went to the red. LaVigne reminded people that “Yes, it’s your choice — you always get to choose and what tastes best to you is always the best choice.”
The chosen wines were all new to me and I liked them so much that I actually rushed out to the LCBO the next day and bought three of them. The first one is an Austrian wine with the brain-bending title of Ewald Gruber Hundspoint Grüner Veltliner. (LCBO 298299) The Grüner Veltliner, apparently, is a white grape grown in Austria, along the Danube to the west of Vienna, in terraces reminiscent of the Rhine. Grüner Veltliners have beaten world class chardonnays in taste tests and Karen likened this one to a French Chablis with intense purity and high acidity. It was light and simple, bright and refreshing and was perfect with the shrimp in caper sauce.
The “rock star” of the evening, which I also bought, was a Portuguese wine, a 2009 from the Douro region called Aneto Red (LCBO 314930). This is the wine of the month at Vintages, I found out, and is described as being a full-bodied, bold red wine. I drank it on the weekend with a beef stir fry that had garlic and ginger in it and it certainly stood up to the pungent flavours.
The most exciting find, however, was the wine that was paired with the dessert which was a seductive
sabayon filled with fresh berries. This was something called Southbrook Framboise, made in Canada. I have bought the French Framboise liqueur before and it is delicious — great for pouring over vanilla ice cream. But it is very, very sweet and often hard to find. This framboise is a wine, not a liqueur, and is eminently drinkable. The aroma is heavenly — a summer field redolent of ripe raspberries — a wonderful wine that inspired me to wax poetical!
Anyway, I will leave you with a recipe for the shrimp. I should emphasize that this is not the chef’s recipe — it’s one I found on Epicurious. But it’s very close to the shrimp that Ken made for us and it’s beautiful with the Grüner Veltliner.
Shrimp in Lemon, Caper, Cream Sauce
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
• 1 lb shelled deveined medium shrimp
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 2 ounces white wine (or water)
• 2 lemons, juice of
• 2 tablespoons capers
• 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
• 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
• 2 ounces olive oil
• white pepper
• fresh parsley
1. Saute the shrimp in the olive oil for 2 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and capers and saute for 30 seconds more.
3. Add the white wine (or water) and lemon juice and simmer until sauce is reduced by 1/2.
4. Add the cream and simmer until sauce is reduced by 1/3.
5.Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. If desired, add fresh parsley.
Epicurious suggests serving this over angel hair pasta — which sounds like a plan!